2007 Lotus Exige S
220 HP + 2077 LB + $57K= world's cheapest supercar
*After a little road and track time, I am convinced of two things: this is a damn near perfect driver's car. And getting in or out requires the dexterity of a contortionist. Unless you are shorter than the average Joe, you may need an instruction manual. Once inside, however, you are treated to a pleasantly cozy cabin. Even my six-foot-four frame and crash helmet clears the roof, albeit by millimeters. Not much, but impressive for a car that looks small enough to drop-kick.
Visually, the supercharged S differs only slightly from the naturally aspirated Exige it replaces. Subtle differences include an S logo on the front fender and body color-coordinated scoops and spoilers. A more pronounced roof scoop provides a direct stream of air to the intercooler core that sits above the mid-mounted engine. Other changes include new sealed headlamps, additional small third side marker, raised Lotus lettering at the rear (as opposed to decals) and a single oval exhaust tip, replacing the standard model's twin-pipe design.
The real difference here pertains to engine performance and, thanks to its Roots-type supercharger and air-to-air intercooler, there's no shortage. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine used in the standard Exige and Exige now has a 16 percent increase in horsepower from 190 bhp to 220 (at 7800 rpm). Torque figures have risen even higher with a 20 percent gain at 165 lb-ft at 5600 rpm, up from 133 lb-ft. Eighty percent of torque is available from just over 2000 rpm.
On the road, the Exige S feels like a toy. Your awareness of other, larger vehicles (that's pretty much all of them) makes you feel somewhat vulnerable. It's a little intimidating when you're sitting eye to eye with the wheel center cap of an SUV. But even hidden in the SUV's massive shadow, the tiny car manages to stand out.
It attracts stares from everyone: kids on street corners to moms in minivans. Part of the attention is attributed the rainbow of bright colors Lotus offers. Most just find the car cute. Fortunately, the Exige S is much more than that. Thanks to its high-revving engine, rapid acceleration, equally swift braking and unbelievably nimble handling, it's is easily one of the hottest sports cars on the road.
The track provides the opportunity to push the car's abilities to the limit. This is where any Lotus really shines. Feather-light at just over 2000 pounds, the car enjoys a remarkable power-to-weight ratio of 9.5 pounds per hp. This makes it extremely quick. Aided by excellent Yokohama Advan traction, Lotus claims zero to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds (a full second faster than the standard Exige) and zero to 100 mph in only 11 seconds, placing it among elite company.
Despite its supercar-like acceleration and 148 mph top speed, fuel economy is rated surprisingly well at 25 mpg (estimated) city and highway combined, thanks in part to the Toyota-sourced six-speed aluminum gearbox and Lotus T4e Engine Control System which includes variable-rpm cam switching for the first time.
Deep in the throttle, the engine revs freely and power delivery builds throughout the rev range. The limiter is set at 8000 rpm, although for maximum acceleration, it is increased to 8500 rpm-providing a jolting two-second power burst. This is a car that begs to be driven hard.
Possibly more impressive than its acceleration is its command of the road. The Exige S has the ability to tame the tightest of turns, all with the precision and agility of a figure skater. Choose a line and the car follows with the accuracy of a guided missile. A mid-mounted engine, desirable 38:62 front/rear weight distribution and competent suspension package does a lot. So do the forged alloy wheels, which reduce unsprung weight by 12 pounds at the front and 5.6 pounds at the rear.
For even better results, buyers may opt for a Track Pack ($2,495) option, which includes adjustable Bilstein dampers and five-way adjustable front anti-roll bars. The package also includes a safety harness mounting bar behind the seats.
A step further and track nuts can order their car without A/C as part of the Air Conditioning Delete option ($250) reducing weight by 22 pounds. Yes, you have to pay to not have the luxury of air.
The interior is sparse, but decidedly sporty. Seats are comfy and supportive. Carpeting, premium audio, power windows and even a cupholder are available for those who prefer a more refined cabin.
If you thought the Exige had an obstructed rear view, the S doesn't have one at all, thanks to the placement of the supercharger. As a result, reversing is another trick and the rear-view mirror is useless, except for purposes of vanity.
Trunk space is also compromised with room for a helmet and driving shoes, but little more.
This is a no-nonsense sports car. If you want storage or unobstructed rear visibility, the Exige S is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you desire a lightweight slingshot of a sports car, few are wound tighter.
The Exige S will sticker at a hair under $60K, two to three times less than cars with comparable performance. This is the quickest production Lotus ever built, which, for its size, makes it one of the most powerful and capable cars in the world.
2007 Lotus Exige S
LayoutTransverse mid engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine1.8-liter in-line four, dohc, four valves per cylinder, supercharged and intercooled
SuspensionIndependent upper and lower wishbones, co-axial coil spring/telescopic shock absorbers, front anti-roll bar
BrakesServo-assisted ABD, four-wheel disc AP Racing two-piston aluminum fixed calipers 11.5-in. cross-drilled front rotors, Brembo single-piston sliding calipers, 11.5-in. cross-drilled rear rotors
DimensionsLength x Width x Height (in.): 149.5 x 72.8 x 45.6
Wheelbase: 90.5 in.
Curb Weight: 2077 lb
Peak Power: 220 bhp @ 7800 rpm
Peak Torque: 165 lb-ft @ 5600 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.1 sec.
Top Speed: 146 mph
Why we love it: Probably no purer sports car on the market
Why we don't: Getting in and out can be a real trick
The Price Tag $56,990