The Lotus Exige S Roadster
It was while I was driving the Exige S ‘for pleasure’ on my favourite test route that it reminded me of why I fell in love with Doris
Due to my incredible good looks and youthful stature, many people wouldn’t believe I am old enough to remember when people didn’t have mobile phones. I rarely try to convince them otherwise for I was taught as a young man that ego is a bad thing and ‘modesty is the best policy’. Of course, when mobile phones were invented they were about the size of an average brick. Now they are so small that if you asked me where mine is right now I’d have to put my glasses on to find it.
It’ll come as no surprise then that these days, the average luxury car houses more advanced technology than Apollo 13.
The car is a highly advanced computer on wheels that takes away most of your personal responsibility for good safe car control, making the driver as irrelevant as possible; each aspect of what used to be essential driving skills replaced by some state-of-the-art technical gizmo. Why learn to park a car yourself? Just press a button and let technology do it for you?
Whilst the bottom line has to be that anything that improves safety is a good thing, many of us yearn to be behind the wheel of a car that brings back the joy of motoring. A car requiring us to drive again, focused on driver involvement, and that close tactile communication a keen driver wants with a good car. It’s at those times you say in this highly techno crazy world; ‘thank god for Lotus’.
In the beginning
Especially this fabulous Exige S. A true successor to the philosophy of its brand legend and founder Mr. Colin Chapman. Colin, (to his mates), was a profound believer in lightweight efficiency. My mate Colin is often remembered as saying; “Simplify, then add lightness” and “Adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”
This Exige S Roadster is lighter by 50 kg than the Coupe, whilst the current Series III is heavier than the previous Series II due to upping the power from a 1.8 cc 4 cylinder to a 3.5 litre V6. Although we may see the odd Series II Roadster around, they are all ‘after market’ rather than factory production models as this Series III car is the first official Exige S Roadster produced by the Company. The Roadster body has necessitated certain styling changes over the Coupe to, in the words of a Lotus spokesperson ‘to ensure the car still handles and performs like a true Lotus should’ – hence the rear wing and front splitter had to go in order to maximise airflow without compromising dynamic effect.
Thus the pleasures of true open air motoring with accomplished Lotus performance are yours. The 3.5 litre DOHC V6 VVti 24 valve engine is equipped with a Harrop HTV 1320 Supercharger which rockets through its six speed ratio gearbox to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and a maximum speed of 145 mph. That’s pretty quick by anyone’s standards, but then with 345 bhp powering a meagre weight of 1166 kg (the lightest in class) that’s not that much of a surprise. For those who like PlayStation-style driving, there’s no official paddle change option as we go to press, but demand could change that.
Thankfully Lotus protect your real driving experience by focusing its safety technology on the braking (ABS/ESP/Hydraulic Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Distribution) whilst the electronic Dynamic Performance Management doesn’t compromise the cars purist handling dynamics, it actually enhances them.
It took me about half an hour to get into this fabulous light weight Lotus because I’d just eaten a three course meal. Despite my lithe youthful flexibility, a slipped disc and dodgy knees didn’t help. Had I thought, it would have simply been a matter of two clicks and a rolling of the factory fitted soft top towards the middle section of the car, standing in the cockpit, and then sliding myself down into the seat. But that would have been too easy, it’s much more fun being Mr. Bean. By contrast, our young photographer just opened the door and got in. How did he do that?
Once seated you feel as if you’re in a Le Mans car, fitting snug like a quality designer suit. The seats are comfortable, supportive, but suitably ‘hugging’ The cabin is simple, functional, and single purpose. Ahead of you are two dials (Speed/revs/fuel etc.), in the middle a gear-lever and handbrake, and that really is ‘it’ to the eye – although look hard and there’s a fair degree of technology at your disposal on our test car.
By this stage any practicality issues (like getting in and out) are well and truly forgotten; you simply want to experience this build-up of promise in action. That comes with the turn of a key and the press of a centrally mounted button, the engine responding sharp and keen to the prospect of doing some serious work. There is only one place to go now; your most favourite cross country driving route. This is all about driving… for the pleasure of driving.
Forgive me, but it was while I was driving the Exige S ‘for pleasure’ on my favourite test route that it reminded me of why I fell in love with Doris. It was because she loved a good manual gearbox. There she was sitting beside me as we went hard into a fast sweeping right hander; “Look at how it absorbs the lateral load into the bends setting you up nicely for positive power in third gear and a quick exit” she says!
God, I love that woman. And she’s right, it really does come into its own when you push it hard – like all really good handling cars it absorbs, interprets, and delivers. The faster you go, the better it gets. And it’s so forgiving; if you get it wrong there’s so much predictability and seat-of-the-pants chassis information that there’s no need to sweat or panic, just adjust. This is why Lotus are the Masters of Handling, and this Exige S shows how.
- Kevin Haggarthy