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2007 Lotus Exige S

Lotus Says the S Stands for Supercharged, We’re Thinking More Like Stupefying

      Lotus, like other conventional automakers who like to drop an “S” or a “T” somewhere in the name of a car to denote the presence of a supercharger or turbocharger, would have us believe that’s all the suffix represents here. But Lotus is no conventional automaker, and one run through the gearbox of the quickest Lotus roadcar available and you’ll agree that a rechristening is in order here. My dictionary says something that is stupefying will “make somebody unable to think clearly because of boredom, tiredness, or amazement”. We can testify from experience that when piloting the Exige S it’s not boredom or tiredness you’ll be feeling. Even on the mind numbing interstates of Metro Detroit, where driving joy seems a thousand miles away, you’ll be too busy avoiding pot holes and lane-drifting, slack-jawed hooligans with cell phone cameras to ever get bored. Now being unable to think clearly because of amazement, that’s something you’ll experience with every flex of your right foot. That means one thing: this must be the Lotus Exige Stupefying Edition.
      If the Exige S looks familiar, it’s because it’s basically an angrier Elise. The front splitter, side intakes and rear wing are painted body color on the S and, like the normally aspirated Exige, combine with the flat underbody and rear diffuser to provide almost 100 pounds of downforce at 100 mph. That’s the technical side of things.
      The design side of things is pretty straightforward. This car, especially in Solar Yellow metallic paint ($590 extra) is like a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and Batmobile all rolled into one when it comes to gathering attention. Quick stops at the gas station turn into 20 minute show-and-tell presentations. Of course, the enlightened enthusiast crowd might not know what it is, but they’ve at least heard of Lotus. The feeble masses seem mostly awed by its size, or lack thereof. The Exige S measures just 149.5 inches long, rides on a 90.5 inch wheelbase and stands just 45.6 inches tall. To put that in prospective, a Corvette stretches 25 inches longer and a Porsche 911 towers 6 inches taller. Big, she’s not.
      But at home on a curving ribbon of blacktop the mid-engine proportions appear spot-on, the numerous vents and scoops look purposeful and the preeminent message conveyed is that of a featherweight. The wheels and brakes certainly uphold that mantra with the former being lightweight forged alloys measuring 16” in front and 17” out back and the latter being 11.5” cross-drilled discs squeezed by AP Racing (front) and Brembo (rear) calipers that stopped the 2,077-pound Exige S in what could only be described as a stupefying manner. Of course, the Yokohama Advan tires that look like racing slicks with a few zigzag grooves cut in as an afterthought, yet are miraculously designated as street-tires, contribute mightily to the overall hardcore minimalist character of the car. Colin Chapman would be proud.
      The easiest way to tell an Exige apart is the roof mounted air intake that feeds the intercooled and supercharged 1.8-liter Toyota-sourced 4-cylinder. Cramming all that air at 7.25 psi into the little mill results in 220 hp at 8,000 rpm (also known as redline) and 165 lb-ft of torque at a more helpful 5,500 rpm. Those numbers won’t win any respect at the local Saturday morning car show but they’re all that’s needed to move this lightweight with supercar authority. Lotus claims 60 mph is passed in 4.1 seconds and 100 mph in just 11 seconds and the show doesn’t stop until 148 mph. The Lotus is probably the only car that can post those numbers and still return 29 mpg on the highway.
       But Lotus cars have never been about straightline numbers because the essence of Lotus has always been about the interaction between man and machine. The intimate feedback that can be provided by unassisted steering, minimalist design and above all, low weight, can only be found in a Lotus; at least they’re the only option if you want to enjoy public roads between track days. The Exige S provides a wishbone suspension at all corners with Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs and a front anti-roll bar to attack corners at speeds that would send most other cars spinning, or sliding or otherwise proving Newton’s First Law of Motion correct.
      The steering is never uncomfortably heavy, even at parking lot speeds and the quick 2.8 lock-to-lock ratio means that a serious change of direction can be called up with minimal effort. It’s as if the small MOMO steering wheel miraculously extends the nerves in your fingertips to the front tires’ contact patches. Nothing, and we mean nothing, is filtered out by this steering rack or suspension. On the roads that the Exige was designed for that’s a revelation, but buyer be warned, on the broken surfaces of Michigan’s roads the potholes and frost heaves hit so hard it sounds like Barry Bonds took an aluminum bat to the chassis.
       Since the remarkable black leather sport seats (part of the $1,350 Touring Package which also includes electric windows, an Alpine stereo and I-pod wiring harness, plus some nicer finished doors and a little carpeting) are bolted directly to the 150-pound bonded aluminum chassis your backside will be taking whatever punishment a given surface can dish out. It should also be noted that anyone north of 6 foot is going to be a snug fit, although my 6 foot frame fit just fine after sliding in over the high and wide door sill.
      The brake pedal is commendably firm and full of feedback. The clutch is fine but the shifter for the 6-speed manual is disappointingly rubbery and vague due to its cable operation and probably the only part of the driving experience that is a letdown. Power certainly isn’t a letdown because if you drop the clutch in first gear you’d better be mentally prepared for your shift to second. The tires will claw for traction for a second but once they hookup you’ll hit the redline if you’re not 100% tuned in. Of course, the first few times you try this you’ll forget our advice and screw up anyway thanks to something you forgot to prepare for: the noise. Yes, the Exige is the loudest car we’ve ever tested, and unfortunately it’s not the rippled bass notes of a racy V8 either. No, this is the hellacious rage of a tiny engine spinning to within an inch of its life, topped by a supercharger whining like a Hollywood brat and mounted directly behind your head with precious little to filter the fury.
      Sparse is an apt description of the Exige cabin as our pictures will attest. The radio is frustrating to operate and your only reward for mastering it is horrible sound quality. There’s really no cargo space inside and only 4 cubic feet in the cubby under the engine cover. But the important stuff like seats, steering wheel, pedal placement and shifter are all where they should be for motoring bliss. The pedals are very slippery with wet shoes though, some rubber grips might be worth the extra ounces. Then again, this is Lotus so I know what the answer to that comment will be.
      That’s why driving enthusiasts around the globe can take heart. As long as there’s a Lotus it’ll be guided by the defining principle that lightweight at all costs is the answer. The tactile feedback the Exige S provides on a good road is like manna for the enthusiast’s soul. It’s one of the most stupefying cars we’ve ever driven. And that’s high praise.

The Good:
Looks like a million bucks but only costs $65,540, as quick as it looks, returns 29 mpg.
The Bad:
The $1,790 Limited Slip Differential package should be standard on the quickest Lotus to date, with no visibility out the back interstate maneuvers can be nerve-racking, punishing ride and deafening noise.
The Verdict:
In a world of electronic safety nets and 500 hp, the latest Lotus is a revelation.
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