In the case of the 2011 Lotus Exige, we'd give up quite a lot. It's loud, cramped, harsh, impractical and unforgiving. Yet a true driving enthusiast -- one who intends to use this car at its full potential on a racetrack -- finds these sacrifices only minor inconveniences compared to the unparalleled driving experience this little sports car delivers.
Starting with a very lightweight aluminum chassis that is chemically bonded (instead of welded or bolted) for rigidity, the Exige follows the core Lotus principle of founder Colin Chapman: "Simplify, then add lightness." Everything about the Exige is built for lightness, from the fiberglass and carbon-fiber bodywork to the deletion of unessential convenience features. Reduced weight allows a small-displacement engine to deliver supercar performance. In this case, it's a supercharged 1.8-liter Toyota inline-4.
The resulting weight-to-power ratio comes in at an impressive 8.33 pounds per horsepower, a ratio even more favorable than the likes of the Audi R8 or Porsche 911. Opting for the even more powerful Lotus Exige S260 Sport will give a driver even more to smile about. And let's not overlook the Exige's handling, which has the immediate response of a manic hummingbird. Once you factor in the feel through the steering and even the seat of your pants, it's as if you have nerve endings that extend to the contact patches of the tires.
This combination of driving dynamics and visceral feedback leaves the Exige with little in the way of competition at its price point. Porsche's Boxster Spyder represents the closest rival for a track-tuned weapon, but while the Spyder is much easier to live with on a daily basis, it isn't nearly as communicative. For ultimate driver engagement and thrills, it's hard to beat the 2011 Lotus Exige.
The 2011 Lotus Exige is a midengine, two-passenger rear-wheel-drive coupe that is offered in two trims: the S240 and the S260 Sport.
Standard features for the Exige S240 include forged-aluminum wheels (16-inch front, 17-inch rear), Yokohama Advan A048 high-performance tires, Lotus/AP Racing and Brembo ventilated and cross-drilled brakes, Bilstein dampers with 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, and adjustable traction control and launch control.
An optional Touring Pack adds additional acoustic insulation, a cupholder, an interior stowage net, a full carpet set, iPod connectivity, center console divider and leather upholstery for the seats, door panels, handbrake and center console. The Track Pack adds manually adjustable Ohlins dampers and height-adjustable springs. 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).
Powering the 2011 Lotus Exige S240 is a Yamaha-engineered and Toyota-built four-cylinder engine. This supercharged and intercooled unit produces 240 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. The version in the Exige S260 Sport gets a slight increase in output to 257 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered.
Lotus claims a 0-60-mph acceleration time of 4.5 seconds for the S240, while the S260 Sport is estimated at 4.0 seconds. Despite the Exige's high sporting potential, fuel economy does not suffer, as both models return 20 mpg city and 26 mpg on the highway.
Among any car currently being produced, the Lotus Exige has the most sparsely appointed cabin you're likely to encounter. The few controls available are not very user-friendly (especially the tiny radio buttons), and the trim amounts to bare metal and hard plastics. The sport seats offer excellent lateral support and are surprisingly comfortable, but accessing them requires a high level of flexibility in order to limbo past the low roof line while clambering over the high door sills. If you're tall, you'll probably find the cabin as enjoyable as a straitjacket, as your right leg can get painfully wedged between the steering wheel and shift lever.
Storage space is also hard to come by, since there is neither a glovebox nor interior pockets. The comically small trunk can only accommodate 4 cubic feet of cargo, and that cargo would have to fit past a very narrow opening. Furthermore, anything placed back there will be slow roasted by heat from the engine and exhaust. Fortunately, the Exige is fast enough to get home from the supermarket before your ice cream becomes a milkshake.
Since the lightweight Exige strives for all-out performance, safety equipment is as bare-bones as federally mandated rules allow. Front airbags, antilock brakes and traction control are included, but side airbags and stability control are not available.
Braking tester of a similar Lotus Elise yielded a very short 110-foot stop from 60 mph. We expect the Exige to meet or better this figure.
Base From TBA
Engine 3.5L 276 hp V6
Body Style Coupe
Segment High-Performance Exotic Sport