The accepted rule of the road test is to mix the gripes throughout the story, generally so the balance between good and evil feels right in the world.
But that is not going to happen here. I'm going to get the gripes out of the way nice and early, so you can cop a mountain of Lotus love after the time it takes to read a few paragraphs.
I hate getting in and out of the bloody thing. Hate. Crouching, squatting, twisting, turning, ducking, sliding, and swinging around, all so you can sit down. Some people are more gracious at it, and you develop your own style. Still, it let you know straight away that this car will reward only those prepared to put effort in. Nothing for nothing here.
The minor switchgear fires up the meter as well. The headlights seem more difficult than they should be, the power windows (Touring Pack) are crook, the pedals are tiny and can catch an unwary foot on its hurried way up from one pedal (throttle) to another (brake). And that's never good.
The radio is a worthwhile addition (and receives with exceptional clarity), but remains a genuinely stupid device. In a car all about simplicity, it is unnecessary complication machinified. The buttons are tiny and counter-intuitive and, when you're reaching over to the passenger's dash to use it, that's the last thing you need. While we're over there, it has nowhere to put anything, except a half-pipe scallop of aluminum that bashes the fragile, spits out the tough, and makes everything clank.
But the biggest sledge should be reserved for the soul-less blob of plastic that doubles as a console (including a cup holder) and gearbox surround. It's flimsy, looks and feels cheap, and is completely at odds with the stark beauty of the inherently simplistic theme. There. Apart from the fifth gear fouling the driver's knee, pretty much all done.
Right about now is where you'ld normally start reading a diatribe about the K-Series Rover motor. For years, other car makers claimed they took no steps of compromise away from their soul, but they all did, and still do. Lotus made fewer than most. Almost none, in fact, except a motor that made you wonder why the old Exige needed all the lairy bodywork to tote that engine.
Very clearly, that is no longer a relevant discourse. This car has been transformed by a Toyota heart transplant, and it's finally given the crescendo-chasing. Yamaha-headed four-pot a place to shine. While it's hampered by both weight and gearing in its original home (see breakout), this is the car the engine feels like it was designed for, and this is the engine the car feels like it was always meant to have. It feels like they've upped the point at which the variable valve-timed second camlobes start poking further down, but that's only because the bloody thing arrives at 6200rpm so quickly.
Keep the motor meandering below that and, honestly, it just feels like a stronger K-series. At idle, it never actually feels smoother than ye olde engine. That's the funny thing. Think Toyota engine; think sewing machine and Swiss-type precision. You don't actually anticipate a thing always whirring or the audible connection of metal on metal. Lots of tick-tick-ticking, the ssshhhhing of fluids and, even at idle, the steady hiss of air making its way onto the death row of the throttle body.
It's also a lot more grunty in the mid-range than it is in the Toyotas, and that has a lot to do with the Exige's hefltess 887kg kerb weight (and this is the fatter jobbie, with a fully carpeted passenger footrest, power windows, Alcantara trim and, for God's sake, sun visors!). It doesn't sound particularly refined or aurally-ecstaticm but when you open up the second cam, bloody hell, it gets stroppy. And that's exactly how it sounds. Angry. Mean. Urgent. Frantic.
And that means fast. Once its on the big cam, the Exige is a jet, absolutely no question, and it knows how to use its new-found rocket-status. Where the Toyotas bog at each gearchange, waiting for the thing to hit the cam-change point again, the Lotus whips the needle back into skirmish country in a blink, and it doesn't matter what gear you're in. Slam into the 8250rpm limiter, change, slam into it again.
There is no car on sale here, this side of the GT3 RS, that feels anything like as alive as the Exige
With raw aluminum everywhere, the noises and vibrations fair whiz through the thinly cushioned driver's seat. There is nothing happening anywhere in this car that you don't know about, intuitively, the instant it happens. And usually before.
The brakes aren't to the usual Lotus standard, but it's in the pad, not the hardware, and is a consumable anyway. Even so, it's just a feel issue, rather than an inability to wash off speed. They just don't feel super-powerful at the bite point, with a bit of sponginess to them that doesn't fit the harder edge of the rest of the car. Still, it stops like an HIH exec's career, and takes plenty of work to hit the ABS.
The steering's something else as well. Lighter than its lack of power-assisted suggest, and aiming on tyres designed specially for the loads this car generates, it's incredibly accurate, remarkable in its feedback, and all tillered by a Jatz-sized, thick-rimmed steering wheel. Tilt it, by even the width of the finest hair on the human head, the Exige will move its nose. It's instinctive steering, the very best kind. Loaded up mid-corner, every pebble tickles the fingers, every bump-strike takes a bite.
At the edge of the incredible cornering forces the Exige generates, you can make it either understeer or oversteer on the way into the corner (depending on how you want to set it up), but it will understeer (unless wildly, ham-fistedly provoked) on the way out. The rear end's ability to put its new-found power to the road means a) it doesn't really need a limited-slip diff, except maybe for Winton, and b) it leaves the front end as the fuse point.
You can't see a thing out of the back screen, except for the beautifully crafted hinges. The door hinges are similarily gorgeous, and the seats uncompromising, but that's hardly the point for a club sport special that you can live with - just - on the road. The thing's $106,990, or $99,990 (AUST) for the mechanically identical stock Exige. Think of it: Toyota's engine and gearbox reliability with Lotus chassis nous, all at $30,000 less than the old one.
Looks like an Aussie Mag . BTW I know a guy in Australia who is taking delivery of his brand new Exige first week of August. He ordered it back in March of this year. Unlike the USA the Australian's have Toyota power Lotus's running all over the streets down under.