What's New for 2007
The supercharged Exige S joins the lineup. Compared to the standard Exige, the S offers 30 more horsepower (now 220) and an extra 27 pound-feet of torque (now 165), while delivering 0-60 runs around the 4-second mark. In addition, the track-only Lotus Sport Exige Cup will again be available in limited numbers, and for '07, it gets slightly more power -- 252 hp versus 243 hp last year.
For such a congested, dreary and drizzly place, England comes up with some pretty amazing sports cars. Last year, one of its most dramatic products, the Lotus Exige, arrived on American shores. A hardtop coupe version of the company's Elise roadster, the 2007 Lotus Exige is easily the most focused performance car on sale in the U.S. Lightness is its key ingredient, as this rear-drive, mid-engine two-seater weighs in at just over 2,000 pounds -- about 850 less than a Porsche Cayman. As such, the Exige is capable of sub-5-second 0-60-mph times despite the fact that its power source is a maniacally revving, 1.8-liter Toyota engine rated for all of 190 hp. The car's aluminum chassis is capable of handling much more, though, so Lotus engineers bolted on a supercharger for 2007, creating the 220-hp Lotus Exige S. Not only is the S quicker in a straight line, it's faster through the slalom.
Ordinarily, we wouldn't even bring up slalom speeds when writing to prospective car buyers, but the 2007 Lotus Exige S is quite literally the fastest production car our road test editors have ever run through the 600-foot cone course. It's here that the Exige's body modifications over the Elise, including its fixed roof panel, sculpted engine cover, front air splitter and rear wing, make a difference, providing an extra 90 pounds of downforce that glues the car to the pavement at high speeds. This gets to the heart of what the Exige, in regular or S form, is all about: This coupe was built for no other purpose than to carve up corners, whether on a racetrack or a favorite back road. Unencumbered by the safety equipment and luxury amenities of most cars, the featherweight Exige responds immediately to driver inputs and does so with minimal lean or roll. And with no power steering assist or extraneous seat padding buffering the feedback, the interface between car and driver couldn't be more direct.
For the miniscule percentage of buyers unimpressed by the capabilities of the street-legal Exige, Lotus sells a much costlier track-only version known as the Lotus Sport Exige Cup in very limited numbers. Fitted with a roll cage and six-point harness, this special Exige drops another 200 pounds by shedding the passenger seat and all interior carpeting and trim. At the same time, it gains an extra 32 hp over the Exige S, which skims a couple 10ths off its 0-60 time. There's also a dry-sump oil system to ensure consistent lubrication during high cornering loads. Running gear on the Lotus Sport Exige Cup includes racing slick tires and an adjustable suspension.
Considering the Exige's performance potential, the price of admission for the street version is relatively modest. But this is not a mass-market car. The side effects of its focused performance, including a very stiff ride and minimal storage and feature content, make it a pretty miserable car for daily use. Most buyers in this market will be happier with the Cayman or a BMW M Coupe. Wisely, Lotus doesn't plan on importing more than about 200-300 Exiges. And for the eventual handful of owners, the street-legal racecar experience won't get any better than this.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2007 Lotus Exige is a two-seat, rear-wheel-drive, midengine coupe, and buyers can choose either the normally aspirated base Exige or the supercharged Exige S version. There's also the extremely limited-production Lotus Sport Exige Cup model, which is certified for track use only.
The street-legal Exiges come with a CD player and air-conditioning as standard (though the A/C can be deleted to save weight), but overall they're quite spartan. Several option packages offer a bit of customization. The Touring Pack aims to slightly improve comfort through leather seating, power windows, upgraded audio, a storage net, additional sound-deadening material and full carpeting. The Track Pack sends the Exige in the opposite direction; it comes with adjustable dampers, an adjustable front stabilizer bar, an additional rear suspension brace and interior fittings for a race-oriented harness. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels with 195/50R16 Yokohama Advan A048 tires are found up front; 17s with 225/45R17 rubber are in back. A limited-slip differential, a feature that improves acceleration and power delivery when exiting corners, is optional.
To save weight, the Lotus Sport Exige Cup is stripped of all features not essential for track use, including headlights, a passenger seat and all interior carpeting and trim. A roll cage and six-point harness are standard, as are an adjustable suspension, upgraded brakes and Yokohama slick tires. The limited-slip differential remains optional.
Powertrains and Performance
Power for the standard 2007 Lotus Exige comes from a Toyota-sourced 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. Lotus has fitted unique intake and exhaust components, as well as a reworked engine controller, to broaden the engine's power band and push peak hp to 190 at 7,800 rpm. Torque peaks at 138 lb-ft at 6,800 rpm. The Exige S adds a Roots-type supercharger supplying 7.25 psi of boost, which results in ratings of 220 hp at 8,000 rpm and 165 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm. Even bigger numbers are available in the track-only Lotus Sport Exige Cup, also supercharged, which comes in at 252 hp at 8,000 revs and 179 lb-ft of torque at 7,000. All Lotus Exiges have a six-speed manual gearbox.
For the standard Exige, Lotus claims a 0-60 time of just 4.9 seconds and a drag-limited top speed of 147 mph. We've timed an Exige S at 4.2 seconds for the 0-60 sprint, and Lotus says 3.9-second runs are possible in the Exige Cup. Fuel economy, at 24 mpg city/29 mpg highway in the standard Exige and 23/29 in the Exige S, is quite respectable.
Don't expect much more than federally mandated safety equipment on the Exige. An antilock brake system is included, but neither stability control nor side airbags are available. A traction control system is optional.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Exige's minimalist design carries into the interior. The controls are simple and there's not much room available for storage. The composite sport seats provide plenty of support, but the car's low fixed roof and wide sills make entry and exit particularly challenging for any human more than 3 feet tall. The trunk is rated at 4 cubic feet of capacity, which is enough for a few wedged-in grocery bags and not much else.
Because of its 1-ton curb weight, super-sticky tires and unassisted steering, the 2007 Lotus Exige is pretty much the most precise-handling car available at any price. No other car feels more eager to go where it's pointed and no other car speaks to its driver as clearly in the process. The Exige's body modifications over the open-top Elise do make a difference, but only at the higher speeds seen at a racetrack. On the move, the normally aspirated engine is tractable enough for low-speed work, but certainly the most grins come when the tach is past 6,000 rpm. The supercharged Exige S provides a meatier midrange but still feels best running at high rpm. Because of its sport-tuned suspension, the Exige rides quite harshly on normal pavement and won't make you happy if drafted as a commuter car. The brakes are simply phenomenal, though, and provide fade-free performance in nearly every situation.