It takes a lot of guts to walk into the Lotus showroom and say, “I’ll take an Exige Sport 350, please.”
If you’ve never driven a Lotus, then you are undoubtedly wondering why buying one takes courage.
The reason is simple: One does not buy a Lotus Exige on a whim – not even after 10 test drives. In my world, buying it really is the same as marrying it.
Before you take the plunge, you need to think about it carefully. Then you must think about it some more. Meditate if needed. Spend sleepless nights agonising over this decision.
And only then, with butterflies in your stomach and a hint of trepidation, do you walk into a showroom and ask for a Lotus Exige Sport 350.
A COMMITMENT, AND COMPROMISES
There will always be hardcore, old-school enthusiasts who have no issues with a Lotus as their daily driver.
But that is a small minority. To most enthusiasts, the thought of owning a Lotus is something of a rarity. It is like asking a supermodel out on a date. To the average guy, this is intimidating, if not downright terrifying.
Approaching the Lotus Exige brings forth feelings of anxiety. At just 1129mm high, the coupe screams, “I was born for the racetrack!”
Numerous air intakes dot the mid-engine Exige’s body. Cross-drilled AP Racing brake discs with red callipers peer out from behind black wheels. Open the boot and you’ll discover that you’ve also accessed the engine.
That’s right, the only thing “covering” the supercharged motor is has horizontal slats. No fancy Italian glass covers here.
As I peer below the rear spoiler, my gaze is met by a centre-mounted exhaust and an F1-style diffuser with sizeable fins. Clearly, the Lotus Exige must be kept clear of kerbs and wheel blocks when reversing. I reminded myself of this every time I parked.
FLEXING, STRETCHING AND BENDING
Marrying an athlete means you must be fit in order to keep up with her.
Taking the Lotus Exige (or again, any Lotus) for a drive requires you to be flexible. If you have back issues, buy another car or get in shape first. I wish I took regular yoga lessons three months before this drive.
As I made my first attempt to get behind the wheel, I was glad to be wearing my mask. With nearly half my face covered, nobody except my friends will recognise me as I struggle to get my generous frame in.
Panting, I realised it would be even better if I wore a balaclava, so I would be even harder to recognise. At this point, I was just thankful that the door handle was within easy reach.
IT’S JUST YOU AND HER
Expect cramped quarters in here. There is only enough space for the necessary movements, which are steering the car, shifting gears and operating the pedals.
There are no distractions in the Lotus Exige. You get a standard dual-meter instrument panel, three-speed air-conditioning and a single-DIN hi-fi system. No fancy infotainment or menus to scroll through.
Even the odometer reset button is hidden below the steering column. Ditto for the exhaust valve control, which is a random-looking button on the centre console.
The loveliest element in the cockpit is the aluminium gearshift lever whose mechanical linkages are exposed. Kinky.
Starting the Lotus Exige is a two-step process. You turn the key, wait for the lights to come on before pressing and holding the Start button.
Your neck hairs stand on end as the supercharged V6 awakens with a loud bark. The only thing separating you from the motor is a small and thin piece of glass.
TIME FOR A HOT WORKOUT
Apart from yoga sessions, you should also do resistance or weight training to prepare yourself to drive the Exige. For apart from having a stiff clutch pedal, the helm is also unassisted.
This is not a problem on the go. But when it’s time to park, you need a fair amount of arm strength to turn the wheel. If you haven’t done any dumbbell or barbell curls in a while, this will take even more effort.
Modulating the hefty clutch pedal is easy. I had more trouble with the back of my shoe constantly catching the floor.
But once you get to grips with the effort required, you’ll find it easy to go fast. That’s because the 345hp produced by the supercharged 3.5-litre V6 only has to move 1125kg. You’re looking at 307hp per tonne.
With Sport model selected, the Lotus Exige’s acceleration feels even more explosive. Zero to 100km/h flashes by in 3.9 seconds. But it’s not just the outright acceleration that’s amazing. It’s the mid-range, too.
I could leave the gearbox in fourth and just gun the throttle pedal as needed because there’s so much torque. But who wants to do that when you’ve got such a nice gearshift lever to play with?
One of the coolest things about driving the Lotus Exige is throwing the gearshift lever hard and hearing a resounding “thwack!” It’s immensely satisfying, and each clack just makes me want to push the car harder.
And pushing hard is something you’ll want to do, especially when the engine sounds so awesome past 4000rpm.
CORNERS? WHAT CORNERS?
Half of the Lotus Exige’s handling prowess comes from its lightweight aluminium chassis and composite body. The other half comes from the firm’s expertise in making the suspension maximise this potential.
The dampers are stiffly sprung, yet surprisingly offer a small degree of pliancy. You do not crash into bumps in the Exige – the car deals with them quickly and you sort of forget they existed.
It does not matter what type of corner you show the Lotus Exige. In here, everything is easy. In fact, it is too easy.
Are you carrying too much speed? No problem, the AP Racing brakes will shed that velocity with ferocity. Is your entry speed still too quick? That’s also not an issue.
Point the nose where you want it go and the rest of the car follows naturally and instinctively. The grip, tremendous and terrific, lets you do ridiculous things like put the power down mid-corner and feel the Exige slingshot towards the horizon.
With so much potential in your hands, you must give this car 100 percent focus, 100 percent of the time. Anything less means you have failed to appreciate and utilise the Lotus Exige’s abilities.
The unassisted helm keeps you on your toes, with undulations and bumps communicated to your fingertips. There’s no tramlining, but those little tugs you feel while driving – that’s the car talking to you.
WANT TO BUY A LOTUS EXIGE?
If you already have four, five or even six cars, adding a Lotus to your collection sounds like a no-brainer.
But the Exige requires more than passion for driving. If you’re not prepared to give it your full and undivided attention when you’re behind the wheel, walk away. This is not the car for you.
The Lotus Exige demands a committed pilot with a steely focus in order to extract its full potential. It is not a car that wants to be treated like a toy and cast aside when its owner has tired of (or become knackered by) it.
Love it or leave it. There is no middle ground.
Lotus Exige Sport 350 3.5
ENGINE 3456cc, 24-valves, V6, supercharged
MAX POWER 345hp at 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE 400Nm at 4500rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 307hp per tonne
GEARBOX 6-speed manual
0-100KM/H 3.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 273km/h
CONSUMPTION 10.6km/L (combined)
PRICE EXCL. COE $300,000 (after $20k VES surcharge)
AGENT Wearnes Automotive
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