The Exige’s interior could best be described as sparse, spartan and utilitarian. In fact, I think I’m right in saying a Gulf war Humvee H1 was better equipped inside. Although air conditioning was an option, and with a only a small cabin to cool it was effective, the car’s CD player didn’t stand a chance of competing against both road and engine noise.
But the low bucket seats, thin little wheel that writhed in your hands thanks to the car’s wonderfully communicative steering and beautifully weighted pedals machined out of aluminium gave the Exige a sensational driving position to command the dainty little British sportscar from.
And the view from that superb driving position out of the wrap-around Group C racer style windscreen meant you could place the car exactly where you wanted it on the road.
The Group C racer theme continued on the outside with the cars light weight reinforced plastic body keeping curb weight to a minimum. The Exige sat low on its springs and had a properly rakishly aggressive stance, its light weight forged wheels reducing un-sprung mass and giving the car electric turn-in. There was no doubt that the Exige was a nasty little hornet of a car that buzzed its way around the bends – on its special Yokohama track day rubber the Exige could create simply staggering cornering forces.
With the car’s front splitter, diffuser and rear wing creating nearly 80 kg of downforce at 100 mph, the Exige was really a mini Group C car for the road albeit with easier access, better visibility but not the 240 mph top speed.
Hit the link to read more about the little Lotus Exige.
While the series two Exige might have been more refined than the original on the inside, (yes, it’s hard to believe you can call it ‘refined’) its exterior was much more aggressive. Knife edge sharp creases ran the length of the car and pointed towards its handling characteristics but the narrow wasted Exige with its minimal overhangs was still attractive in the same sense as an F-15 fighter.
Whereas series one Exiges used a British 1.8-litre Rover engine, series two cars used Toyota’s 1.8-litre VVTL-i unit so it was eligible for sales over here in the US. While the normally aspirated series two had the same 190 hp as the series 1, later supercharged cars seriously pushed the output of the engine, and the pace at which the diminutive Lotus could be hurled at the horizon to the extreme. Anywhere between 220 and 260 hp was on tap depending on the customers’ budget, of course.
The Toyota engine was much more efficient though and its revvy character (the engine used a similar system to Honda’s VTEC) coupled to one of the most crisp six-speed gearboxes around suited the chassis perfectly.
With that 190 hp, 133 lb ft of torque and ultra-low curb weight of just 875 kg, the Exige’s 220 hp per tonne meant it could complete the sprint to 62 mph from rest in just 4.8 seconds.
The car first went on sale in 2004 priced at £31,500 (around $53,000 now, so a fair bit more back then). On the face of things, this was quite a lot for a stripped out two-seater with little in the way of creature comforts but its superb, almost telepathic steering, sure-footed handling and huge reserves of grip meant given a twisty mountain pass, the Exige could embarrass some seriously exotic machinery. The Exige proved you didn’t need a big engine and lots of power, just a lightweight and agile chassis.
The little Lotus coupe was unique too. There wasn’t much in the way of direct competition then and that remains today. Vauxhall ’s (GM) VX220 in the UK was similar in concept but was a roadster, and built by Lotus, it was purposely pegged back so as not to interfere with the Exige.
At the comfort end of the spectrum there was the Audi TT. The TT was similarly priced and although much more refined, next to the Exige it felt lethargic, docile and heavy.
The Exige was criticised for its slightly buzzy engine that needed revving to extract the best from it as well as its uncompromising racetrack-like manners on the road. But the Lotus achieved its goal of being a maximum attack weapon and followed Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s performance through lightweight mantra to the letter.