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First drive: Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.

First drive: Lotus Exige 410 Sport
For some bizarre reason, we want to paraphrase Gregg Wallace: driving doesn’t get any better than this.

   



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Lotus Exige 410 Sport

5 5 5 5 5

A bit too intense and too impractical for a daily driver it might well be, but we'd happily put up with its foibles: the Lotus Exige 410 Sport is mid-engined nirvana. Magnificent.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Lotus Exige 410 Sport
Pricing: Exige range from £59,600; 410 Sport from £79,900
Engine: 3.5-litre supercharged V6 petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door coupe
CO2 emissions: 230g/km (VED Band 226-255: £1,815 first 12 months, then £465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 27.7mpg
Top speed: 174mph (Coupe, 150mph Roadster)
0-62mph: 3.6 seconds
Power: 416hp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 410Nm at 2,500-7,000rpm
Boot space: 112 litres

What's this?

The Lotus Exige, which has long since divested itself from the Elise with which it once shared so much. It's powered by a supercharged 3.5-litre Toyota-sourced V6, which develops 416hp (which is 410bhp, hence the name of this particular model: 410 Sport) and a neatly matching 410Nm of torque. This powers 1,110kg of what looks to be pure GT3 racer with a couple of number plates hastily bolted on; you can have the Exige as a Coupe with a fitted hard-top or as a Roadster, but either way you get a car which is quite simply stunning to behold.

It is long. It is low. It is wide. It is bristling with carbon-fibre addenda that all go towards generating a whopping 171kg of downforce at the Exige 410 Sport's 174mph maximum speed. And the most insane thought of all is that the 410 Sport is not the most extreme Exige you can buy; that singular honour falls on the shoulders of the bonkers 430 Cup (£100,600). Going the other way, there's a 'lesser' 350 Sport but that would still be more than enough mid-engined magnificence for most people. Anyway, whichever way you go, the Exige looks astonishing - exuding a menace and intent that is unmistakeable as you walk up to it, old-fashioned fixed-blade key in hand.

And then you clamber into it. Well, what you actually sort of do is half-step in, fold yourself in the middle as best you can (middle-aged gut permitting), collapse backwards and then, as your spine hits the handbrake, try and drag your remaining leg in with as much grace as you can possibly muster. Elegant, getting into and out of the Exige is not. But once you're there, ensconced in another typically bare-basics Lotus cabin, it's a very special place to sit. You'll have to ignore the 1990s Vauxhall column stalks, the absence of any sort of infotainment system and a conspicuous lack of, well... anything, and instead focus on the fact you're seated in a position that's very much 'race car': bum farcically low, legs almost straight out in front of you, tiny and featureless (this is a good thing, by the way) steering wheel up in your chest. There's Alcantara almost everywhere you look, and it clothes the wheel too, while the real centrepiece (literally and figuratively speaking) is the exquisite exposed-linkage manual gearshift. Swoon.

Finally, take a look in the rear-view mirror and all you will see is the crown of the V6 engine, the throttle actuator and some slivers of daylight through the slatted back screen. All of the above makes you giddy with excitement, long before you've fired that V6 into life and moved off down the road. Oh, and don't worry about rear visibility; you won't be needing it in an Exige 410 Sport anyway, as we shall come to see...

How does it drive?

Gor blimey, it drives like something from another realm. Lotus wants its products to feel like they could be used every day and there's certainly a level of approachability to all of its cars - Exige included - which stands its output above things like an Ariel Atom or a Caterham. But with that preposterous ingress/egress issue to deal with and a dearth of toys inside, living with the 410 Sport as your only set of wheels would take quite a few sizeable sacrifices on the part of a buyer.

