Long term tests

Lotus Exige S2

Lotus advises you spend 1000 miles carefully running-in your new Exige. Not an excessive mileage, but as it took me nearly three years to cover a shameful 1300 miles in my Caterham Fireblade, I knew that unless I gave myself a deadline the running-in period could last until Spring 2007. So, with AU54 FNM booked in for its initial service and the fitment of a more vocal Lotus Sport exhaust just three weeks after taking delivery, the pressure was on.

Lotus advises you spend 1000 miles carefully running-in your new Exige. Not an excessive mileage, but as it took me nearly three years to cover a shameful 1300 miles in my Caterham Fireblade, I knew that unless I gave myself a deadline the running-in period could last until Spring 2007. So, with AU54 FNM booked in for its initial service and the fitment of a more vocal Lotus Sport exhaust just three weeks after taking delivery, the pressure was on.

I needn't have worried. A few journeys to the office (the long way) and a couple of cross-country drives soon had the miles ticking, despite the 4000rpm limit for the first 600 miles. One of the few criticisms we've levelled at the Exige centre on its peaky nature and long gearing. Restricted to less than half the engine's potential, I'd expected the running-in phase to be torture but was heartened to discover that the Toyota engine is surprisingly tractable even at low revs, and delivers enough shove to save the Exige's face at the lights.

Perhaps the most distressing element of running-in is the transient nature of your pride and joy's spanking newness. You buy a car to drive and enjoy it, but there's nothing enjoyable about watching a stone flick up from the wheels of a lorry and smack into your bonnet. It happened to my Caterham and our Cooper S Works, and I was convinced that Sod's Law would apply. I decided to investigate paint-protection film, and chanced upon an advert for a company called Venture Tape, which is launching a new product called VentureShield. Claimed to have solved the issues of orange peel and yellowing while offering better protection against chipping, it's used by all the leading F1, GT, NASCAR and WRC teams. After a quick look at Venture Tape's www.invisiblepatterns.com site to see if there was a kit available, I decided to go ahead and have a full kit fitted.

Fitting the precision-cut patterns looks like the wallpapering job from Hell, but experts Salv Turco and Keith Mansfield made it seem easy, gently removing the self-adhesive polyurethane film from the backing sheet while spraying copious amounts of an alcohol-based solution onto the sticky side of the film, and the bodywork itself. Amazingly, the nose section comes in one piece, cutting neatly around the headlights and over the awkward intakes. Once the film is positioned, deft sweeps of a small squeegee remove all the bubbles from beneath the film. The end result is almost invisible.

The full kit covers every vulnerable area, including headlights, spotlights, door sills, door locks, the backs of the mirrors and the area beneath the petrol cap. At the time of fitting the retail price had yet to be finalised, but between £300 and £400 fully fitted is likely. A significant investment, but less than a front-end respray.

Just 100 miles shy of the prescribed 1000-mile run-in, I went to Hethel to reward the Exige with a fruity exhaust, a Stage 2 Lotus Sport item (£375 inc VAT) fitted during the (free) first service. The chamfered tailpipes are fatter and more purposeful, and there's a fractional performance gain, but that's nothing compared to the psychological effects.

While this undoubtedly means I'll have to be selective with my trackday venues (there is a quieter Stage 1 system), it certainly enhances the Exige's on-road character and also appears to have smoothed the assorted engine zizzes and buzzes.

Running Costs

Date acquiredOctober 2004
Total mileage969
Costs this month£725 (see text)
Mileage this month790
MPG this month34.5
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