What is it?
New, wider, longer, V6-powered Lotus Exige feels like a mini supercar and proved exciting enough to share our 2012 Car of the Year honours with the Pagani Huayra. A year later, a Roadster version accompanies the Exige S in the price lists and while it loses 25mph of top speed and a bold rear wing, it provides a much more theatrical driving experience owing to the extra sensations of removing its roof. It’s also priced identically in £52,900.
‘But a roadster version of the Exige is surely an Elise?’ I hear you ponder. And how right you are, but let’s not get mixed up in naming semantics here. All that matters is that the wide body looks fantastic (albeit slightly less aggressive than the coupe, as it’s been denuded of some aero), the supercharged V6 still puts out a stonking 345bhp and 295lb ft, and who doesn’t like a car without a roof?
Supercharged 3.5-litre engine aside, the biggest piece of technological trickery is the new Dynamic Performance Management system. DPM is Lotus’s version of ESP with Touring, Sport, Race and Off being the settings. It is capable of both curbing understeer and also optimising traction out of corners (there’s no limited-slip diff) and it can even learn which tyres you’re using – Pirelli P Zero Corsas are standard, Trofeos an £800 option – by calculating slip.
What’s it like to drive?
On one of my favourite test routes, the Exige S Roadster feels stunningly quick, to the point where the claimed 0-62mph time of 4.0sec seems almost conservative. It might not have the most charismatic V6, but it has an addictively rich seam of punchy torque thanks to that supercharger. The dampers have been wound back a smidge and the geometry has been slightly tweaked for the Roadster, but it still has a ride and steering that leave you in no doubt about the road surface you’re travelling over (I actually take off at a point where I don’t ever remember leaving the ground before, at which point I admittedly have no idea of the road surface underneath me).
The supercharged V6 makes a world of difference to the character of the car. It’s a stunningly strong engine and throttle response is scintillating, no matter where you are in the rev range. Even in sixth gear on the motorway the Exige will leap forwards eagerly at the slightest prod and on an A- or B-road it is as fast as you could realistically want.
The quicker steering is exactly what you would expect from Lotus – full of feel and it dances in your hands as the car follows the cambers of the road. With a heavier mid-mounted engine you might expect the Exige to feel tricky on the limit, but on wet roads it would swing progressively either with a lift or by keeping your foot in. It was easy to catch too, which is not something you could say of the old four-cylinder car. The Sport setting on the DPM was perfectly judged on the road, allowing an interesting amount of slip before reigning things back in beautifully calmly. Last but not least, the new V6 sounds great – there’s something of the historic racecar about its rich growl and there’s no overpowering supercharger whine either.
How does it compare?
So despite the slight softening of its looks and suspension, and despite the addition in this particular car of a cup holder (I mean, really!), the Exige S in roadster form remains a surprisingly focused, some might even say hardcore proposition, but we love it.
Anything else I need to know?
The one and only real down side to the Exige is that getting in and out remains a real palaver – the sill is high and wide and Yoga classes may need to be booked to achieve the necessary levels of flexibility.