Surely an Exige can’t cost nearly £100,000? When it’s as good as this it can
Lotus has, in the recent past, been a little bit guilty of popping ‘new’ cars out that maybe aren’t quite so new in terms of the actual differences between them and the ‘old’ model. You know, a small power upgrade here, a new wheel design there. Are these really ‘new’ cars?
Absolutely none of that argument is applicable to the Exige Cup 430. Lotus is calling it “a new car in every respect” and the comprehensive nature of the dynamic overhaul makes it hard to disagree – and equally hard to work out where the Exige could go from here.
Looking at the bald numbers, this Exige is 15 per cent more powerful than the previous 3.5-litre V6 supercharged range-topper. It goes around Lotus’s test track 1.2 seconds faster, and its 0-60mph time is the same as McLaren’s seminal F1.
Lotus Exige Cup 430
Engine: 3.5-litre, V6, supercharged petrol
Torque: 325lb ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 180mph
The intense desire and wild excitement start long before you plop your undeserving carcass into the new carbon seat. First you need to take in the exquisitely track-focused exterior detailing, from the elevated rear wing to the glossy carbon (and, as it turns out, fantastically effective) ‘J-hook’ AP Racing brakes. Suddenly the Exige is no longer merely an exciting sports car. It’s a genuine escapee from the pit lane. Who with any sort of gumption doesn’t want a car with standard tow hooks and cut-off switches?
The best thing is that these track details are fully backed up in the Cup 430’s actual performance, and we’re talking about typical country roads here too not super-smooth circuit ones. The Exige’s three-way adjustable Nitron dampers offer both high- and low-speed compression settings, and the damping on a Norfolk B-road is out of this world, tying this 1,093kg machine securely to the surface irrespective of contour, bump or scar. On longer trips you might decide to ease off on this car’s damper firmness: it was on click 14 of 24, with 1 being the firmest.
The raw speed of what is at the end of the day still a small Lotus is slightly disorientating, though shouldn’t be surprising given its McLaren 570S-like power to weight ratio. You soon get used to it though, and quickly learn to revel in its diminutiveness on a nadgery B-road. You can surf the torque if you prefer, with barely any reduction in the blurriness of your progress, and enjoy good visibility at the same time.
It’s being pitched as the ultimate road and track car, and is clearly more focused even than a Porsche GT3. Air conditioning, a stereo and sound insulation are all cost extras, and the GT3 will actually be an easier road companion, but the Exige delivers on-road acceptability with pure track excitement, even without the pizzazz of Porsche’s flat-six engine or the crispness of the German car’s gearshift. In exchange the Lotus gives you voluble communication, ballet-dancer poise and total involvement, all with the potential of insane mph.
Enter a corner a bit too quickly and you’ll feel the steering going light. Brake hard and you’ll feel the exact moment of ABS involvement. Tramp on the throttle and the wheels will spin. In every case, however, you’ll register the points and know what to do next time. It’s an easy learning process. You might be caught out in the early miles but you’ll never be left wondering “what happened then?” because the car will have told you exactly what happened then.
Keep pushing, and the Exige will be with you all the way, challenging and rewarding you and never impinging on your enjoyment. As track cars go, it’s genuinely amazing. It’s impossible not to love the mix of crafted dynamics and mechanical strength. Or the noise, which is epic.
Some may say that the Exige 430 doesn’t look look like a £100,000 car, but the appeal goes far deeper than the engine-off state. Cayman GT4s are still obtainable for similar money, but that doesn’t detract from the Lotus proposition.
When you add the adjective ‘track-focused’ to a Lotus, you’re entitled to expect something special. This Cup 430 meets and exceeds just about any expectation.