Sacrifices we are only too happy to admit we'd make, if only we could afford the 410's 80-grand asking price. Because, once you've driven the Exige, it gets inside your veins and spoils you for every other car you go on to drive afterwards. Three things shone out on our test drive, amongst a myriad treasure trove of glittering dynamic delights, and these were: the steering; the damping; and the unbelievable traction. The first of these is simple, because Lotus doesn't offer power assistance on the Exige. This is almost unheard of in the modern era but, thanks to Lotus' single-minded focus, you'll reap immense rewards - once you're up above 30mph, of course. During low-speed manoeuvring, the 410 Sport feels hefty and recalcitrant. But out of urban areas and on the open roads where the Exige is supposed to excel (sorry for mixing our Lotus names, there), that steering transforms into something positively joyous. It babbles incessant information back at you as it bucks and writhes in your hands, the clarity of its feedback so sharp and vibrant that you can feel every little detail of the road surface, yet brilliantly the car doesn't feel nervous and twitchy as a result.

If anything can match the steering for remarkable excellence, it's the dampers. Lotus has form in this department; it sets all of its cars up after developing them extensively on the bumpy B-roads of mid-Norfolk, where its Hethel facility is based, so that they're capable of dealing with surface topography that's less level than a motorsport circuit. But make no mistake, the Exige feels firm. You'll not lament even a micron of loose body control, nor will you forget for a second that it is on 19-inch front, 20-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (we'll come back to the tyres in a moment). Tough spring rates are evident in the way the Exige corners flat and dives for any apex with an alacrity that's quite breathtaking, but if you can filter through the overriding sensation you're in something intense and track-focused, you'll notice the damping is actually wonderfully supple. Vertical motions in the wake of compressions are smoothly controlled, not abrupt and spiky, and the Lotus therefore plants all of its Cup 2 rubber onto the road for the maximum given traction at any time; it delicately breathes with roads, rather than trying to batter them into submission.

Aah, the traction! The Cup 2 tyres! We happened to drive the Exige 410 Sport on a fabulous British summer's day. Which is to say, the temperature was struggling to breach the mid-teens, rainfall was of the biblical variety and road surfaces were streaming. As we backed into the Exige's cabin for the first time, like some sort of grotesque, oversized hermit crab moving into a new part-carbon-fibre shell, someone from Lotus helpfully and rather too cheerfully called out through the squall: "Remember that it's on Cup 2s, so you might want to watch out for standing water." Oh, yeah, right; thanks for that salient nugget of sage advice, most useful.

We needn't have been so tetchy, though. Lordy, the Lotus was so planted and so secure that it scythed through the conditions without a care in the world. Frankly, it was downright disgraceful how much of its potential you could unleash in such weather, because we managed to rev that V6 out to its redline and, with perfectly judged traction control, the Lotus was steadfast and not in the least bit terrifying. The power delivery was epic. So was the noise; loud and hard-edged, insistent and raw, absolutely splendid but as noisy as hell beyond 5,000rpm, when the V6 goes 'on cam'. Also, click-clacking your way through that six-speed naked gearshift is just heavenly, so you can easily dole out the power to your heart's content as cog-swaps are things of near-immediacy. You want the Exige to spin right around the tacho? No problem. You want it to lug from the midrange? It'll do that too. This is a motor of extraordinary breadth and reach, and it's installed in a chassis which is peerless.

Pace, power and an otherworldly soundtrack are not things for which the Exige yearns, and nor is stopping power because its brakes are brutal; about the only criticism we can think of from driving it is that we never used enough middle-pedal pressure to be able to do heel-and-toe with any great skill, but that's our flat-footed fault, that is, not the car's.

Verdict

A blind man on a galloping horse can see that there are plenty of sports cars - mid-engined, front-engined, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, roadsters and coupes of all shapes and sizes - that will be cheaper, more easy to live with as daily conveyances and a heck of a lot more practical than the Lotus Exige 410 Sport. But there are precisely none, that we can think of, which would match the Exige for its sheer coruscating brilliance, its ability to engage, excite and reward you on the right roads (which are nearly ALL roads, in case you're wondering), its phenomenal cross-country pace and its completely crackers soundtrack. Expensive it may be, but exceptional engineering like this is rarely cheap - and the Lotus Exige 410 Sport is simply sublime.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

2 2 2 2 2 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 25 Jun 2019



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2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.

2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.2019 Lotus Exige 410 Sport. Image by Lotus UK.








 

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