Minimalism is the operative word behind the Lotus Exige, a dedicated sports car that will appeal to extreme enthusiasts (and probably few others). The edgy Exige is compact and built purely for ultra-high-performance driving.
Unlike other supercars, the Lotus Exige isn't powered by a massive fire-breathing V8, V10 or V12. A high-revving four-cylinder engine is all that's needed to provide extraordinary performance. This is because of the vehicle's lightweight construction. There are few amenities and little sound dampening. Weight-adding safety features are kept to the absolute minimum. As a result, the Exige makes little sense as a daily driver. But as a performance car where Lotus' mantra of "simplificate, then add lightness" is in full effect, the Exige is simply one of the quickest, most dynamic and exciting cars on the road.
Current Lotus Exige
The Lotus Exige is a hardtop coupe version of the company's Elise roadster available in S240 and S260 Sport trim levels, When the Exige first arrived in America, it was a pleasant surprise. Britain has a long history of building small, lightweight enthusiast sports cars, but for the last quarter-century very few of them have crossed the Atlantic. The Exige is uncompromising to such a degree that it doesn't feel legal, even by exotic car standards.
Underneath the dramatic body shell is a car built for no other purpose than to be driven hard and fast. The rear-wheel-drive sports coupe is lightweight and loud. It seats only two. Even the standard air-conditioning system can be deleted to reduce weight. With the Lotus Exige, it's all about minimizing weight. The body structure is made of aluminum. The trunk is small and there's not much additional storage space. Standard features don't include power controls. And safety features are limited to the absolute minimum, so there are no side airbags or stability control and traction control is optional. Power steering? Forget about it.
The S240 is the more spartan of the two Exiges. Purchasing the optional Touring Pack gets you full carpeting, sound-deadening material, a cupholder and a decent stereo. For the more hard-core, there is the Track Pack, which is equipped with manually adjustable Ohlins dampers and height-adjustable springs. The S260 includes both Touring and Track Packs and also adds a boost in power output, a limited-slip differential, numerous carbon-fiber body panels, a front splitter, a rear spoiler and a carbon-fiber race seat.
The Lotus Exige S240 is powered by a supercharged and intercooled 1.8-liter four-cylinder mounted directly behind the cabin. This engine produces 240 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. The S260 kicks output up to 257 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is a six-speed conventional manual. Acceleration is a claimed 0-60-mph blast of 4.5 seconds for the S240, while the S260 is estimated at 4.0 seconds.
In our reviews, we found the Lotus Exige to be one of the most precise-handling cars on the market. It's like a hummingbird on four wheels. It's more of a quick car on a twisty road than a crazy fast car in a straight line. Since it was designed with a road course in mind, stopping and steering are just as important as acceleration. And while it was built to do everything well, it wasn't built for everyone in mind. The ride is harsh, getting in and out is difficult and outward visibility is extremely poor, essentially nonexistent out the back. But for die-hard enthusiasts, there's probably nothing more satisfying to drive.
Used Lotus Exige Models
An earlier Exige (based on the first-generation Elise) was never officially imported, so the Exige arrived in the North American market for 2006. In that first year, only the standard model was available. This featured the same 189-hp version of the Toyota-sourced inline-4 engine found in the Elise, and all the other track-ready handling upgrades found on the current Exige. The supercharged Exige S debuted a year later, with 220 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque.
For 2008, the base model was dropped while an even higher-performance version, the S240, debuted. It included bigger brakes and a larger roof-mounted air scoop than the S. That year also saw a new instrument display with a trip computer fitted to both Exige trims. For 2009, the Exige received a handful of aerodynamic enhancements that included a slightly restyled front end and a larger, low-drag rear wing. Also, upgraded Ohlins dampers were added to the optional Track Pack. That year also saw the introduction of the Exige S260, with its more powerful 257-hp engine, even bigger brakes and an even larger roof-mounted scoop.
The S260 was dropped from the lineup for the 2010 model year, but was reintroduced for 2011. That year also saw the debut of the S260 Sport model, as well as a Roger Becker special edition, honoring the recently retired head of Lotus vehicle engineering.