A few days ago I got the chance to try out the eagerly awaited V6. Thanks goes to Bell and Colvill in East Horsley for the test drive. I’ve been visiting B&C since 1992 when they used to look after my Elan M100 and it’s always a pleasure to go back. For me this an important car, not just pivotal for Lotus at such a difficult time but a car that on paper seems to represent the ultimate expression of the elise lineage and  also reputedly delivers 100% in the performance and looks departments. The S1 Sport 160 was a corker, as was the Exige S1. Some of the later Exige S2 variants kind of worked but this new V6 will surely be for many, the best looking elise variant yet. At last we also have something slightly more grandiose than a four banger in an elise type chassis and personally speaking, that totally changes the way I perceive the car; after 17 years the Lotus Elise just grew hairs on its chest.

I’d not yet seen the V6 in the flesh but walking round the car outside the Surrey dealership it seemed very familiar to me. That’s because it’s pure exige, a logical maturation of the outgoing S2. If you had to lengthen the wheelbase, widen the track and fit a larger engine into an RGB exige then this is exactly where  you’d imagine you would end up. To my eyes the elongated  front finally looks right and well proportioned, the front and rear views are suitably aggressive and fuss free, and those rear shoulders and sloping tailgate are deeply sexy. I also happen to love the diamond cut alloys. A very smart move by Lotus to take a step toward the bling rather than opting for a more motorsport rim. This is 2013 and if you build bling the people will buy it.

In the first few miles behind the wheel, what strikes me is this familiarity extends to the general driving experience as well. This all feels pretty much how I expect and it all seems like chartered territory. This is the same wonderfully intimate, feelsome but beautifully filtered steer that all Exige owners feast on on a regular basis. Go kart, mini Group C, racer for the road… whichever moniker you prefer, the point is that in the middle ground between the Caterhams and the GT3s/R8s of this world sits the welterweight elise based sports car and there is nothing else on sale that gives you the same fundamental mixture. The Exige always had  its own unique niche and this car is no different.

The very low seating position, pared back interior and bespoke driving environment is of course customary exige and so is the wonderful view out the front window. If you’ve not sampled it before then it’s a position and view of the road that is quite unique and special; very very low, legs parallel to the floor, compact , bespoke and all the controls ridiculously well placed and in perfect close proximity to you and your appendages. Stepping in from almost any other performance car these are delightful novelties in themselves and more than enough alone to distance the car, or rather completely segregate it from usual suspects such as the Boxster & Cayman.

A certain UK magazine recently concluded recently that the new Boxster did most things the V6 Exige could do but with better build quality and useability therefore making the Brit redundant. Well sorry but that’s like saying there’s no point drinking wine because beer exists. The driving environment and far greater sense of connectivty alone mean that the Boxster and Exige are completely different experiences, so much so in fact that both cars shouldn’t even be sitting together on the same shortlist.


It’s been a while since I’ve driven a 4 pot Exige but the rack on this new car immediately strikes me as being quicker than normal and a nod of the head from Jamie my salesman confirms this to be true. It’s not erratic but a small movement performs much so you soon start to respond in sympathy; economy of input will make it all sing and feel nice and tight. The steering is also a little heavier weighted than the older cars and for me, an aircooled Porsche owner, this is more than welcome. Throw in the fabulously mechanical gearchange, which feels very similar to S2, and after just a few miles I am really starting to enjoy myself. Even at low speed, there’s plenty of sensation and character on offer to make things fun and interesting.

Taking a few rougher lanes, one thing that also comes to mind is that the road manners of this new car really do beggar belief. It’s flat round corners and has huge amounts of mechanical grip but the wheel control is better even than an Evora. Over the rougher stuff there isn’t even a trace of camber chasing or bumpsteer. This defies the expectations and looks. Despite what you might imagine, it’s a beautifully judged road car and by that I mean UK roads. I would happily jump in it and sink several hundred miles in one go and in fact a good friend of mine did just that on a recent top gear test, piloting a press car from Cambridge all the way to Glencoe in Scotland without even a single back complaint.

When Autocar did a piece on this car for their Best Handling Car 2012 article, although it was placed just 3rd, it was described as being a real workout with a recalcitrant gearchange, very heavy steering and pretty useless as far a road car was concerned. The only way I can understand these comments is by concluding that todays road testers must be so used to over assisted numb controls and plush barge-like road cars. My reference points are the last cars I have owned, Caterhams and 1990's porsches and by those yardsticks this Exige has wonderful steering - never too 'heavy' - and yes, of course it's no 3 series BMW, but as a road car its perfectly useable and lovely and compliant.

