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Interesting read, specially since there is very little difference between the Federal Elise and the Exige being reviewed.

Under Exige


There's a 142kW(190hp) Celica engine in the MKII Exige - which means Lotus's racer is more intense than ever


 

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There's a wonderful, character-defining moment in the new Lotus Exige, just as the bright, flourescent orange needle on it's white-faced Stack rev counter kisses the 6200rpm mark, when you suddenly realise you're among the living. It's here where the coupe's new Toyota engine decides it's done with decorum and a variable valve timing mechanism vaults its lightweight internals onto a higher lift camshaft.

The accompanying increase in pace is one thing, a sudden burst of power catapulting the lithe two-seater forward with one hefty shove indeed. But it's nothing compared with the raw mechanical blare and massive thump of induction noise that assaults the depths of your inner ear.

From within the Exgie's stark, aluminum-lined interior, the sensation is violent enough to have you momentarily backing off for the first time, for fear of something very expensive, very mechanical has just gone horribly wrong over your left shoulder. After that, you find yourself piling on revs furiously at every opportunity just to experience the full force of the advanced four-pot mill again.

Addictive? You bet. Just like the rest of the car, really. Not that we expected anything else. The first Exige, launched towards the back end of 2000, was a seriously extreme machine and, against all odds, managed to find 600 buyers worldwide. So why should we believe this heavily upgraded follow-up model would be any different?


 

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Although it's not planned to go on sale until mid-2004, Lotus granted MOTOR an exclusive run in a prototype of the new car around its legendary Hethel test track. A drive in a new Exige is one thing, but a chance to drive on the circuit designed by Colin Chapman is something no self-respecting car nut would ever knock back!

The Exige certainly looks dramatic, especially in the black paint scheme of the prototype. With track duties high on the priority list for the new car, it's equipped with some fancy aerodynamic aids. They include a draveway-scraping front splitter, a prominent rear wing mounted to the engine bay cover, and a smooth undertray with rear diffuser. Further track influences include a roo-mounted air scoop that can be used to supply cooling air to the new engine, which sits under a newly designed engine cover.

The early Exige ran and old but cheap 1.8-litre four-cylinder K-series from Rover. Simple in construction but hardly special in the area of accoustics, it served up 142kW (190hp) and 164Nm (121ft/lbs)of torque. The new model, however, is propelled by a modern and better-sounding 1.8-litre engine from Toyota, the screaming VVTi-L unit from the Celica and Corolla Sportivo.

It was chosen from a variety of different powerplants, including a turbocharged 2.0-litre from Opel and a 3.2-litre V6 from Alfa Romeo, mainly because of it's ability to pass emissions tests in the US - a market Lotus intends to re-enter next year with a Toyota-engined Elise.

Power remains the same at 142kW (190hp), and it is developed at exactly the same point on the dial at 7800rpm. Torque, however, swells by 16Nm (11.8lbs/ft)to 180Nm (132lbs/ft). But whereas you could extract it at 5000rpm in the Rover engine, you need a high 6800rpm in the Toyota before it's released.

It's peaky, but Lotus denies any loss overall in driveability. "You get similar levels of torque at low revs, followed by a distinct step-up in power near the top end," says Lotus test driver Gavan Kershaw.
 

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So what does the new engine do for the already terrifically edgy Exige? At first, the new Toyota mill doesn't sound all that special. In fact, you're hard pressed to tell it apart from the old Rover unit under a 2000rpm load. Get the crank spinning with greater gusto, though, and it begins to feel smoother and generally more refined. Running a unique management system developed by Lotus, the all-alloy engine responds much better to moderate prods of the loud pedal, pulling strongly through the mid-range and making a crisper sound to boot.

As long as you don't demand too much - rmember, it's got less torque than a Camry - it actually feels quite lively, partly because of the car's inherent low weight. However, it's not until you enter the zone that it really begins hauling with any great conviction. Once it does, though, hang on.

Reach 6200rpm and it's like you've lit an afterburner. Power and torque skyrocket and a hard-edged growl of induction permeates it's way through the aluminum chassis, making everything vibrate, including the hairs on the back of your neck. The feeling is so utterly compelling that you continuosly find yourself dropping back a gear or two simply to experience it again.

Still, the engine isn't the only new development here. Lotus also fits the upgraded Exige with a six-speed manual gearbox, again from Toyota. Slicker, lighter, and more precise across the gates than old Rover five-speeder, it perfectly compliments the engine. "We did a lot of head scratching before we came up with the right gearing," says Kershaw. "It is the shortest set of ratios Toyota offers."

 

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It's not all good news, though. The new driveline hardware adds 35kg (77lbs) to the Exige - most of it over the rear axle. This pushes the kerb weight close to 900kg (1984lbs)- portly by Lotus standards, but still low enough for a power-to-weight ratio around 6.3kg/kW.

Performance is yet to be validated. But Kershaw reckons it will reach 100km/h (62.1mph)in less than 5 seconds. That's pretty handy, given the moderate output of the engine.

