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2020 Lotus Exige review — Mad about you
I HAVE no idea whether youth is wasted on the young or wealth is wasted on the old, but some people have both, and the Lotus Exige Sport 350 is for them. It's so hardcore, it's as much a challenge for the body as it is a treat for the senses.
Any jester with money can take a Porsche home, but it takes a bigger jester with an unhealthy devotion to driving pleasure to buy an Exige. That's because the Lotus makes the Porsche feel like a Rolls-Royce in comparison.
This is a car that feels like it's only a few decals short of being ready to hit the grid at the Sepang 12 Hours (a now defunct endurance race twice won by a Lotus Exige, as it turns out).
That's not necessarily a good thing, mind you. Having driven a few racing cars, I can tell you that they're horrible. If something is built to win races, it's noisy, hot and violent, and it will put your chiropractor's kids through university.
Lotus might be a car company founded by a man whose main engineering philosophy was to "simplify, then add lightness", but the Exige really feels like something built along the lines of "make race-ready, then subtract awfulness".
Young me would have adored this car on sight, but current me felt relieved just to make it past the wide sill and into the driver's seat without splitting my trousers. From there, you can barely see anything out of the windscreen, and the mirror gives you a much better view of the engine's supercharger than of the traffic behind you.
Worse, it's impossible to see anything over your left shoulder, so if you join the PIE you're doomed to end up in Tuas or the airport because you're too afraid to filter off the highway.
What a huge surprise to learn, then, that after a few minutes driving the Lotus, I began to wonder how to talk my wife into selling our flat so we could buy one.
Most high performance cars try to thrill with huge amounts of muscle, but this one emphasises fitness instead. At 1.1 tonnes, the Exige isn't quite the featherweight of Lotuses of yore, but it's light enough to exude a lean, athletic sprightliness that only a go-kart could rival.
The 3.5-litre V6 engine propels it with a sort of effortless vigour, and the Exige has a way of diving into bends with telepathic immediacy. Once you're committed to a corner, the deliciously tiny steering wheel loads up with plenty of weight and feel. Meanwhile, the Lotus just grips and sails through so breezily that you feel you could have gone much faster, if only you'd had the nerve.
The brakes are so strong (or the car so light, I can't decide which) that you tend to slow down way too early for corners, too, and admonish yourself for not trying a bit harder.
That's how it is with the Exige; some cars you push, but this car pushes you.
As exhilarating as the handling is, the gearchange is something to really text home about.
The gear lever itself is a joy to use, with a crisp, slick and ultra-precise action. Ordinary gearchanges are a treat, but when you pull off the perfect double-declutched downshift, it's as satisfying as thwacking a golf ball onto the green in a single shot.
The whole mechanism is lovely to look at, too. Someone at Lotus decided to leave the linkage uncovered, and watching the lever push and pull various connectors and rods is enough to make any engineering geek start to fan himself with both hands.
If you ask me, the Exige's gearchange alone is worth half the S$300,000 asking price. That's just as well, because you don't get much for the rest of the money. The Exige is meant to be as stripped down and lightweight as possible, so there are no frills to speak of.
To adjust the mirrors you reach out and move them by hand. The thinly padded driver's chair can only slide back-and-forth. There's no power-assisted anything (power steering is for wimps, anyway). The air-con is a feeble three-speed affair.
Yet, while the Lotus is spartan, it's not uninhabitable. There's a constant ruckus from the engine and you can hear the gearbox whirring away, but otherwise it's less punishing to drive than you might have expected. The suspension is firmer than a triathlete's buttocks, but the damping is incredibly well sorted so the car reacts to bumps without undue skittishness.
If anything handicaps the Exige, it'll be its utter lack of practicality. There's a 112-litre luggage compartment, but it's right next to the engine so it's more oven than boot. Apart from an exposed shelf, the cabin has nowhere to put stuff, unless you count some token compartments that are barely big enough for an iPhone 3, let alone one of today's monster smartphones.
The build quality is on the wonky side, too. Our test car looked like Stevie Wonder worked on the fibreglass body, the panel gaps were all over the place and many of the cabin plastics looked borrowed from a Russian car.
Still, buying a Lotus entitles you to a bit of reverse snobbery. The less equipment your car has and the less polished it is, the more it makes you look like a purist.
Basically, unless you have another car for daily use, buying an Exige will make you look like a mad person. Mad about driving, at least.
Lotus Exige Sport 350
Engine 3,456cc, supercharged V6
Power 350hp at 7,000rpm
Torque 400Nm at 4,500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed manual
0-100km/h 3.9 seconds
Top Speed 273km/h
Fuel Efficiency 10.7L/100km
Agent Wearnes Automotive
Price S$300,000 without Certificate of Entitlement