Back onto the main route and before long I am starting to get into the groove, gliding from  apex to apex and using the low slam of torque from the 6 cylinder to keep us on the boil. Never before has the notion of ‘threading a car’ been so apt; the V6 Exige delights endlessly with its effortless buttery progress, the way it can be millimetrically guided from one corner to the next , the way it floats across any surface delivering an unbridled stream of pleasurable chatter. This is Hethelian feedback though so there is not one objectionable gram of nastiness. Yes, the car has rawness and theatrics to it but its all delivered in a sophisticated honed fashion; the sensations arriving through your backside, the gearstick, pedals and wheel have all been deliciously voiced and the car never once feels nervous, unwieldy or harsh. In my mind this says as much about the build quality, the integrity of the way everything is bolted together, as much as it does about pure chassis dynamics.

Sticking with the chassis for a second, I'm trying hard to think back to previous Exige drives. This new car definitely feels more stable and planted. Part of it is demonstrated by the complete absence of nervousness. The longer wheelbase means you no longer feel that stubby sensation of the older cars. The 6 cylinder Exige S is measured, in check, taking everything in its stride. This is a higher order of ability and it really must be a wonderfully stable car through the faster stuff. The previous exiges, especially the supercharged models with their high mounted intercoolers, always felt a little perilous on high speed sweepers but show this new car something daunting like Pouhon or Coram or Craners and I bet it feels invincible, especially on turn in.



As the test route opens up I am still focusing carefully on all the sensations. The soft pitter patter of beautifully damped road imperfections, a steering wheel that is bursting with sensuous velvety feedback and that silky sense of effortless, efficient forward motion that majors in liquidity and precision. The lotus distills the interface with the road into a kind of exquisite nectar but the good news is this time Matt Becker’s Ride and Handling genius isn’t the only party trick on offer.

I’ve been in 4th gear for the most part. The revs are low but there is more than enough low down to make the car feel brisk. Drop to 3rd, a quick blast to a short shift at 5500 and I guess it’s like you’ve just expended all the power from the complete rev range in the old car. This is almost all the acceleration you’d ever need for the public road and on the really twisty English stuff the real purists nught argue that using much more could well detract from the ‘epiphany of flow’ which such roads are all about. A few corners later though and there’s a great overtaking opportunity and its time to really go for the prize. Into the chevrons and I’m gunning up in 3rd again but this time I keep the pedal good for the shift lights after 7000rpm and then kiss the redline in the next gear too. When you hit that last 1500 rpm or so it’s then that you experience the Exige V6 headline. This is aggressive, relentless, senior league shove, equally as rapid as a Gt3 and 996 turbo if not quite as vivid and unrelenting as something like the Noble M400 or GT2. This is a very quick car no doubt about it and whilst the engine isn’t overbrimming with pedigree and character, it does have a decent note to it and a very smooth and flat delivery. Pureposelful, workmanlike, the V6 won't win any awards but it fulfills the brief and gets the job done more than adequately.

If I am being honest, putting my purists hat on for a second, I would say that for a real twisty B road blast you’d quite possibly have a bit more fun winding up a basic 118bhp NA elise till it’s screaming its pants off. If that’s your remit and momentum is your game then maybe head in that direction. This car though, it’s crying out for Spa Francorchamps, the Ring or a trip through the Black Forest. It is huge fun at low speed, don’t get me wrong, and it will do the English country lane thing but if you really want the satisfaction that comes with wringing out every last horse, then it’s going to need a bigger playground.

This is good news to me though. Along with the more evolved, matured looks it means the car in all senses is just a more grown up lotus. Gone is the boyish, almost effeminate nature of many of the cars of the last few decades and what we have now is more of a man’s lotus. It’s got everything a pre-existing lotus aficionado wants from the chassis, ride and handling but it also has world class performance and finally an engine it can be proud of.

Criticisms ? Well, yes I’d love it if that body was made from aluminium and in a perfect world it would be a high revving NA V6 that you could hold onto longer up to say 8500rpm but really in the context of what’s realistically achievable at Lotus right now, I honestly found it very difficult to fault. Perhaps I'll just agree with some of the magazines by saying that the brakes were perhaps a little over servoed and i'd rather be doing a bit more physical pressing with my own right leg. They don't have the out and out feel of my old 340r's brakes, but they do certainly stop the car very well that's for sure.

For me it’s the car of the moment. Much like the Nissan GTr was a few years back this is something different on the market that has created a real buzz. People will inevitably mention a GT3 in the same sentence but apart from both cars strong credentials as bona fide off the shelf track cars, they are so dissimilar with such a completely different driving style, ethos and character. In fact forget 911s, Caymans, ferraris, GTr's, R8's. You can talk about those cars until you are blue in the face but none of them will feel as remotely as intimate, connected, low down and compact as the Exige. This is like slipping on a glove ! Something like a Scuderia might get the closest but they will still all feel like buses in comparison. I am not saying that this new car from Lotus is 'better' than any of those of course, just that in many ways it's out on its own and delivers a unique experience. It fills a much missed gap that opened up when the Noble M12 disappeared, a 1200kg 350/400bhp baby Le-Mans racer for the road. Looks, power, handling, engine, specialness … it really does hold all the aces.


The Jackals Racetrack http://www.jackals-forge.com/lotus 1998 Richard Morris