For most people, the standard Lotus Exige V6 would surely represent the ultimate kind of sports car. It weighs little more than a box of feathers, its interior is quite extraordinarily uncluttered by unnecessary luxuries, and its supercharged Toyota V6 engine provides it with enough grunt – 345bhp – to embarrass all but the most ambitious supercar drivers.
And that’s before you so much as mention its heart-thumpingly focused mid-engined chassis, or its delicious non-power-assisted steering, or its brakes, which are so powerful that, sometimes, they can make your eyes turn bright yellow.
For one or two people, though, the standard Exige V6 is just a pussycat waiting to be stroked (or should that be stoked in this instance?). And these are the people at whom the Exige V6 Cup is squarely aimed.
It has no more power than the standard car, Lotus instead choosing to pursue ‘the less is more’ style of development in this case. Thus, having revisited the already spartan interior, chucked out the unrequired sound-deadening materials, added a fire extinguisher and a beefier roll cage, and then thought about how the car could be preened to make it even more incisive to drive, Lotus has produced what is one of the most serious track days cars there has ever been.
And yet the car is still just about road-legal. Which means that you can, at a pinch, drive it to whichever track day you are intending to terrorise, do the business on the circuit, and then drive back home in it at the end of the day.
Think of the Exige V6 Cup as Hethel’s equivalent of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS and you will be a million miles wide of the mark. This car is way more focused than that. Instead, it’s more like the wildest, hairiest Caterham you can think of, but with a roof, and a supercharger, and at least the option of air conditioning.
Having said that, I drove the car on the road for a while, shortly before letting rip in it around the shiny new test track that they’ve built at Lotus, and amazingly it wasn’t anywhere near as unpalatable as I was expecting it to be.
There was a lot of road noise, true, and the new bucket seats didn’t exactly provide much comfort on the rougher roads of Norfolk. But the ride was actually pretty decent. And the steering felt much as I remember from the standard Lotus Exige V6; bubbling with feel and fizzing with accuracy at speed, yet manageable at slow speeds.
On the road, the V6 Cup feels – and sounds – properly quick, too. It’s 60kg lighter than the standard V6, and you can feel the difference that this makes in the extra zip it delivers under acceleration, and when changing direction; in everything it does on move, basically.
The all-round double-wishbone suspension is fundamentally unchanged but it has been massaged (slightly stiffer springs, two-way adjustable dampers) to produce even crisper responses on the move. There’s also less roll and tauter body control under extreme cornering, all of which became instantly apparent on Hethel’s excellent new test track.
The Lotus Exige V6 Cup is designed to be driven hard all day long around a race track, delivering huge thrills to whoever is lucky enough to be behind the wheel, and then being driven back home at the end of the day.
So although it’s expensive, in truth there’s nothing else quite like it at the money - which is why Lotus can’t build enough of them at the moment.
If the V6 Cup isn't quite extreme enough for you, then there’s actually another even more focused version that Lotus makes: the V6 Cup R. This is a pure racing car, featuring a paddle-shift X-Trac gearbox with shorter, tighter gear ratios, a full FIA-approved roll cage and a touch more power from its supercharged Toyota V6 engine.
It can be, and indeed is, raced in a variety of series right across the globe.