The Lotus Elise is probably the purest driver's car available in the United States today. Its design hearkens to a time when high performance automobiles weren't all about power, a time when a lightweight chassis and carefully balanced dynamics were considered more important than a boatload of engine torque. The Elise eschewed creature comforts like sound deadening material, expensive interior trim and "standard" equipment like power steering in order to give its driver the purest and most connected driving experience possible.
In 2006, the Lotus Exige will take that experience a step further. It's based on the same featherweight extruded and bonded aluminum tub (the naked chassis weighs just 150 pounds, see the accompanying photograph), but has been shrouded in revised aerodynamics to increase its road-holding ability. Though the two look fairly similar, the only exterior panels the Elise and Exige actually share are their doors. The biggest visual differences include the removable hard top and rearward sloping engine cover, but the Exige also features a prominent front-end splitter, rear wing and revised undertray to help generate more downforce.
The Exige comes already equipped with Lotus' Sport Package currently offered as optional equipment on the standard Elise. This includes Yokohama A048LTS tires, lightweight forged wheels and stiffer springs and dampers. Additional option packages include the Track Pack, with threaded spring perches and a five-way adjustable anti-sway bar; Lotus Traction Control, an ECU-based system that cuts fuel to limit wheelspin (not a stability system, and available with or without a limited-slip differential); Air Conditioning Delete, which saves you 22 pounds by eliminating the, uh, air conditioning; and a Touring Pack, which adds black leather seats and door panels, full carpeting, additional sound insulation and an upgraded stereo.
For 2006, the standard Elise received various improvements that will also carry over in the Exige. An electronic throttle and revised pedal set have been implemented to improve the car's already exemplary feedback and response. Daytime running lights and LED taillights have been equipped for improved visibility both inside and outside the car-and when you're driving a vehicle that weighs barely 2,000 pounds, it's important others know you're there. In a similar vein, eight new exterior colors will become available, bringing the total to 20 and making the Lotus palette one of the most unique and diverse in the market. There's everything from metallic neutrals in varying shades to screaming neon hues like Chrome Orange and Krypton Green.
While the Exige weighs about 30 pounds more than its sibling and features the same powerplant, it really does feel faster from the seat of your pants, particularly on the track. This is due to the increased grip and aptly illustrates the merits of functional aerodynamics.
At 100 mph the Exige generates a claimed 42 pounds of downforce at its nose and 48 in the rear, compared to 8 and 4 pounds respectively
on the Elise. The added downforce inspires you to probe the car's limits (and your own) ever more extensively. It will simultaneously make you look better than you actually are and cast a white-hot spotlight on your latent shortcomings. True to the manufacturer's mission statement, it really does inspire you to want to learn to be a better driver. I can't remember ever having more fun driving a car.
The real beauty of both the Elise and Exige is they perform like dedicated track cars, but they're fully street legal. You can take yours to the grocery store if you want, in spite of the miniscule storage space. One of the Lotus guys even said he drove an Exige eight hours from Lotus HQ near Atlanta to Virginia International Raceway and didn't stop except for gas. He admitted it was partly due to the ProBax seats, standard equipment for 2006, which use multi-density foam padding to reduce pressure at key points and support your spine's natural curve. Even so, I think I'd be hard-pressed to spend that much time in the car. Putting two six-foot-plus individuals side by side illustrates just how small the cockpit is. There's adequate room to sit, but you'll sometimes bump elbows and the occasional knee when reaching for sixth gear. And there's the little contortionist number you'll need to perform to simultaneously duck under the low-slung roof and negotiate the wide door sills...
Lotus expects to bring 300 Exige cars to America in 2006. Best order yours now.
2006 Lotus Exige
Base Price: $50,990
Transverse mid engine, rear-wheel drive
1.8-liter inline four, dohc, four valves per cylinder
Independent dual wishbones, coaxial coil springs, telescopic dampers, front anti-roll bar
AP two-piston fixed aluminum front calipers, Brembo single-piston sliding rear calipers, 11.5-inch cross-drilled rotors
Length x Width x Height (in.): 150 x 68 x 46
Wheelbase: 90.5 in.
Curb Weight: 2,015 lb
Peak Power: 190 bhp @ 7800 rpm
Peak Torque: 138 lb-ft @ 6800 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 147 mph