What's New for 2011
The 2011 Lotus Exige revives the hard-core S260 Sport model, while a special Roger Becker edition also debuts.
What are you willing to give up in the name of performance? In the case of the 2011 Lotus Exige, we'd give up quite a lot. It's loud, cramped, harsh, impractical and unforgiving. Yet a true driving enthusiast -- one who intends to use this car at its full potential on a racetrack -- finds these sacrifices only minor inconveniences compared to the unparalleled driving experience this little sports car delivers.
Starting with a very lightweight aluminum chassis that is chemically bonded (instead of welded or bolted) for rigidity, the Exige follows the core Lotus principle of founder Colin Chapman: "Simplify, then add lightness." Everything about the Exige is built for lightness, from the fiberglass and carbon-fiber bodywork to the deletion of unessential convenience features. Reduced weight allows a small-displacement engine to deliver supercar performance. In this case, it's a supercharged 1.8-liter Toyota inline-4.
The resulting weight-to-power ratio comes in at an impressive 8.33 pounds per horsepower, a ratio even more favorable than the likes of the Audi R8 or Porsche 911. Opting for the even more powerful Lotus Exige S260 Sport will give a driver even more to smile about. And let's not overlook the Exige's handling, which has the immediate response of a manic hummingbird. Once you factor in the feel through the steering and even the seat of your pants, it's as if you have nerve endings that extend to the contact patches of the tires.
This combination of driving dynamics and visceral feedback leaves the Exige with little in the way of competition at its price point. Porsche's Boxster Spyder represents the closest rival for a track-tuned weapon, but while the Spyder is much easier to live with on a daily basis, it isn't nearly as communicative. For ultimate driver engagement and thrills, it's hard to beat the 2011 Lotus Exige.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Lotus Exige is a midengine, two-passenger rear-wheel-drive coupe that is offered in two trims: the S240 and the S260 Sport.
Standard features for the Exige S240 include forged-aluminum wheels (16-inch front, 17-inch rear), Yokohama Advan A048 high-performance tires, Lotus/AP Racing and Brembo ventilated and cross-drilled brakes, Bilstein dampers with Eibach springs, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, sport seats with Probax anatomical padding, black cloth upholstery, a leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel, a four-speaker Alpine stereo with a CD player, and adjustable traction control and launch control.
An optional Touring Pack adds additional acoustic insulation, a cupholder, an interior stowage net, a full carpet set, iPod connectivity, center console divider and leather upholstery for the seats, door panels, handbrake and center console. The Track Pack adds manually adjustable Ohlins dampers and height-adjustable springs. A paint-protection film, limited-slip differential and special-order exterior colors are also optional (although some of these colors are more expensive than all the other options combined).
The Exige S260 Sport ratchets up performance with a boost in power output, numerous carbon-fiber body panels, a front splitter, a rear spoiler and a carbon-fiber race seat. The S260 also incorporates the limited-slip differential and Touring and Track Packs as standard equipment. The paint-protection film is also available as an option.
A special Roger Becker Edition of the Lotus Exige debuts for 2011, honoring the longtime director of Lotus vehicle engineering, who recently retired. This model is based on the S260 and includes the Touring package, along with the limited-slip differential. It will only be offered in a handful of colors with a black leather interior.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering the 2011 Lotus Exige S240 is a Yamaha-engineered and Toyota-built four-cylinder engine. This supercharged and intercooled unit produces 240 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. The version in the Exige S260 Sport gets a slight increase in output to 257 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered.
Lotus claims a 0-60-mph acceleration time of 4.5 seconds for the S240, while the S260 Sport is estimated at 4.0 seconds. Despite the Exige's high sporting potential, fuel economy does not suffer, as both models return 20 mpg city and 26 mpg on the highway.
Since the lightweight Exige strives for all-out performance, safety equipment is as bare-bones as federally mandated rules allow. Front airbags, antilock brakes and traction control are included, but side airbags and stability control are not available.
Edmunds braking tests of a similar Lotus Elise yielded a very short 110-foot stop from 60 mph. We expect the Exige to meet or better this figure.
Interior Design and Special Features
Among any car currently being produced, the Lotus Exige has the most sparsely appointed cabin you're likely to encounter. The few controls available are not very user-friendly (especially the tiny radio buttons), and the trim amounts to bare metal and hard plastics. The sport seats offer excellent lateral support and are surprisingly comfortable, but accessing them requires a high level of flexibility in order to limbo past the low roof line while clambering over the high door sills. If you're tall, you'll probably find the cabin as enjoyable as a straitjacket, as your right leg can get painfully wedged between the steering wheel and shift lever.
Storage space is also hard to come by, since there is neither a glovebox nor interior pockets. The comically small trunk can only accommodate 4 cubic feet of cargo, and that cargo would have to fit past a very narrow opening. Furthermore, anything placed back there will be slow roasted by heat from the engine and exhaust. Fortunately, the Exige is fast enough to get home from the supermarket before your ice cream becomes a milkshake.
While the typical driver might bemoan the sacrifices of comfort and convenience made by the Exige, true enthusiasts will celebrate the purity of the driving experience. The manual steering, firm brake pedal and stiff suspension alert the driver to what the chassis is doing in no uncertain terms. On a smooth racetrack, there is simply no production car quite like it.
Unfortunately, there is also nothing quite like this Lotus when it's on public roads. Every rut and bump is transmitted directly into the spine of the passengers. The car is also incredibly loud in terms of engine, road and wind noise. The 2011 Lotus Exige is intended for enthusiasts to be sure, but it also demands the kind of enthusiast willing to sacrifice nearly every modern comfort and convenience for outright driving performance.