Driving the Lotus Exige even for the briefest of moments will throw up a fair amount of interesting questions. Standing tall among those questions are what you can live without in your sports cars.
A plethora of electronic chassis aids that could put a spaceship to shame? Adaptive suspension that’s pillowy on rougher roads while being rock solid on a racetrack? A snazzy touchscreen infotainment system with accompanying digital instrument cluster? Electrically-adjustable bucket seats with various memory positions?
How about a glove box? How much does interior carpeting and floor mats mean to you? Can you do without electrically-adjustable wing mirrors? Are reclining seats important to you? Do you like good visibility out the rear window? Or, I don’t know, an easy ingress/egress procedure that doesn’t require you to be a hobbying contortionist?
These are all questions you’ll have to ask yourself before plonking down SGD300,000 (base price without COE and optional extras)for one of Hethel’s finest. It also helps if you put that figure in context, because that's money you could very well spend on a Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman, which has all of the things mentioned above. Most probably at a cost, but available nevertheless.
It also helps if you can drive a car with a manual transmission, because that’s the only one on offer.
The Exige also makes one realise just how much stuff is stuffed into a modern sports car and how user-friendly virtually every aspect of the entire experience is. To say nothing of how heavy any modern sports car is, with kerb weights hovering around the 1.5-tonne mark.
With the Exige, however, everything is pared-back. The windows have electric winders, thankfully, but everything else, well. The most advanced thing the Exige has in its cabin is probably the air-conditioning system… and that’s an old-school manual one, not the fancy-pants multi-zone climate control systems found on pretty much any other car in 2020.
Even its (optional) luxury features are borderline apologetic. For an extra SGD7,740, you can slather the interior with Alcantara trim that has contrasting stitching. And for SGD2,067, that gets you a stereo with a grand total of two speakers. Even carpeting and floor mats are an optional extra.
However, lack of creature comforts and luxury equipment aside the Exige is also an indictment of the modern sporting vehicle. In that they’re luxury cars first and sports cars second. The most important question the Exige asks is what do you really need in a sports car beyond a peppy engine and a chassis blessed by the driving gods themselves.
Said engine is a supercharged 3.5-litre V6 sourced from Toyota. Yes, the Exige shares an engine with some Camrys, but don’t let it detract from how applied in the Lotus, it develops 350hp and will take it from a standstill to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds.
Certainly brisk, but not searing in the big scheme of things. However, the Exige’s ace in the hole is its weight, or lack thereof. It weighs 1,125kg which is, in the modern idiom, next to nothing.
The Exige is so, so much more rapid than its numbers suggest, a sensation amplified by how you’re sitting in an extruded aluminium tub barely skimming the ground. Pull up next to just about any other ‘regular’ car and you’ll realise just how low you sit in the Exige.
The low driving position, along with the unassisted steering rack (that’s the reason behind its toy car-sized wheel) grants the Exige a level of intimacy that leaves it essentially in a class of its own. Short of hardwiring yourself directly to the car, or driving a go-kart on the road (highly illegal, please don’t try this at home), there’s nothing else that comes close to the Exige experience on sale today.
The Exige is also deeply involving, and not just because shifting gears involves you having to work a third pedal and saw that tall lever with its exposed linkage through the rifle-bolt shift gates.
No, with the Exige you always feel that your successes are entirely on you, with the car merely an extension of you. As it should be.
Of course, this also means should you mess up, there’s very little the Exige will do to cover up your mistakes. For all the malleability of its chassis, the Exige is also only as good as you are, requiring a healthy amount of respect. As it should be.
All that is underpinned by a ride quality that I’m not sure I have enough superlatives for. It’s not pillowy, to be certain the Exige is a sports car after all, but neither is it spine-shatteringly stiff.
Which is probably a good thing since you sit on fixed-back seats that’s essentially a piece of plastic with upholstery stretched over the top. It looks like a medieval torture device, but it somehow is one of the most comfortable seats I’ve ever sat on.
Anyway, the Exige’s ride—the holy grail of comfort and control. Almost nothing ruffles its composure on the move. You feel just enough of a thump to let you know what’s underfoot, but nothing more and it’s gone almost as quickly as it happens anyway. It’s shocking how well the Exige rides.
Also shocking is the build quality. The signal stalk wobbles in a rather alarming way, the hard black plastic of the instrument cluster cowl belongs more on a child’s toy and the chrome-effect interior door handles are more effect than chrome.
So, is the Exige your next sports car? It certainly isn’t for everyone… literally. If you’re big, tall, not very limber, or all of the above, you can safely rule yourself out.
But if you consider yourself one of those keen driver types, you know, the sort that prizes the driving experience to the exclusion of everything else (luxury and practicality, for starters) then you owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot.
I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be as smitten with it as I was. If you aren’t, this might be grounds to revoke your Keen Driver Club membership.
ENGINE: 3,456cc, 24-valves, V6, supercharged
POWER: 350hp at 5,800rpm
TORQUE: 370Nm at 7,000rpm
0-100KM/H: 3.9 seconds
TOP SPEED: 273km/h
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 10.1L/100km
VES BAND: C2 ($20,000 surcharge)
PRICE: SGD300,000 (excluding COE, excluding options)