It's been said that anything worthwhile involves some sacrifice. For the 2009 Lotus Exige the sacrifices are many, but the payoff in performance and driver engagement is equally large. If you want a genuine street-legal racecar from the factory, look no further than the Exige. It's similar to the elemental Lotus Elise roadster, but its fixed hardtop and fastback-style tail distinguish it as the more focused car of the pair.
At the heart of the Exige's extraordinary performance is Lotus founder Colin Chapman's mantra: "To add speed, add lightness." Lotus' revolutionary process of chemically bonding the aluminum elements together results in an exceptionally stiff and lightweight body structure. Incredibly, the bare chassis tips the scales at a mere 150 pounds, and overall weight is a supermodel-light 2,077 pounds. This eliminates the need for a large engine, which is why you'll find a mid-mounted four-cylinder Toyota-sourced mill under the Exige's hood.
We mentioned sacrifices, so here they are: The Exige is comically small, and therefore about as visible as a scooter in traffic. It is so low to the ground that driveways and speed bumps are enough to induce a cold sweat. Climbing in and out of the cockpit is like trying to escape Alcatraz through a Frisbee-sized hole in the wall. The suspension is so tightly sprung that you'd swear this car had square wheels. Rearward visibility is on par with that of a Mini Cooper towing an Airstream trailer. Trunk space is almost nonexistent, and anything you stow there will be baked to a crisp by the engine and exhaust. We could go on, but you get the point.
On the flip side, though, the 2009 Lotus Exige handles more nimbly than any other car sold. Period. It also gives a high level of feedback through your feet, posterior, hands and inner ear. Meanwhile, acceleration from the supercharged inline-4 is simply maniacal, especially as it shrieks toward its 8,000-rpm limiter.
This is the Exige. If it all sounds like a bit much, the Porsche Cayman S is likely a better choice. But if you're willing to put up with the sacrifices, Lotus' road-legal racecar will no doubt bring a demonic smile to your face every time you happen upon a sinuous string of tarmac.
The 2009 Lotus Exige is a two-seat, high-performance coupe. It is offered in Exige S 240 and Exige S 260 Sport models. Standard equipment on the Exige S 240 includes forged alloy wheels (16-inch front, 17-inch rear), Yokohama Advan A048 high-performance tires, Lotus/AP Racing & Brembo ventilated and cross-drilled brakes, Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, sport seats with Probax anatomical padding, black cloth upholstery, a leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel, a four-speaker Alpine stereo with a CD player, variable traction control and launch control.
Most options are grouped into packages. The Touring Pack includes additional sound insulation, a cupholder, an interior stowage net, a full carpet set, iPod connectivity and black leather for the seats, door panels, handbrake and center console. The Track Pack adds manually adjustable springs and dampers. A paint-protection film, limited-slip differential and special-order exterior colors are also optional, although some of these colors are more expensive than all the other options combined. The Exige S 260 receives a slight bump in power, and it includes all of the S 240's standard features plus the Touring Pack, Track Pack and limited-slip differential. This ultra-hard-core model also weighs about 50 pounds less due to some additional carbon-fiber body pieces and the deletion of the rear window, passenger footrest and interior rearview mirror.
The Exige's minimalist design carries over to the cabin. The controls are sparse and not entirely user-friendly (especially the tiny radio buttons), and there's very little in the way of storage. The composite sport seats provide excellent lateral support, but the low fixed roof and wide sills make entry and exit a gymnastic feat for any creature bigger than a Hobbit. Tall drivers are likely to find the Exige downright painful, as their right leg can get painfully wedged between the steering wheel and gearlever. The trunk is rated at a laughable 4 cubic feet of capacity.
The 2009 Lotus Exige is powered by a supercharged and intercooled 1.8-liter four-cylinder mounted directly behind the cabin. The Exige S 240 produces 240 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. The Exige S 260 receives a slight increase in power, resulting in 257 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available to both Exige models is a six-speed conventional manual. Acceleration is essentially a dead heat between the two Exiges, with claimed 0-60-mph blasts of 4.1 seconds for the S 240 and 4.0 seconds for the S 260. Fuel economy is also impressive at a miserly 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
Performance is the name of the game with the 2009 Lotus Exige. The manual steering, firm brake pedal and tight suspension relay data instantaneously to the driver, but they also deliver the worst parts of public roads directly to your spine. The brakes provide eye-bulging deceleration without fear of fade. Living with an Exige means sacrificing comforts and conveniences that have been expected of cars for over a century, but for the right driver, the rewards can be as gratifying as spraying the champagne atop a Formula 1 podium.
Since the Lotus Exige strives for lightweight, all-out performance, safety equipment is as low as federally mandated rules allow. Antilock brakes and traction control are included, but side airbags are not available.
The 2009 Lotus Exige lineup now includes a lighter and slightly more powerful S 260, while the base Exige S from previous years has been discontinued.