2015 Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec Review

Pictures, video, specs, prices and the most comprehensive review on why the Lotus Exige S is a true driver’s car. But can you live with it?

By Shahzad Sheikh

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

Lotus has just recently celebrated one year in the UAE through official dealer Al Futtaim (just about the only official place to get one of these British sportsters in the region), and its first 12 months were marked with a birthday cake (where’s my slice?!) and decent sales, particularly for a specialist boutique brand dedicated to the pursuit of building the ultimate sportscars. But more importantly the anniversary also heralds the arrival of the Exige into our market.

My Evora review you can read here, and that car is utterly brilliant and extraordinarily lively to drive, but the Exige is somehow even more of everything good about the Evora, and enthusiasts have been clamouring for it for a while now. However Lotus is taking no chances and has used the interim time to test and develop the hard core road rocket specifically for our market.

And now we are amongst the first local journalist to put the little Lotus through its paces on UAE roads.

What you need to know about the Exige

We get the Exige S version in two guises: roadster and coupe. The coupe features a front splitter and massive rear spoiler, the roadster comes as Targa and you get both a canvas top (which you can store in the small boot) and an optional hard top (AED6000) which you have to leave at home.

A Toyota-sourced 3.5-litre V6 is amounted amidships, and with a Harrop Supercharger puts out 345bhp and 295lb ft to the rear wheels through a six-speed close ratio manual gearbox. Since this car only weights 1175kg, that’s enough to fire it to 100kph from rest in 4.0 seconds and, it’s claimed, a top speed of 233kph.

An IPS automatic version will be offered from early next year, but the steering remains unassisted. It does have Touring, Sports (which improves the raspy and classic exhaust note) and traction off modes (I just left it in Sports the whole time for the better exhaust noise). You do get electric windows but the wing mirrors you have to angle manually; plus there’s an Alpine stereo, airbags, side impact beams, ABS and traction control.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

Our car had the AED11,000 Premium pack with leather on the seats and door sills, carpets on the floor and sound insulation. It was also fitted with the Diamond cut alloy wheels (17s at the front and 18s at the rear) for AED1900 and featured the convenience pack with reversing sensors, USB connections and a cup holder for AED3800.

Changes for Middle East

Lessons already learned from the Evora meant that the exterior trim on the Exige has been upgraded to withstand our higher temperatures, and cooling has been bolstered dramatically with an additional fan in the back – which is now much quieter than when we tested it in the Evora.

Most importantly of all though, they’ve beefed up the in-car cooling with two air-con units, one blowing out the front vents and another blasting icy-cold air from vents perfectly positioned around the back of your neck on either side for the both occupants.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

It’s like providing a cold air scarf at precisely the place you need it – why has no other manufacturer thought of doing this before? It’s a big boon when driving with the roof off, although it would be interesting to see if it’s strong enough to make a difference in the summer heat during open-air motoring.

Is it comfortable for normal human beings?

I’m over 6ft tall and the first question readers asked on our Facebook page was how do I fit in it? In fact, fitting in it isn’t the problem. The cabin is extremely cosy, and you need to be comfortable with your passenger if you’re heading out for long journeys, plus the only adjustment available is to slide the seat back and forth – yep, that’s it.

However, whilst I could have done with perhaps a few millimetres of extra leg room, and maybe a more upright seat back, after a short period of adapting to it, I had no issues at all, and even after several hours at a stretch in the driving seat, felt no discomfort – the thin bucket seats are surprisingly supportive.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

There is just enough pedal box room for my big feet, although wearing driving shoes is recommend – leave the boots in the boot. Headroom isn’t a problem either, even with the roof up, but then there should be enough space to wear a helmet in here.

The problem of course is getting in and out. And with the roof in place, there is no graceful way to shoehorn yourself into this car, and you do need to be at least a little flexible to manage it. Similarly exiting the car is somewhat like pouring yourself awkwardly out onto the road – which thankfully is very close, because this is an extremely low-slung sports car.

Keep the roof off though, as I did most of the time, and it’s simply a matter of stepping in and sliding down into the seat – same goes for getting out. It couldn’t be easier. You don’t even need to open the door, you could just jump in, quite literally. It’s rather cool!

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

Hence I recommend you buy the roadster, besides the coupe’s low front splitter will suffer on local speedbumps and the massive rear spoiler that only make rear visibility worst. It’s already bad, especially over the right shoulder (huge blind spot there). With the roof-off you can always peer over the top of the T-bar!

Otherwise the driving position is spot-on, the small and chunky steering wheel feels great to hold, the transmission is an intuitive hand-drop away, and all the controls you need are within fingertip reach. Having a relatively basic cabin, although considerably more plush than I remember from when it was first introduced, just means that you can focus on what this car is really all about – the driving.

What’s it like to drive?

First the comfort related bits – from my previous experience running a Vauxhall (Opel) VX220 Turbo for a short period in the early 2000s in the UK, and which was based on a Lotus Elise, just as the Exige is, I expected it to be a noisy, clangy, somewhat rattle affair, on start up. However Lotus has clearly dedicated a lot of time to NVH, particularly with an eye on overseas markets like ours, where customers might be less tolerant. The Exige starts up without a fuss and idles quietly waiting for the action to begin.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

Even with the roof off, whilst the wind noise is intrusive and there’s some buffeting, it’s not really an issue at all, and it is possible to have a conversation in the car, though if you really want your favourite songs to sound a bit better than a distant tinny noise, you might wanna get yourself a pair of headphones instead. But then the exhaust does sound grunty at low speeds and serves up a race-car shriek at high revs. Don’t expect Porsche Boxster levels of refinement and sophistication though.

