Can this Lotus really take the fight to Porsche and beat it? You might be surprised…
I’m going to get this line out of the way right from the start, because it’ll probably be the most surprising part of this whole review:
The Lotus Exige V6 S is, in my opinion, the finest sports car I’ve ever driven and beats the Porsche 911 GT3 hands down.
There, I said it.
I was at a bit of a loose end last week and then the best possible email arrived, from Ben Speak at Hilton & Moss sports cars in Stansted, asking if I was free and wanted to take the new Exige V6 S for a drive. Needless to say, it didn’t take a long time to make that particular decision. Arrangements were made for Friday and when that day arrived I was slightly saddened to see that the large orange ball in the sky hadn’t made an appearance. In fact it was typically grey with the odd patch of drizzle
That would make a 1170 kg, 375 bhp car a little more fun then, I suppose.
When I arrived to collect the car it was sitting outside and it took me a good 10 minutes to get past it. The looks have certainly divided opinion among the motoring masses, but in my eyes it looks fantastic. Huge gaping grilles in the front bumper look like they would eat small children given the chance and you’re initially struck at how small it still looks, despite the new extended bodywork.
The centre of the car is familiar to Lotus fans, sharing the same cockpit area as the Elise and older Exige, but from there back there’s a longer rear clam with a rather large wing perched atop it. There’s a diffuser at the rear and a central exhaust pipe to make the noise. What this extended clamshell hides it what really marks this Exige out from all that have gone before – a V6.
Not just any V6 either – Lotus could have fitted the 3.5 litre V6 from the Evora and given the Exige a nice boost in performance with its 280 bhp, but instead they went for the 345 bhp Supercharged V6 from the Evora S to give the new car some really eye watering performance. Looks good to the eye and on paper, then.
Of course then the real fun began because the ever helpful Ben then passed me the keys and sent me on my way. Which brings me to the first and only major issue I have with the V6 S – getting in and out. I’m a broad 6ft 3in chap, and though I’m sure it would get easier with practice, entering the Exige was a spectacle not unlike watching a new-born giraffe trying to climb back inside its mother – graceful I was not. If you’re of a more diminutive stature though, this holds no such issues.
But once inside it was down to business – ah, the cabin. ‘Purposeful’ is the word I’d use – again it will be very familiar to any Elise or older Exige owner, but this particular car did have some extra leather around the interior to lift the feel a little and go some way to feeling like a car you could spend a long time in. The seats were particularly impressive, seemingly completely devoid of any padding, yet were some of the most comfortable seats I’ve ever sat it. It turns out these are the same Probax seats you get in the Elise which have a great reputation, unlike the Audi RS4-alike seats found in the Evora S which don’t fit everyone as well.
So onto the really important bit now – a refreshingly simple turn of the key awakens the big blown V6 behind me, a few blips of the throttle revealing a very free-revving V6 with just a hint of supercharger whine audible over the bark from the exhaust. I slot the long aluminium gear lever into first gear to pull away and am instantly amazed by how docile the Exige is as I potter around the 30 mph roads. Lotus really have come on leaps and bounds with the ride and NVH of this car – hitting a pothole or ridge in the road is a surreal experience, you feel the thump of the car hitting, but there’s no shock transmitted through the steering wheel, no tinny metallic crashing noise like you used to get, just a thud, a small tug on the wheel and an overriding sensation that you know exactly what the wheels are doing. What also amazes is the tractability of the engine. Endowed with a healthy 295 lb/ft of torque, the big V6 enables you to cruise around in 4th gear at 30mph and it never gets bogged down. The tiny size of the car really helps too as you can squeeze through the smallest of gaps. Okay, it won’t rival a Toyota iQ, but it makes a pretty convincing argument around town.
But what’s this coming up ahead? Ah yes, a derestricted sign. Now we’re in business. Twist the traction control to Sport and the exhaust valves open up to give you a bit more aural accompaniment, drop it into 3rd and make the accelerator your bitch.
Good God, this thing is quick. There’s a wonderfully rich sounding V6 burble and growl as you start to climb through the revs, then the supercharger whine builds and takes over for a while. But then, when you get to the upper reaches of the rev range there’s a terrific wail from the exhaust not unlike that of a classic Italian motor. Of course, by the time you’ve experienced this noise you’re travelling at a quite obscene speed – the V6 S really does rip through the speedo with ferocity not unlike a V10-engined Lambo.
It’s at these speeds that the handling really amazes as well, the damping and decent wheel travel making the Exige stick to the ground like a limpet, barely skipping over even the roughest surface. And of course you’ll know exactly how rough that surface is because of the most feelsome steering of any car I’ve driven. You can feel every single sensation through the wheel, able to place the car with millimetre precision in the corners with the slightest touch to tighten the line. Aim at the apex, turn in, squeeze the throttle, blast out of the corner – it’s a sequence I repeated time and again until my time was up with the car. Truly astounding.
When I’d dropped the car off and had some time to digest the drive, more and more memories of amazing moments sprang to mind, of the compliant ride, the solid feel, the intoxicating noise, the pinpoint accuracy of the handling, the list goes on. There’s only one car I’ve driven that gave me the same buzz and feeling of completeness – the Porsche 997.2 GT3. The question is, which would I have?
Well the Porsche will lose the comparison instantly if you take cost into account. The Exige V6 S is £51,000 compared to the 911’s new price tag of £81,000, where the new GT3 will probably be nudging £100k. But take the price mismatch away and which would I take? The GT3 certainly is the more usable car, just getting in and out is much easier and the interior is that of a proper GT car compared to the sparse Exige.
The question is – does that really matter? You don’t buy a GT3 or an Exige to be a daily driver; they’re raw sports cars to give you extreme thrills on that Sunday morning drive, so in that case taking price and practicality out – which is the better steer?
The GT3 truly is an amazing feat of engineering, disguising the rear engine weight bias incredibly well, but you always have that nagging feeling that the engine is there, way out back, interfering with the way the front reacts. Yes, the engine is incredible as well, but as an overall driver’s car? I’d take the Exige. The way it goes through a corner, the way it makes every part of you feel alive whilst simultaneously flattering your driving has to be experienced to be believed. It’s absolutely sensational.
Huge thanks to all at Hilton & Moss – they have a hug selection of current and classic sports cars for sale in their amazing showroom, and make a damn nice cup of coffee too…
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