So I did a bit of light digging and couldn't find anything, so I figured I'd ask.
What are the differences between the Elise and the Exige, and why would someone close one over the other?
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Mechanically they can be configured identically in almost every way. The first US Exige, the 06 was normally aspirated and was virtually identical to the 06 Elise mechanically. It came standard with the sport suspension that was an option on the Elise. Both had LSD and traction control as options.
Think about the difference in the 60's between the fastback and notch-back Mustangs. Same thing.
The Exige is more aerodynamic in terms of downforce. Body is hand laid, thicker, thus a bit heavier (excepting later variants that had some carbon fiber sprinkled in).
Because of the added weight and aero drag, magazine tests at the time comparing the 06 Elise and 06 Exige (the one year they were virtually identical mechanically out of the box) showed the Elise to be faster to 60, with higher top end. Marginally so. Lap times gave the nod to the Exige because of the downforce.
At the end of the day it boils down to which style you prefer, and if you truly need the aero characteristics of the Exige...which most people with sporting intentions modify anyway with different splitters, larger rear wing, canards, different difuser, etc. All of which can also be mounted on the Elise.
Folks make an issue about the total lack of rear visibility with the Exige, and the fixed roof. I've owned and spent many dozens of hours in both, and these issues are easily mitigated if you otherwise like the Exige. $50 in parts, $1K more or less for a soft top on the used market, and an hour of your time (measure twice, cut once) and you can have the Exige with the same top-off characteristic of the Elise. The visibility issue is easily taken care of with mirror adjustments, upgraded mirrors, or wiring a back up camera to be on full time. Or some combination thereof.
Again, using OEM parts you can configure them almost identically mechanically. The most notable exception is that there really isn't a convenient place to put a factory inter-cooler on an Elise, if you wanted to go that route. The later Elise's with factory superchargers didn't come with inter-coolers.