Road test: Lotus Exige-S Roadster

Road test: Lotus Exige-S Roadster

The Exige range has received a stylistic makeover, most notably in the Roadster model that sees the supercharged sports car's roof lopped off and replaced with a fabric number akin to its Elise brethren. But has the lack of tin top ruined the visceral driving experience? AOL Cars spent a week in one to find out...
What is it?

Picture the Exige range as the angry brother of the little Elise, a machine that packs a 3.5 litre V6 engine as opposed to the comparatively tiny 1.6-litre Toyota unit found in its petite sibling. Styling is more 'in-your-face', too, with a Tarmac grazing front bumper seamlessly blending into equally low side-skirts that flow into bulbous wheel arches that house enormous alloys. The Exige-S certainly looks like it means business and this Roadster version even more so – with the massive rear wing removed, it appears longer, more taut and beefier at the rear. It is very, very pretty.

What's under the bonnet?

As mentioned previously, the Exige-S houses the biggest engine Lotus uses - a screaming supercharged 3.5-litre DOHC V6 VVT-i engine that sits slap bang in the middle of the vehicle for the ultimate in sports car handling. The powerplant performs brilliantly and sounds incredible, the V6 grumbling and barking on the overrun and revving to well over the 7000rpm before the neat shifting lights begin to illuminate on the dash. The lack of roof only heightens the sensation of sprinting from a standstill to 60mph in just 3.8 seconds as the V6 screams through the rev range.

What's the spec like?

In short, completely and utterly abysmal. The Lotus Exige-S Roadster's biggest downfall is its lack of basic equipment. The car costs £52,900 in its standard form and that sort of money doesn't even by you air conditioning. Yes, a feature that comes gratis in a mid-range Skoda Citigo costs an extra £1,100 if you buy a Lotus. Don't even get us started on the stereo- it's a basic Alpine unit that looks like it has been rescued from a Halfords bargain bin – and then there's the £350 for a cupholder, a USB socket and possibly the trickiest cruise control known to man. We know full well this is a car designed for the track and the odd weekend blast but there is still no escaping our test model cost just south of £60,000... for a car with a Toyota engine and no sat-nav. It's laughable.

Lotus Exige-S Roadster
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Road test: Lotus Exige-S Roadster

Any rivals?

There are plenty of rivals and perhaps one of the biggest problems facing Lotus comes from a certain German marque. The Porsche Boxster S costs a damn sight less in its most basic form and provides topless thrills and modern technology by the bucketload. Customers could also take a look at a basic Jaguar F-Type with its supercharged 3-litre V6 engine, jaw-dropping looks and eye-popping performance. The humble Jag certainly gives the Lotus a run for its money in the lack of luggage space stakes at the very least.

What's it like to drive?

Completely fantastic in every way, which annoys us even more. The Lotus offers old school driving thrills like very little on sale today. The steering is completely unassisted, which makes it a massive pain to manoeuvre around a Tesco car park but it does mean every imperfection and undulation in the road surface is fed directly back to the driver. The suspension set-up is extremely well judged: firm enough to inspire confidence through corners yet manages to soak up cracks and potholes with aplomb. It is a track day weapon that, despite the insane road and wind roar, is actually surprisingly comfortable on longer journeys.

The AOL Cars verdict

The Lotus Exige-S frustrated us a lot because we wanted to fall madly in love with it. It looks fantastic and draws all of the right attention from passers-by. It handles only like a Lotus can and the V6 provides endless hours of hilarity as you wind on the power. But it is way too expensive, doesn't offer the comfort or everyday usability of a Porsche and presents potential customers with a long list of compromises. There's no room in the boot, passengers will quickly tire of clambering over the enormous door sills, you can't see out of the back, parking it is a pain, the road noise hurts and things (like the remote central locking on our test model) are bound to fail but there's no denying it remains a model that offers the thrill of driving like few others on the market.

The Knowledge

Price: £59,350
Engine: 3.5 litre supercharged V6
Power: 345bhp
Max speed: 145mph
0-60mph: 3.8 seconds
MPG: 28 (combined)
Emissions: 236g/km
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