For such a congested, dreary and drizzly island, the United Kingdom sure does conjure up some pretty amazing sports cars. For 2006, one of its most dramatic products, the Lotus Exige, arrives on American shores. The Exige is based on Lotus' Elise roadster, and has already been on sale in Europe since 2005. (There was also an Exige version of the first-generation Elise. Neither first-gen version was officially imported into the United States.) Like the Elise, the Exige is a small, lightweight sports car packing a manically revving Toyota engine. Aluminum is used for the chassis' construction and features are kept to a minimum. Curb weight is a little more than 2,000 pounds; for reference, a Porsche Cayman S checks in at almost 3,000 pounds.
The main differences between the Exige and Elise are appearance and handling. The Exige's body modifications, including a fixed roof panel, sculpted engine cover, front-air splitter and rear wing, are intended to increase downforce at high speeds. At 100 mph, Lotus says that the Exige generates an additional 90 pounds of downforce (as opposed to the Elise at the same speed). This probably won't be very useful for going to get a pack of cigarettes from the local mini mart, but it extends the car's limits on a racetrack. The Exige also comes standard with the equipment found in the Elise's Sport Pack. This includes wider front tires, lightweight forged alloy wheels, barely legal Yokohama rubber, twin oil coolers and a stiffer sport suspension. For the true enthusiast, there's also a Track Pack that features an adjustable suspension.
Considering the Exige's performance potential, the price of admission is relatively modest. But this is not a mass-market car. The side effects of its focused performance, including a very stiff ride and minimal storage and safety equipment, make it a pretty miserable car for daily use. Most buyers in this market will be happier with the new Corvette Z06 or Cayman S. Wisely, Lotus doesn't plan on importing more than about 200 to 300 Exiges. And for the eventual handful of owners, the street-legal racecar experience won't get any better than this.
The Exige is a coupe version of the two-seat, rear-wheel-drive, midengined Elise roadster. A CD player and air conditioning are standard (the A/C can be removed to save weight), but overall the Exige is quite spartan. Several option packages offer a bit of customization. The Touring Pack aims to slightly improve comfort through leather seating, power windows, upgraded audio, a storage net, additional sound-deadening material and full carpeting. The Track Pack sends the Exige in the opposite direction; it comes with adjustable dampers, an adjustable front stabilizer bar, an additional rear suspension brace and interior fittings for a race-oriented harness. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels with 195/50R16 Yokohama Advan A048 tires are found up front; 17s with 225/45R17 rubber are in back. A limited-slip differential, a feature that improves acceleration and power delivery when exiting corners, is optional.
The Exige's minimalist design carries into the interior. The controls are simple and there's not much room available for storage. The composite sport seats provide plenty of support, but the car's fixed roof and wide sills make entry and exit particularly challenging for any human more than 3 feet tall. The trunk is rated at 4 cubic feet of capacity, which is enough for a few wedged-in grocery bags and not much else.
Power for the Exige comes from a Toyota-sourced 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Lotus fitted unique intake and exhaust components, as well as a reworked engine controller, to broaden the engine's power band and push peak horsepower to 190 at 7,800 rpm. Torque peaks at 138 pound-feet at 6,800 rpm. Lotus claims a 0-to-60 time of just 4.9 seconds and a drag-limited top speed of 147 mph. Fuel economy, at 24 mpg city/29 mpg highway, is quite respectable.
Because of its 1-ton curb weight, super-sticky tires and unassisted steering, the Exige is pretty much the most precise-handling car available for 2006 (Elise excepted, of course). No other car feels more eager to go where it's pointed. The Exige's body modifications do make a difference, but only at the higher speeds seen at a racetrack. On the move, the engine is tractable enough for low-speed work, but certainly the most grins come when the tach is past 6,000 rpm. Because of its sport-tuned suspension, though, the Exige does ride quite harshly on normal pavement. The brakes are simply phenomenal and provide fade-free performance in nearly every situation.
Don't expect much more than federally mandated safety equipment on the Exige. A four-wheel antilock brake system is included, but neither stability control nor side airbags are available. A traction control system is optional.
The Lotus Exige is a fixed-roof version of the Lotus Elise; it's being imported into the North American market for the first time in 2006.