Viki is our Lotus Exige S Roadster in Signature Orange. It’s got a Supercharged 3.5 liter V6 developing 350 PS and 380 Nm of torque. With less than 1200 kgs to through around, the fury is only ever 1 cm away from your right foot.
Its power to weight ratio of 305 PS per tonne is more than an Audi R8 Spyder, more than a Porsche 911 Turbo 991 and even more than the mighty Nissan Skyline GTR. It feels every bit as quick in the real world, accelerating with ferocity from a standstill and out of corners.
The Lotus Exige. Driving a legend.
How does this grab you? A 0-100kmh in 3.8 seconds, arguably better than Porsche steering precision, race level AP brakes, Eibach springs, Bilstein dampers, super grippy Michelin Pilot Sport tyres and an extruded box section aluminium chassis with no flex at all. This car has a raw feel that’s fading fast from modern day supercars. In comparison to the Lotus, they are not nearly as engaging.
The Exige’s supercharged Toyota V6 engine, on show beneath that transparent rear screen, is a blinder. Response is near- instantaneous and it devours gears while summoning a sort of earthy strength: acceleration is genuinely relentless.
Cornering is sensational and the thing grips the road like a magnet. The engine gets going really hard right off idle with no detectable power band, no surge. It’s “all go” to the welcome accompaniment of a high pitched exhaust wail from the twin, centre mounted tail pipes.
The transmission is a traditional six-speed torque converter unit. But while the hardware is from an external supplier the Lotus boffins have re-written the software to make the shifts quicker. It quickly becomes apparent in traffic that they have also programmed the software to keep the engine in its sweet spot, because it has no hesitation in changing down a cog or two as soon as you squeeze the throttle. There is also no hunting for the tallest gear in order to improve fuel economy, which is de rigueur for most brands these days. The net result is a car that always feels ready for action at a moment’s notice, but isn’t relaxing in traffic.
In manual mode, using the steering column-mounted metal paddles, the shifts are sharp and aggressive which suits the car, and will also stay in the gear you choose without any computer interference.
As for the rest of the driving experience, it is pure Lotus. The unassisted steering is heavy, even at speed, but makes for a rare treat for those who like their steering mechanical and without interference. It is direct and provides plenty of feedback to the driver at speed.
Spend a day or two with Viki and pretty quickly you will realise that you are driving one of the best sports cars in the world.
Driving with the wind in your hair
The Exige Roadster’s roof is cloth and easy to remove and re-attach if the mood takes you.
The Roadster is slightly different to the coupe in dynamic set-up with moderately softer suspension and a more road-oriented feel as well as being 10kg lighter at 1166 kg.
The extra compliance in the Roadster’s suspension setup means that it rides beautifully and although you feel bumps and potholes, they don’t crash through the cabin, nor do they deflect you from your cornering line. This is an easier – and arguably more pleasant – car to drive on the road than the coupe.
However it is not a car for relaxed conversations. It’s easy to be lulled into that impression, to forget that this is, after all, an Exige, a genuine hardcore Lotus, because the ride is so composed. The steering dances gently in your hands, and the car breathes with the road, seems to be able to take its time, is never tense or fidgety.
The Lotus perfection
Converting the Coupé to a Roadster, structurally, wasn’t a massive task – cut out the roof panels, insert the Elise’s removable soft top and home for tea and medals. No extra strengthening needed as the bonded aluminium tub is already so tough. Lotus, being Lotus, made it more complicated, though.
How? By its single-minded focus on getting the dynamics perfect. The Roadster, with a jot more emphasis on comfort and usability than the Coupe, has been adjusted. The front wheels carry a quarter of a degree less camber. The rear carry a quarter of a degree more. Yes, a quarter of one degree. This removes a fraction of steering effort and enhances turn-in. The damping has also been backed off. Again, by no more than a smidge. This zeroing-in on the last n-th of damping control is what makes Lotus different.
The Lotus Exige S Roadster will appeal to those who want to drive an open top sports car with pure, unadulterated performance and don’t mind if it means being treated a little rough. It handles brilliantly. Simple as that. It delivers feel that’s usually reserved for racing drivers, grips hard, changes direction electrically and has steering that makes that of the new 911 feel a bit… dead. A credit to the philosophy of Lotus founder Colin Chapman.