However, do expect – and receive – a better handling/ride compromise. You might expect it to be a bone-jarring experience leaving you utterly shaken and in search of a chiropractor, but Lotus engineers have done what they do best – worked miracles with the chassis and suspension.

The Exige does that very impressive magic trick of transmitting back to the driver’s bottom every pertinent bit of information regarding the road surface, yet keeps the ride supple and nicely damped – whilst cornering is always flat and level. As long as you don’t attack terrain that is badly pitted and bumpy, you will be well cosseted.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

This comes as a surprise when you realise this car handles like a race car – but we’ve missed a bit here, so let me go back to your other question: is it fast? Yes. And no. Of course 233kph is very fast, but I would never do that in this car – especially with the roof off. At over 80kph less than this figure you already feel like you setting new land speed records and the sensation of velocity is almost overwhelming.

Similarly, the 0-100 time is in supercar territory, and you can snap through that slick short-throw box so quickly that the acceleration feels blisteringly quick. The changes themselves are perfect up to third, though 4th can bulk occasionally and 6th is weird because instead of being directly downwards it curls back in on itself. But it’s no redundant overdrive ratio, because this little thing will still accelerate even in that gear.

I struggled a little with the heel-and-toeing, perhaps my big feet were having to twist at too awkward a level, although raising the accelerator pedal higher just a little would help me, and the clutch, whilst meaty and a bit of a work-out in traffic, is perfectly progressive with a sensible take-up that isn’t snatchy or sudden.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

It is actually a very easy car to drive around town, taxing only if you’re stuck in heavy traffic, and slightly monotonous if you’re doing a lot of motorway miles, but it’ll happily chew up the distance with little complaint. The great thing about it though, is that at 50kph less than other so-called sports and supercars, you’re actually finding it 50% more engaging to drive and having 100% more fun!

And let’s not leave out mention of the sensational handling. The steering is heavy at parking speeds, and hard work if you’re manoeuvring in tight spaces, but one you’re on the go its fine, and once you’re actually on it, it’s sublime. It is constantly telegraphing feedback to you, you know how the car is going to behave before it does it. Few other road-going sports cars can match the response, accuracy and feel that the Exige’s helm offers.

All of which boosts your confidence considerably. There’s a tight and twisty road that writhes, rises and dives constantly out near Hatta, and in the Exige I attacked it harder than I’ve ever done and yet found it far less scary than anything else I’ve taken there – and I reserve that road for truly special cars.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

The light weight of this car means the brakes do an astounding job of rubbing off speed later than normal, and through a corner you can line up an apex and get on the power earlier than you would normally. If you’ve given it too much too soon, it’ll simple give you a little understeer to scrub it off – it’s not ‘Omigod I’m heading off a cliff’ understeer, it’s a finely judged amount to help wash off the excess power, without spinning the tail around on you, and you can negate it through smoother and more prudent use of the throttle.

It’s more fun on severe corners than it is on long fast sweepers which it can easily dispense with, but it says a lot for the genius of the folk back at Hethal who know how to tune the ride, handling and responses of a car so perfectly.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

Can you live with the car?

Yes. No. Maybe. Dunno. I would. I would try – that’s for sure.

This time of year it wouldn’t be a problem, if you keep things al fresco. And the added workout of the steering and clutch would, I’m presupposing, probably help to make me a little fitter! The issue, of course would be in the summer, and whether it will still be tolerable to drive the Exige in temperatures approaching 50 degrees.

The lack of a glove box and storage in the cabin and the small rear boot also means you have to think about what you’re taking out with you, particularly if you don’t want to have to take 10 minutes to keep putting the fiddly – though logical – canvas roof on and off the car every time you park or go.

Honestly though, particularly here, those that buy this type of car will also have other more usable rides sitting at home. But whether you do, or you don’t, if you can buy this car and you have any interest whatsoever in the actual act of DRIVING, than you absolutely must head down to the showroom now and sign up for one.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

Verdict

There isn’t a purer, more eloquent and engaging driving experience to be had. There isn’t another car out there that offers this level of performance, thrill and excitement, but does so at speeds accessible by mere mortals like yours truly. Few alternatives let you reach this deep into performance and grip envelops, so often, so easily and so delightfully, and allow you to emerge back out so ecstatic and unscathed.

Plus driving this car is an event. It’s special, it’s different, it’s a head-turner, and it’s exclusive because it’s relatively rare in our part of the world. This pretty little car stands out more than a Lamborghini Aventador. It also has a friendlier, less in-your-face personality – people wave, smile, give the old thumbs up and want to talk to you when you’re in this car.

Everybody loves it. To drive, it’s addictive. I miss it. And I want one. Badly.

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec review

Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec Review – The Specs

Prices: AED292,500 ($79.6k) – AED315,000 with options mentioned above for car as tested
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 supercharged, 345bhp @ 7000rpm, 295lb ft @ 4500rpm
Performance: 3.8secs 0-100kph, 233kph, 10.1L/100km
Transmission: Six-speed manual, mid-engined, rear wheel drive
Weight: 1176kg

Tell us what you think of it below – what would you have instead?

2 responses to “2015 Lotus Exige S Roadster GCC Spec Review”

  1. Nauman says:

    Well, it was a perfect review. Everything highlighted in a nice way but I don’t think it is wise to spend around AED 300k for such a car.The main drawback in my opinion is its interior. The interior looks a bit out dated and simple, even a Yaris has a better interior as compared to lotus no matter its a sports car and technically performs well but now a days the cars are equipped with various gadgets and entertainment facilities which are a great attraction and a luxury that makes drive more pleasing.

    • admin says:

      [Shahzad] If you’re looking for a better interior, then the Lotus Evora might be a better proposition. This has got the basics of what you need and that’s it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *