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A RAY OF LIGHT

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Mar 10, 2007

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

A RAY OF LIGHT

By JOHN GRAFMAN

This is the car every auto company with any soul wishes it could provide. The Exige S fills the smallest of niches, and those product planners, marketing gurus and bean counters simply can't justify allocating valuable resources to such a limited market. For Lotus this is expected to be one of the manufacturer's sales hits, but they are still far from a mass-market company. This is an enthusiast-only product.

Scrambling uphill around a tight right hand 270-degree turn, I can feel every undulation on the road and the response of the tires on the surface. The feeling is like an overgrown kart doing battle with a pitted and gravel strewn roadway. Traversing this same section thousands of times in all manner of car gives me a good understanding of this path, and it is both exceedingly gratify and terrifying at the same time. The constant fidgeting and bucking of the steering wheel as the tires hop and squirm is a reminder how close the car is to breaking free. On the other hand, I can't recall ever covering the short run so rapidly.

This is the conundrum with the Exige S - the extra performance is always a trade-off with something else. As an example, the option list allows for deletion of the air conditioner, allowing for a 22-pound reduction in weight, slightly over one percent of the total weight of the car. A better performer will be the end result, but will the driver be 100 percent if they are less than comfortable? Stepping inside the Exige, one can see this isn't really about comfort anyway. The large rocker section and low roofline contribute to some interesting contortions. Now to complement the twisting and turning needed for entrance and egress, add a steering wheel that lacks adjustability to the equation. Any additional creature comforts and size add complexity to the car and inevitability pounds.

Lightness equals speed when it comes to Lotus products. This is no exception. Just tipping the scales at a featherweight 2,077 pounds is unheard of in today's world. This is in part thanks to an incredible 150 aluminum chassis. Is this a rock solid platform? Perhaps not as stiff as many, but this is plenty for what the Exige was designed for.

Lotus doesn't make too much effort to provide a comfort level beyond that of a race car, be it the trunk, audio system, interior trim, or seating. Front bucket seats are the norm in the market place, but how many outside of the Lotus don't offer back rake adjustability? Minimalism is taken to the extreme in the Exige S.

Once getting over the culture shock of the car, it becomes as welcomed as steroids are to major league baseball players. Far too few cars can offer the thrills this Brit can. This is a hybrid of a different sort - a marriage of both a sports car and a kart. Lotus has been famous for creating cars of this genre for what seems like eons. If you can accept the trade offs, the fun to drive aspect is a sensory thrill.

Piloting a transport like this is tricky business, to say the least. When the top of the roof only manages to come to the base of the side glass on neighboring cars, it creates a bit of nervousness not unlike driving next to a large eighteen-wheeler in a normal car, or even an SUV for that matter. Even Mini Coopers are huge in comparison. Couple the vertical challenge with a complete and utter useless backglass (by virtue of the overhead air intake for the intercooler), it becomes clear that the driver needs to be on his or her game. The reward for all of this is spectacular race car-like dynamics that is really in a class by itself.

Very much like a kart, this vehicle has near-zero body roll. No surprise here - with a car this low, the amount of suspension travel allowed will reduce the amount of room to absorb road deviations. Road feel is beyond any car I recall, every nuance of the pavement radiates back through the steering. Shifting is very direct and without balking even when shifting for all its worth. The little light on the dash gives an indication that an upshift is appropriate. Of course, shifting early really misses the fun of the high-revving motor. The supercharged 1.8-liter engine is incredible. Anything cranking out 100 horsepower per liter is fairly sophisticated engineering, and this goes ten percent over that!

Looking around the interior to find other accouterments to comment on is like finding a needle in a haystack. The car is devoid of excess everything. Even the sun visors are but slivers of material that barely fold down. The audio system is a unit that looks more than just a little aftermarket. It gets the job done, but seems out of place, mainly due to the howling produced by the rev-happy motor. With so little insulating the occupants from the raucous commotion residing just behind the seats in the mid-engine layout, it's a wonder anything at all can be heard outside of the motor. The composite body also does little to resolve the noise.

A few specific issues on this particular car are the rattling of the tiny center console, and an issue with stalling at rest. As the clutch is buried to the floor awaiting forward progression of traffic, numerous times the Lotus flat-lines. More than likely the stalling is no more than a battery with a weak charge, or an idle speed a hair to low. Keeping the revs up at a standstill resolves the problem.

Screaming sounds isn't limited to the motor. This driver was doing a bit of shrieking as well. Can you blame me? With a 0-60 mph of 4.1 seconds, and 0-100 in a mere 11 seconds, this sits squarely in sports car territory. What makes this different is how it feels in this car. As highway speeds, the increase in road feel is very high. Sensory overload - even below triple digits - is making me feel a tad edgy. I can only imagine the behavior nearing the 148 mph top speed. Virtually all other cars limit all the elements that the Lotus embraces.

The low weight and having 80 percent of the torque just above 2,000-rpm produces off the line antics that are enough to keep the muscle car set minding their own business. On the S model, the badging, the body color rear wing, front air splitter, and side air intakes provide enough visual clues that this isn't just a garden variety Exige - as if that was concerning enough.

What the Exige S can't beat on the street or track, it can most almost beat in the dollar value department. At a base of $59,890, this offers exotic car looks for a Toyota (all right, Lexus) price.

Exceptionally unique qualities that will be called into question in any mainline automotive company are cornerstones of Lotus. The Exige S isn't a car for everybody (by a long shot). It's for the luck few that appreciate a full on, back to basics, hardcore sports car.

SUMMARY JUDGEMENT

Good things come in small packages, great thrills come from an Exige S!

Find out more at www.lotuscars.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $59,890

Engine type: TMC 2ZZ-GE DOHC VVTL-I (Variable Valve Timing and Lift intelligence), 1.8L, 4-cylinder

EPA mileage estimates City / Highway: 23 / 29

Horsepower: 220 @ 8000 rpm Torque: 165 lb.-ft @ 5500 rpm

Drive configuration: Mid-engine / rear drive

Transmission type: 6 speed manual transaxle

Suspension: Front: Independent upper and lower wishbone, Co-axial coil spring / telescopic shock absorber unit, Anti-roll bar Rear: Independent upper and lower wishbone, Co-axial spring / telescopic shock absorber

Wheels and tires: Front: 195/50R16 - 6.5Jx16 seven-spoke forged alloy, Yokohama Advan A048LTS Rear: 225/45R17 - 7.5Jx17 seven-spoke forged alloy, Yokohama Advan A048LTS

Brakes: Front: AP Racing two-piston aluminum fixed calipers 288 mm diameter, cast iron cross-drilled rotors Rear: Brembo single sliding calipers 288 mm diameter, cast iron cross-drilled rotors

Servo-assisted ABS

Overall length: 149.5" Overall width (mirrors exc.): 68.0", (mirrors inc.): 72.8" Overall height: 45.6" Curb Weight: 2077 lbs.

0-60 mph: 4.1 0-100 mph: 11.0 Top Speed, mph: 147.0

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