In the last year we’ve been lucky enough to drive the new Exige S a couple of times thanks to the generosity of the likes of Lotus Silverstone and Bell & Colvill, and while we were hugely impressed we couldn’t help feel that with such an increase in performance it’s absolute best would be delivered on the track. So when Lotus asked if we’d like to try the car on their Hethel test track we couldn’t believe our luck.
After a bright and early start the three of us we met up with Tracey from PR in the on-site Lotus Originals store, and after a quick nosey around the stunning looking MY13 Evora Sports Racer headed over to the Control Tower where we found one of Lotus’ Vehicle Dynamics Engineers, Darren Cockle, who has been working at Lotus for years helping hone the handling of Lotus’ and their engineering customers cars.
As Darren talked us through the changes over the previous generation Exige its clear that anyone who thought the car was simply a case of bolting the back of an Evora to the front of an S2 was very wrong.
The team has clearly worked hard to ensure the car didn’t just out perform the old model in a straight line, but that it can beat the old model in terms of ride and handling as well, introducing a rear anti-roll bar for the first time on an Elise based road car and making adjustments allow the car to make the most of it’s wider track and longer wheelbase, along with keeping the extra weight (1176kg, up from 935kg for the MY10 Exige S) in check.
Presentation over and it was time to get out on track and, after a few sighting laps by Darren to show the circuit layout and talk through the various modes we finally get the chance to see swap seats and get behind the wheel…
The Novice – Thorburn
I was first out on track, and although not a total novice my previous experience has been limited to a couple on track sessions in entry level Elises, so venturing out in the Exige S was something of a step up.
Fortunately the Exiges reworked chassis setup and the excellent new DPM system mean it’s not an intimidating car to drive on track. Despite struggling a little with the left hand drive gearshifting and pedal offset under braking I was able to build up to a reasonable speed within a few laps, and even when I made mistakes the car always felt like it was looking to give you options rather than punish you.
In fact probably the biggest challenge came from trying to understand how to change your driving style to fully utilise the system in Race mode – with Darren sat in the passenger seat telling me to put my foot down before I’d even reached the apex while my brain tried to work out whether such a move is going to send you head first or backwards in to the armco. Once you learn to trust it though the results are simply unbelievable, the traction control metering out the power to perfectly match your chosen trajectory through the corner.
The Regular – Trevor Jordan
At 6ft 6, Trevor stands a little outside the 95th percentile the Exige is designed to accommodate, and although a long time Elise driver himself, struggled somewhat for leg room with the slightly thicker Pro-bax seats. Nevertheless he was still able to get in behind the wheel to try the car, and as with earlier cars there are options out there for adjusting the seat rails to give more room for the driver.
When asked about the handling he summed it up in one word – ‘AWESOME’- and praised the DPM systems ability to rein in your excesses when earlier cars would have been all to keen to pitch you in to a spin. In fact his biggest complaint with the car was that he isn’t one of the lucky people with an order in for one.
The Racer – Black_potato
By far the most experienced of our group, Richard has not only owned and driven a range of Lotus machinery on track, but also races his own BMW saloon, and was able to push the car harder than either myself or Trevor.
Richard was also quick to praise the otherworldly traction delivered in Race Mode, along with the complete lack of brake fade, and the massive amounts of grip produced even though this particularly car eschewed the track focused Trofeo tyres for standard fitment P-Zero Corsa’s.
In fact Richard concluded that this was the most complete Lotus track car he’d ever driven – with power delivery only previously offered in heavily modified engine converted cars and handling that reminded him of his old 340R with race geo and track biassed tyres. High praise indeed.
Written by James Thorburn (Thorburn), Trevor Jordan (Trevor Jordan) and Richard Thomas (Black_potato).
You can also find our video review from the day here.