Lotus Exige Sport 350: The car you’ll miss when everything turns electric
In a world heading towards desensitized electric cars, it is now the time to go back to what makes for a true driving experience.
We are at a crossroads. With new regulations rolling in, in what seems like every other month, the future of the internal combustion engine is looking grim. It’s quite the opposite story for electric vehicles' future as every automaker is trying to add at least one EV model to their lineup and produce the latest, most high-tech EV on the market. Even Lotus is no exception with their new Evija expected for 2021. Moving away from manual transmissions was already a difficult transition but moving away from roaring ICEs is even harder. Even though it seems inevitable.
So what can we do? Well, it is now more important than ever to look deeper into what British automotive makers offer and this time we are precisely looking at the Lotus Exige Sport 350. Light, bare, fast and with a supercar kind of look, the Exige combines what Lotus has been doing best, providing enthusiasts with a real “driver’s car”.
The Lotus Exige is as raw as a car can get.
Because all the fancy leather, screens, heating options and so forth have been left aside, it is a car that allows you to stay acute and focused on what you came here to do: Experience performance. Engine-wise, that translates to a 3.5L V6 Toyota engine supercharged by Lotus, producing 345 hp (or 350 ps, from which the Exige Sport 350 gets its name) and 295 lb-ft of torque. As a mid-engined car, the V6 sits right behind the passenger seats and most of which can be seen from the rear view mirror. All in all, you get what you’d want from a mid-engine sport car: a manual gearbox, an engine right behind you screaming in your ears, lightness and near-lightspeed responsiveness.
On the left side of the steering column, there's an unmarked button that allows you to turn the sport exhaust on or off. Not that it is much quieter when turned off but the difference is flagrant once you break through the 4,000 rpm mark. The exhaust valves open up, allowing an aggressive, raw V6 race car sound to come out of it.
On the straights and in corners, you get supercar-like performance.
The Exige is sharp; it darts in and out of corners and bolts on the straights with an unmatched enthusiasm. Lightweight is yet again an advantage for the Exige as you do not feel any weight. The entire driving experience is completed with an outstanding 6-speed manual gearbox that is as good as it looks. Because the gear ratio is rather short, not only do you get the chance to fully exploit each shift to its maximum potential, you also get to enjoy a lot of shifting action even at low speeds.
The Exige hits 0-100 km/h 3.9s and you can keep going until you reach a top speed of 274 km/h. Whether you can get it right off the line is all down to your skills. There is no computer to help you launch, so when you set off the Exige is already gone before you can think about shifting gears. As for the brakes, there isn’t much to say about the Exige’s AP Racing brakes, except for the fact that they perfectly complete the outstanding acceleration. They are extremely responsive, precise and with the aid of the Exige’s light mass, you truly get to put the AP Racing brakes to proper use. Late-braking into corners has never felt more exciting.
The “supercar-like” adjective applies to the Exige’s looks too.
More mature than the Elise and sportier than the Evora, weight was shaved off wherever possible to give the Exige a lean silhouette. While performance remains the same as the Exige Sport 350, this particular test car which happened to be a GP Edition gets a gorgeous black and gold trim inside and out. The aerodynamic stripes starting from the carbon fiber front access panel and crossing the carbon fiber roof are highlighted in Mars Gold, accentuate the car’s silhouette even more.
The previous generation may have had a glass engine cover but what is more important than showing off your engine and giving the driver some decent rear visibility? You’ve got it: weight reduction. Replacing the glass cover are these plastic slats that help save 3 kg. You may think “that's all?” But for a car weighing a mere 1,125 kg (2,480 lbs), every kilo counts.
Lotus was generous enough to allow for a bit of trunk space, right next to the engine. Though small, this luggage compartment is a true optical illusion as it fits a lot more than what you’d expect. If Tetris is your thing, you now get to apply some of those valuable skills to a real life situation.
The interior is so bare one would almost wonder what is there to talk about?
There may not be much in this compact interior but each component that makes up the interior of the Exige is here because it has a purpose. You sit low in the aluminium tub and the bucket seats are made of carbon fiber with a thin padding of Alcantara. While you do get to adjust the driver’s seat by sliding it backwards and forwards, the steering wheel isn’t adjustable and neither is the passenger seat because what would be the point of that anyway? For this GP Edition, gold trims and laurel wreath stitchings on the headrest are added to the interior of the Sport 350.
The most praiseworthy aspect of the interior is undeniably the gear shifter’s exposed linkage. A work of art that won’t be easy to clean but being able to see how your gear shifter moves from gear to gear allows for an incredible connection with the car.
Infotainment-wise, you do get a small, detachable stereo to listen to the radio or even to your own music via an AUX cord. Underneath the stereo, three knobs allow you to control the climate and that’s about it. Honestly, isn’t it refreshing to be able to understand every single button’s function for once? The Exige is simple and unpretentious, and that’s why we love it.
When we look at a performance car we aren’t just amazed at how fast it drives,
we are also distracted by the luxurious interior and all the fancy tech it is equipped with. In most cars, the vehicle adapts itself to you as it tries to offer an all-in-one package of performance, tech and comfort… but all of this extra stuff eventually gets in the way. This is precisely why the Lotus is now more important than ever because it offers something that others aren’t doing anymore: a real, uninterrupted connection between the driver, the car and the road. The Exige is a powerful cocktail of raw engine sounds, bare interior, stiff steering and incredibly satisfying cornering speeds.
The Exige Sport 350 is priced at ¥9,900,000 ($95,500; £71,500), keeping its prices just underneath the ¥10 million mark. If you are curious about this special GP Edition, this one sees an extra ¥1,430,000 ($14,000; £10,500) added to the base price of the Exige Sport 350. For the amount of performance and sportiness you get, the Exige is priced rather fairly. It will be parked first row in your garage for a thrilling weekend escape but you won’t be able to count on it for all the other monotone weekday activities. In other words, you will need a daily drive on the side and that will be the only compromise.
The Exige, alongside its siblings, is doing an outstanding job keeping alive all that we love about driving but even within the Lotus family, an electric revolution is happening. When that happens, the Exige with its internal combustion engine and manual transmission will become even more desirable. What can we say? The Exige is unapologetically a driver’s car and deep down, that’s the kind of car we all aspire to.