What is it?
Lotus is continually rolling out improvements to its light and fast sports cars, making them lighter and faster in the process. It’s a fine strategy that has made its Elise, Exige and Evora models better than ever and is now finally making the company money. The Lotus that was brilliant to drive but required you to excuse the rest of it is no more.
Last year’s Exige Sport 350 was one of the poster childs for this new Lotus era. But in line with the new strategy, Lotus has used it as a base on which to improve, made it faster and lighter and created the Lotus Exige Sport 380.
Look at the name and the pictures and you might think there is simply an extra 30bhp for the supercharged 3.5-litre V6 engine, a bodykit and a bit of weight taken out. But, no, this is the new era of Lotus, and for the Exige Sport 380, a thorough overhaul of the car has taken place and plenty of lovely new features have been added. Spoiler alert: it’s brilliant.
What's it like?
It looks great, for starters. The basic body and chassis remain the same for the Exige’s transformation from 350 to 380, but the body has been dressed with lashings of carbonfibre. Lip spoiler, front splitter, front access panel, removable hard-top (an option worth having over the standard soft-top), diffuser and its airblades are all made of the stuff, and there’s a stonking great fixed rear wing, too.
All of those parts help to reduce the weight; the car comes in at 25kg less than the Exige Sport 350 (which is still on sale), at just 1066kg dry with all the lightweight options ticked, including the titanium exhaust (a 9.2kg saving) and you’re going to want that for the noise it makes alone. Few cars have as characterful a tone as this, certainly not anything from a certain German maker of small mid-engined sports cars.
That new aero package also helps to create lots of downforce – perfect for taking high-speed corners on track at speeds that feel barely plausible. You will most likely be doing so if you’re an Exige owner, because most head to the track with their car, and those who do are able to spec the optional Track Pack and its adjustable Nitron two-way dampers and Eibach anti-roll bars.
Even without them, you have a car that is as fast, fun and involving as they come. No one would have stepped out of an Exige Sport 350 and been crying out for more performance, but the Exige Sport 380 has an extra 30bhp and 7lb ft of torque. You really feel it, too, the revised delivery of the torque, in particular, allowing the Exige to punch harder and for longer up the rev range, yet still in a linear and controlled manner. This is a car that involves you in the ride, not one that merely brings you along for one.
The Exige’s compact dimensions help. This remains such an intimate car to drive, with a directness of steering that no rival can match. The same goes for the suppleness of its ride. That was true of the Exige Sport 350, and so it is here, too. It may be a hardcore sports car, but you won’t be swerving to avoid drain covers or worrying about holes in the road for fear of a trip to the chiropractor, and it’s perfectly usable around town, with well-judged control weights.
Even the lightweight carbonfibre-backed sports seats are comfortable enough for longer journeys and, at the start and end of the journey, you’ll find it easier to get in and out of the car thanks to the lower sills. It’s easier getting in than out, but both are better than before. Lotus will make you some bespoke luggage so you can tackle a few nights away on your journey, too.
From inside the cabin – which is better finished and more solid feeling and even has the option of Bluetooth for the first time in an Exige – you can admire the beautiful, exposed gear linkage for the six-speed manual gearbox. It’s a shame you don’t need to use its sweet shift much. The engine is so flexible that you can comfortably lap a circuit using only third and fourth gears, use the same around town, and then happily sit in sixth at a cruise, where the engine settles down to a background thrum.
The Exige’s main weakness shines through on such journeys, though, the road roar being such that earplugs are advised if you’re driving up the M1 to Donington Park. But this goes with the territory, of course.
Lotus has switched to Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber for this car, the front tyres being 10mm wider for even more grip and keener turn-in. They combine with the downforce to provide huge grip on circuit, yet still with adjustability in the handling and the ability to select Normal, Sport and Race modes on the electronic control systems for lurid slide potential and extra play (or security, if you prefer) in the chassis.Should I buy one?
This car is simply Lotus doing what it does best, and then removing the kind of barrier that might have prevented you from choosing it by significantly raising the quality and removing all the unwelcome squeaks and rattles.
The £68k price may be a long way from the Exige’s roots, but such is the prodigious performance and complete absence of any kind of rival actually in production (we’re looking at you, Porsche GT division) that it actually seems like a bargain.
Lotus Exige Sport 380
Price £67,900; Engine V6, 3456cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 375bhp at 6700rpm; Torque 302lb ft at 5000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1100kg; 0-60mph 3.5sec; Top speed 178mph; Economy 28.0mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 242g/km, 37% Rivals