No less important, given the dual road and track role the new Lotus is set to play, is its whip-crack reactions when you point the new two-seater down a twisty section of blacktop.

First impressions? The Exige's meaty and communicative non-assisted steering continues to astound. It feels even sharper and more committed than before. Left unchanged in the move to the new model, it's in a world of its own when it comes to feel and feedback. This is potentially the best steering of any car - ever! It's as though the rack and pinion system is hotwired to your brain, such is its quickness and responsiveness to inputs.

Helping to make more of the car's low mass is tweaked double wishbone suspension that picks up a number of developments aimed at improving the car's already haughty dynamics. They include retuned Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers, along with snubbers fitted to the forward bushes of the lower wishbones. It's all claimed to increase logitudinal compliance for imporved low-speed ride and better high-speed stability.

Barrel into a second-gear corner and there's a small trace of body roll as you get on the brakes, shift down and turn in. It's nothing too abrupt, but there's still enough give in the stiffened suspension to let you know the weight is beginning to transfer towards the outer front wheel. Then it's the turn of the tyres - 195/50 up front and 225/45 at the rear - and up to 100kg of downforce provided by the rear wing to do their work.

As with it's predecessor, the new Exige is show with extra sticky Yokohama tyres, this tmie A048s instead of the older A039s. They're basically special-compound slicks with grooves cut in them to make them road legal. They generate so much adhesion that you can attack corners at speeds you simply wouldn't contemplate in most other mid-engined rear-wheel-drive cars.

Lift off oversteer, a trait for which the early Exige is renownedm is well surpressed thanks to better control of the toe out at the rear when the springs and dampers begin to compress under heavy cornering loads.

This all leads to greater confidence behind the wheel. When I got my head around the concept of a car possessing endless amounts of grip, it became almost instinctive to use the added punch of the engine to set up four-wheel drifts at the exit of some of the tighter of Hethel's corners.

It stops brilliantly, too. Pedal feel is a little wooden, but push hard on the middle pedal and the Exige can made to pull up in rediculously short distances, thanks in part, to it's low kerb weight. Significantly, the new model gets ABS for the first time, though it's been tuned to operate only when it is really required.

 

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When you boil it all down, the thing that makes the new Exige so exciting as you edge up to its limits is its absolute immediacy - be it the throttle, steering, chassis, or brakes. Nothing dilutes the driving experience. It's just the driver, car and road - all working as one. It comes as no surprise when Kershaw tells me that the new Exige is a full two seconds faster around Hethel than the old model. While I didn't get to drive them back to back, the advances are clear enough.
 

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That 2 second claim isn't quite right.

Put 48's on an S1 and stiffen up the suspension and then let's talk. The almost 250lb increase will make a difference.

PS - all that tire smoke looks nice, but at $200-$250/tire it's awfully expensive!!
 

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After seeing those pics, a black elise with black wheels would sure look good. Yet another color combo to consider.
 

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Reach 6200rpm and it's like you've lit an afterburner. Power and torque skyrocket and a hard-edged growl of induction permeates it's way through the aluminum chassis.
Feel excited after reading this, can't wait any longer for my Elise to arrive.

I have been reading this board daily since I had my deposit down early this year although I rarely post any comments. :D I think this is the best Elise forum compare to other board. Thanks for the post Randy! :)

Tim
 

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Thanks Tim and welcome to the forum! I had the same reaction. After reading the article...waiting is now more difficult.
 

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Enough is enough. I'm tired of waiting. I want my damn car and I want it now!

At least we have the LA Auto Show in a month and a half. But then we have to wait until who knows when to actually get our cars. In my case, I'm thinking June or July 2004, which is much too far away.

By the way, I'm really glad that the Elise doesn't have a stupid looking wing on the back. Sorry, I have some kind of mental block against those.
 

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jml1952 said:
By the way, I'm really glad that the Elise doesn't have a stupid looking wing on the back. Sorry, I have some kind of mental block against those.
I'm currently on the fence about the rear wing. Lotus wouldn't add it to the Exige unless it gave a performance enhancement, so shouldn't a wing also give an Elise a performance boost? Maybe if I can find a good looking adjustable wing and a matching front splitter I'll get 'em.
 

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The combination of the wing and the front splitter add 100kgs of downforce to the Exige.

It works - not bling bling stuff.
 

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meat said:
The combination of the wing and the front splitter add 100kgs of downforce to the Exige.
I'd get it without even thinking twice about it if such an option were to become available for the US Elise. It's a known fact that it really does improve downforce, which alone is enough to make me want one. It also looks damn good, IMO.
 

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spoiler

I agree about the spoiler. I would definitely get it if it was an option. Anyone want to start a new petition???
 

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Aren't spoilers and wings only effective at really high speeds?
The ones on Porsches dont pop up until you go about 60 and I think they dont really have noticable effect unless you are going over 100. I thought they were mainly for looks.
 

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The 100kgs of downforce I quoted is achieved at 100mph.

I would assume it might even increase from there.

XXXotic - get out of the rice-burner scene. This is Lotus you are talking about.

There are aftermarket spoilers available for the Elise - at least there were for the S1.
 
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