Since its announcement there has been much debate about the Exige S Roadster – call us old fashioned but an Exige is a hardtop Elise with some toughened up styling and a helping of extra go. Surely therefore an Exige Roadster is an Elise?
“We have made the changes needed to make this car feel like an Exige”
Whilst the technical presentation had been informative, I must admit I kind of perked up at this point. We were at Hethel to drive the new Exige S Roadster and for me this was the key point. The V6 coupe has been making its way to customers in decent numbers for a few months now and seems to have been met with pretty much universal acclaim, and given how many S2 Exige owners like to retro fit the Elise roof the decision to create a tweaked soft-top version clearly wasn’t a difficult one.
Changes are limited to slightly less racey styling following the deletion of the splitter, rear spoiler and of course the hardtop, along with some mild geometry and suspension tweaks. The basic underpinnings remain the same, including the 345bhp supercharged V6 as used by the Exige S coupe and Evora S. The result is the Roadster has a lower top speed, being electronically limited to 145mph, and will lap the Hethel circuit just over a second slower than the coupe, but for the average driver you’d be hard pressed to separate them in terms of pace, particularly on the road.
The Lotus press fleet has been built to emphasize the difference between the two cars as well, with all their Roadsters equipped with the more luxurious Premium Pack interior, complete with Roadster specific quilted leather, as opposed the Premium Sport interior fitted to the majority of Exige S coupes. The Lotus press fleet Roadsters also lack the Race Pack, resulting not just in the loss of the Race Mode from the DPM system, but also in a slightly softer suspension setup.
It is worth remembering that both the Premium Sport interior and Race Pack are still available on the Roadster if you so choose, but the spec of the press cars gives an insight in to who Lotus see the two variants as being aimed at – the coupe perhaps seen as appealing to the more hardcore track drivers while Roadster owners cross mountain passes with the sun blazing down….
On the road
The first part of the test is out on the uncharacteristically rather sun-kissed back roads of Norfolk, so we slip into the carbon grey test car and set off in search of some challenging twisties and somewhere to make a stab at a few pictures. The interior is obviously familiar but the Premium Pack trim is cosseting and gives a slightly more luxurious look feel over the Elise and previous generation Exige, along with an improvement in build over the older models.
The engine starts with a rather deep chested growl a world away from the 4 cylinder units, although its far from loud with the standard exhaust. Threading our way out of the factory gates and onto the rather tortured tarmac for the A11 the car feels planted, and composed and very easy to pootle about in . The steering is surprisingly heavy at walking pace but lightens up at speed, though it always feels heavier and slightly more damped than an early Elise.
An exploratory prod of the accelerator at around the national speed limit in 6th gives me a first hint at just how quick this thing is though. Head shoved against back rest and a muttered expletive. The car really is explosively fast on the road, a big leap from a supercharged 4-cylinder Exige.
For the next hour or so we scoot around some of the more open local B-roads and start to settle into the car. The steering is typical Lotus, constantly chattering away but with a heft that does distance the feel from an Elise. The suspension is composed, unarguably firm but it does suppress most the potholes and ridges to a dull almost Germanic thud and demonstrates total body control at any speed that seems sane or moderately legal on these roads. All in all its mighty impressive, a real pussy cat and yet seems totally unfazed by pushing really as hard as seems possible on a public road.
A quick break for food and a lot of cold water and we are back to Hethel and its time to head out on to the test track, this time we have the brave and encouraging presence of handling and ride engineer Darren alongside.
On the track
First thing to explore was the DPM modes – childish I know but I had to suppress a chuckle every time they referred to DPM, the term having long been part of SELOC lore…
In keeping with the more road bias of the Roadster our car was on standard suspension, and so didn’t have Race Mode either. On track Touring keeps everything very tight and you can feel the power being sapped out of the corners, but it also feels utterly idiot proof. The outright pace takes a little getting used to as I last drove this track in my 150bhp S1 Elise and the acceleration from the supercharged V6 is immense and lag free.
Flipping the switch around to Sport and things get livelier. There is more understeer if you are untidy at the entry and the system allows the back to step out just a little so you can apply a heroic feeling (but probably unnecessary) portion of opposite lock. You can still feel the system helping you out if you are deliberately provocative with the throttle mid-corner, but if you try and keep it tidy the helping hand is very subtle and well judged.
Of course the real fun starts with the switch held to the right for a couple of seconds to turn everything but the ABS off. Now you can provoke a lot of understeer if you really want to on the entry to the tight corners and lighting up the rears effects on the exit is addictively easy, if hardly the fastest way round.
Trying harder now the brakes are super strong and don’t grumble once in an afternoon of constant abuse on a blazing hot day while still being easy to modulate even with hard use. Through the fast sections of track you can feel just a little roll, but the body control is superb – particularly impressive given the cars on road manners
When I can resist the temptation to just hoon and try and be sensible the car feels, to be honest, fantastic. The steering is calm and assured, the brakes totally unflappable, and the rear bolted down and endlessly trustworthy unless you go out of your way to provoke it. It’s the best resolved Lotus chassis I have ever tried on track, and that includes the 2-11.
So conclusions… The simple fact that the Exige S Roadster is mechanically so similar to the coupe, and clearly different to the 4-cylinder Elises, fully justifies the use of the Exige name. Its pace and composure puts it a league above what any production Elise has ever been able to deliver. It feels grown up, unflappable, and of course very, very, capable.
So all good news then? To be honest almost totally yes. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of the car and the compromise but it’s just so capable and assured it’s hard to see what the coupe could gain. I confess the gear change left me cold, it’s not exactly bad but it doesn’t like to be hurried and could feel a lot more positive. If you are being picky then I guess the soundtrack still isn’t that exotic.
Downsides compared to the coupe? I guess it lacks the track refugee looks and for an expert driver maybe the very slightly less aggressive set up may show up on the track. I would trade the second a lap for the civility and the option of open air motoring. The people with orders in are very lucky indeed.
Article by Dave Abbott (Tigerdriver) and Trevor Jordan.
The Exige S Roadster is priced at £52,900 inc VAT, plus on the road costs. The test car was also equipped with Carbon Grey Metallic Paint (£600), Two Piece Disc Brakes (£1,700), Premium Pack interior in Venom Red (£2,000), Convenience Pack (£350), Rear Parking Sensors (£350), Heated Seats (£350) and Air Conditioning (£1,100), giving a total price of £59,350.