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Review: 2008 Lotus Exige – “Not a Daily Driver”, Says Who?

September 17th, 2008
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Read the complete Lotus Exige review

Every review that you’ve read detailing any model in the Lotus range probably says that a Lotus is outrageously impractical and could not be used as a daily driver, with the Exige being the worst offender. Multiple statements such as: “A daily driver? For who!?” pop up again and again. Well, for all of those out there, let me end this long quest in search of a Lotus daily driver, I am one!

Let’s turn the page and start new, Lotus… A breath of fresh air, pure driving exhilaration at your fingertips and all the worries left behind. But you don’t need me to tell you this, you’ve heard this time and time again, and boy is it very true. Let’s get down to the bottom line:

Question - Can a Lotus be a daily driver?
Answer – YES!

But why? Let me walk you through the truth about owning the car.

PressPortal Lotus Exige PressPortal Lotus Exige

The styling is truly one of a kind and is a bit extreme to say the least - just look at it for yourself. With a wheelbase of 2300mm (Mini Cooper being 2467mm) and a height of only 1163mm (Lamborghini Murciélago 1135mm) which can be lowered even further when equipped with the optional performance pack, the Exige stands as the smallest production coupe on the market today.

When you compare the Elise to the Exige, you’ll first notice the hard-top roof and then aerodynamic package in addition to the Elise. The hard-top roof for the Exige increases body rigidity for more cornering G and the aerodynamic package increases downforce (which I’ll get to very soon). A big difference with the Elise to the Exige is not only the hard-top roof; most people miss the fact that the Exige has no clear rear window. If you thought an Elise would be hard to reverse park, think again! A reversing camera can be retrofitted, but that would just negate all the hard work put in by the engineers at Lotus, so don’t do it.

The interior is minimalist to keep weight down, ensuring the purest driving experience. A few things to note are the optional electric windows (supposedly reduces weight further by 60 grams), air-conditioning removal (saves 15kg), optional carpets, optional sun visors, optional leather seats, optional passenger footrest and optional cargo nets. All the bits and pieces (eg: plastics, cd player and speakers) are designed to be removed with ease in order to further reduce the weight.

I always get asked the question, “Does the roof come off?” and the answer is yes, but not for the reasons you may think! No, the Exige is not a targa, you will lose your warranty if you’re caught driving around with the top off. But why? Let me clarify, the only reason the targa top exists is so the seats can be removed! Believe it, Lotus says that most buyers remove the two front seats which then gets replaced with only one carbon fiber drivers seat, that’s the truth folks.

In addition to all the weight reduction, the body is fabricated from aluminium which is bonded with industrial strength adhesive in order to save weight on welds (bit much? Lotus thinks not!).

Don’t be fooled, this is truly for the car enthusiast at heart.

PressPortal Lotus Exige PressPortal Lotus Exige

The Lotus Exige S2 comes with the bread and butter Toyota Celica sourced 2ZZ-GE powerplant - tuned a little of course. Lotus say the Celica sourced engine and gearbox combination is a perfect fit to embrace the purest Lotus driving dynamics and uphold the Lotus philosophy, “performance through light weight”.

With that out of the way, the rev happy 1.8 litre 4-cylinder 16-valve VVTL-i (Variable Valve Timing and Lift-Intelligent) engine is honestly bulletproof with no problems to date, and happily hits freeway speed limits of 100km/hr from naught in 5.2 seconds with a maximum speed of 237km/h, enough to make anyone grin. It’s mated with a superb C64 six-speed manual gearbox (no gimmick flappy paddles available) which seamlessly slips in and out of gears. If you have heard that the gearbox sometimes makes a groaning sound, the reason behind this is poor downshifting, so drive properly and you won’t have any issues.

The engine is manufactured from lightweight composite alloy to keep the weight to a minimum. Lotus has introduced their uniquely developed T4 engine management system (EMS) to ensure maximum performance is extracted from the engine. To achieve the highest levels of performance whilst still not compromising fuel economy, the engine management system enables the VVTL-i system to select the optimum camshaft profile, lift and timing across the full RPM range. There is an “economy cam” and a “performance cam” so to speak, the “economy cam” manages the intake and extract valves in order to obtain the best fuel economy possible, the “performance cam” on the other hand, increases fuel intake to produce a peak power output of 141kW at 7800rpm and 181 Nm at 6800 rpm. The transfer between the operating cams occurs at around 6200 rpm, and is slightly varied depending on the current operating conditions of the vehicle.

The engine revs at extremely high speeds with a shift light prompting a gear shift at 8500rpm. If you don’t warm the engine to 70˚C before driving, you’ll notice the rev limiter kick in at 6000rpm to prevent engine damage (cam transition). It’s said that the engine can rev even further to just hit 10000rpm for a brief moment, however engine damage can occur if this period is too long. Once the driver accelerates in order to induce the “performance cam” change at 6200rpm, the transfer back to the “economy cam” occurs at a lower 5800rpm in order to maintain the high power band when on the track and constantly gear shifting.

The power figures (141kw) and torque figures (181Nm) may not sound like much, but with the Exige being a featherweight at only 875kg the power to weight ratio is a remarkable 161kw/tonne (Porsche Cayman S priced at $149,000 is 161kw/tonne).

It’s not all about straight line performance; Lotus’ are renowned for their precision handling, with the Exige proving to be the idol for this statement. The Exige is one of the quickest cars around a track and embraces those hard corners with open arms.

PressPortal Lotus Exige PressPortal Lotus Exige

As I mentioned earlier, a key difference between the Exige and the Elise and many other performance cars, is the aerodynamic package. So what does it do? The aerodynamic package uses a completely flat underside of the car (provided via the light extruded and bonded aluminium tub), rear diffuser (to promote the underside Venturi effect), deep front splitter (sits 108mm above the ground) and a 11.5˚ rear spoiler for the best compromise between downforce and drag. All these wind tunnel optimised parts generates an overall downforce of 41.2kg (19.3kg front and 21.9kg rear) which provides incredible levels of cornering stability.

The Exige uses stiffer Lotus Sport springs and dampers than that of the Elise, in order to reduce body roll and provide higher levels of grip. The soft Yokohama A048 semi-slicks (standard) are fitted to black anodised lightweight eight-spoke rims (16" front and 17" rear), and were specifically designed for the Exige in order to exploit the high levels of grip the aerodynamic package, chassis and strict weight reduction provides.  

Lotus expects that some Exiges will spend most of their time being driven hard - indeed this is exactly what it was conceived for. Therefore the extra levels of heat from the brakes and engine needed to be managed. At the front of the Exige are extra air ducts for the oil coolers. To keep the brakes cool under the very high loads that are expected with hard driving, brake ducts are located just behind the front wheels. Towards the rear of the Exige, large side air intakes and a roof scoop, provide much needed air to circulate around the engine bay. All grilles, including the rear engine cover are covered in a lightweight steel mesh.

This system is specifically designed system to help out when needed! The servo-assisted four-channel system individually monitors and distributes braking force to each wheel as required, enhancing braking performance and minimising stopping distance. Of course this track tuned ABS system does not take over from the skill of the driver but instead is initiated under panic conditions or when the driver is too heavy on the brakes and would normally break traction. The specifically tuned initiation point of the ABS system allows a skilled driver to maximise the potential of the braking system through the utilisation of forward weight transfer as with a non-ABS system.  In the event of the driver demanding more braking performance than is possible, only then does the system intervene to optimise the force generated at the wheel. Therefore, on normal driving, even hard driving, the driver would not expect to feel the Exige ABS system in operation. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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