By KBB.com Editors
Since the 1982 passing of its founder, Colin Chapman, Lotus has endured a number of economic challenges and ownership changes. But through it all, the quintessentially British marque has remained true to its core values of producing light, quick and superb handling sports machines. Presently, the micro-scaled Exige S coupe and its equally diminutive cousin, the lift-top Elise, carry on Chapman's legacy in the U.S. With more power and better handling than either the Elise or the Exige that it replaces for 2007, the new, supercharged Exige S is the best-performing street-legal Lotus you can buy here. While larger, heavier rivals span everything from a BMW Z4 and Porsche Cayman to the Chevrolet Corvette and Nissan 350Z, none really comes close to matching the sheer visceral involvement offered by this undisputed featherweight champ.
If you're a hard-core enthusiast who'd be thrilled to drive a Formula One car to work everyday if it were street legal, the Exige S is a fantastic alternativeespecially as a weekend getaway car. You won't be pampered, but you will be exhilarated every time you slip behind the wheel.
If you're not a hard-core enthusiast who's fully prepared to trade off just about every luxury convention in return for a vehicle with absolutely brilliant dynamics, steer clear of the Exige S. Those lacking the personal flexibility to negotiate its narrow door openings and wide side sills also should consider a more mainstream two-seat alternative.
The Exige S replaces the Exige here in America for 2007, a change that nets a supercharged engine with 30 more horsepower and an additional 27 pound-feet of torque, plus the formerly optional Sport Pack wheel/tire/suspension group. Lesser upgrades include new projector beam headlamps, subtle bumper reinforcements and raised chrome L-O-T-U-S letters on the rear fascia.
Driving Impressions Turn the key, press a button on the fob and then hit the starter on the dash and the Exige S snaps to life like the de facto street racer...it is. Complementing its phenomenal balance and incredible control responses is a high-winding engine that sends an equally high-intensity exhaust note reverberating through the passenger compartment every time you step into the throttle. With only 37 percent of its 2,077 pounds on the front wheels, the car's unboosted steering feels intuitively connected through even the most demanding corner. Mastering the slightly notchy linkage on its manual gearbox does take some practice, but the payoff is acceleration that puts the Exige S in borderline supercar territory. On the braking side, its standard anti-lock brakes (ABS) and potent 11.5-inch vented and cross-drilled discs work impressively with the car's super-grippy tires to deliver short, straight stops with reassuring regularity.
The Exige S epitomizes why Lotus remains a revered name in the performance car realm. Its unique combination of light weight and precise handling makes the Exige S blisteringly quick and a world-class corner carver that's more than a match for even the twistiest backroad.
It's a Lotus, and for anyone who knows or cares about legendary automotive marques, that fact alone speaks volumes. Supply constraints will see only about 200-300 Exige S models heading to our shores in 2007, so there's no danger that you'll ever get lost in a crowdor a parking lot.
Spartan with style, the compact cabin of the Exige S displays lots of bare aluminum, exposed fasteners, hard-touch surfaces and a Momo sport wheel that leaves no doubt about its true purpose. The compact cockpit can accommodate six-footersat least those supple enough to bend-and-fold their way in and out. Torso-hugging racing-style buckets lined with ProBax anatomical padding provide a decent range of fore and aft adjustment but, like the fixed steering column, require you to adapt to their preset seatback angle. The Exige does offer a few conventional creature comforts, notably an Alpine sound system and air conditioning, but its manually-adjusted mini side mirrors do little to enhance the already restricted sightlines. With only a tiny "trunklet" directly behind the engine bay, be prepared to always travel light.Exterior
The Exige S shares the same composite-fiberglass body over bonded aluminum chassis structure as the Elise and the same Ardent Red and British Racing Green standard colors. However, its more sensual primary contoursaugmented by a disconcertingly vulnerable front spoiler lip extension and a functional fixed rear winggive this true-coupe variant superior high-speed downforce. A low-profile roof scoop feeds outside air directly to the intercooler for its supercharger, but the housing itself totally obstructs visibility out the rear window. Complementing this competition-inspired design are staggered-width (16-inch front/17-inch rear) forged-alloy wheels that mount Z-rated 195/50 Yokohama Advan A048LTS tires up front and 225/45s out back, and a large oval center exhaust outlet flanked by bold rear diffuser tunnels.
The Exige S complements its high-performance supercharged powertrain with more powerful anti-lock brakes (ABS) and the more aggressively-tuned Sport Pack suspension that's optional on the Elise (lightweight forged alloy wheels, wider and stickier tires and stiffer suspension). In addition to its leather-wrapped Momo steering wheel and deeply contoured cloth-covered bucket seats, the driver-centric cabin adds several comfort and convenience touches, including a four-speaker Alpine audio system with single-slot CD player (and arguably the world's least user-friendly controls), air conditioning, intermittent windshield wipers, a factory anti-theft/immobilizer system with keyless remote locking and dual front airbags.
Key Exige S extras include the Touring Pack (leather upholstery, upgraded sound system, power windows, additional sound insulation and full carpeting), Track Pack (driver-adjustable Bilstein shock absorbers with remote front reservoirs and threaded front spring perches, five-way adjustable front anti-roll bar, rear chassis reinforcement and provisions for bolt-in seat harnesses), Lotus Traction Control,a limited-slip differential, deletion of the air conditioning that cuts weight by 20 pounds, Starshield clear protective film for the front and rear and 18 different Metallic or Lifestyle paint colors. For those who demand the ultimate thrill, Lotus also offers a 252-horsepower non-street-legal variant called the Sport Exige Cup 255.
Sitting amidships in the Exige S is a supercharged and intercooled version of the same Toyota-sourced DOHC 1.8-liter in-line four used in the Lotus Elise. Here too, this high-winding screamer is fitted with performance-enhancing Variable Valve Timing and Lift intelligence (VVTL-i), paired with a custom Lotus electronic control package, that together add a bit more kick to the engine's mid-range response. The critical boost comes from the addition of the force-feeding package that bumps output from 190 to 220 horsepower and raises torque from 134 to 165 pound-feetwith 80 percent of that twist available from just 2,000 rpm. Still matched with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, it can send the Exige S streaking from zero to 60 miles per hour in a claimed 4.1 seconds and give it a top speed of 148 mph.
1.8-liter in-line 4 Supercharged
220 horsepower @ 8000 rpm
165 lb.-ft. @ 5500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/29