From £52,9008
Exige Roadster's new automatic gearbox doesn't spoil things; this low-slung Lotus remains huge fun to drive

What is it?

Modern sports car buyers love automatic gearboxes. This much we know because so many successful makers now sell cars in south-east Asia, where such transmissions are popular, and because even Europeans have come to enjoy the self-shifting properties of the many dual-clutch cars now on the market. 

So sure is Lotus that even its rawest and most focused model – the 1.2-tonne, 345bhp supercharged Exige – will attract more buyers with a self-shifter that it has built such a car using a conventional Aisin six-speed automatic ’box but giving the driver exceptional control over gearchanging by using its own control software and providing an elegant pair of alloy shift paddles.

The Exige is related to the Lotus Elise but styled differently and a little longer in the wheelbase. Its biggest difference is its Toyota-derived 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, which has control software and a supercharger designed by Lotus. The auto ’box adds £2000 to the price and is offered as an option on both coupé and drop-top versions of the Exige.

What's it like?

Damned fast, in two words. The automatic Lotus Exige S is almost exactly as quick as the manual version. The 0-60mph sprint takes a deeply impressive 3.8sec, the car reaches 100mph in just 9.2sec and the performance is easily deployed using a superbly weighted accelerator pedal and a hard-pressed traction control system.

In fact, the best thing about this car is its easily accessible performance; not many performance cars as low and small can go as fast, and the thrust continues unabated well beyond 120mph. Our drophead test model was governed at 145mph to protect its roof from the 162mph winds the coupé version shows would otherwise be possible.

All Exige Ss come with a selector offering three driving modes: Off, Standard and Sport, which adjust chassis stability, throttle ‘alertness’ and the exhaust note. Sport seems most interesting since it allows some cornering slip on the limit, while rescuing you from disaster, and a sporty exhaust note most of the time. 

For track-minded enthusiasts, there’s an extra-cost Race setting, the set-up that Lotus’s talented band of engineer-hotshoes have devised to make the car go around a track as quickly as it can. The rest of the car certainly supports such use; the unassisted steering is superbly accurate and perfectly weighted at speed, and the brakes are hugely powerful and easy to modulate. 

The seats are spare but comfortable. The cabin feels snug and businesslike but distinctly old-fashioned against something like a Porsche Boxster. But in this car the performance dominates, as intended.

Should I buy one?

If performance with agility is your criterion, the Exige S is hard to ignore. A Porsche in the price bracket feels rather large and (whisper this) even a little cumbersome by comparison, although it is far better protected from effects like wind noise than the Lotus.

Still, this is a small, none-too-versatile Elise-related sports car that's showing its age in some ways, and a price approaching £60,000 is solid indeed. 

If you want a brisk cruiser, there are better options, but if you truly desire the Exige’s exceptional performance-with-roadholding, it probably looks a bit of a steal.

Back to top

Lotus Exige S Roadster auto

Price £56,600; Engine V6, 3456cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 345bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1182kg; Top speed 145mph (governed); 0-60mph 3.8sec; Economy 29.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 222g/km, 35%

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
voyager12 7 February 2015

Why not give Exige and Evora...

some styling clues from the Elan and Esprit concept that were developed under Dany Bahar? I am sure that more Lotus afficionado's liked what they saw. As a matter of fact, if you look more closely you might say that the all-new Honda NSX stole some of the ideas the Lotus concepts featured.
Dave Ryan 6 February 2015

1.2 tonnes?!

Blimey...the first Exige was nearer 900kg. Seems to have piled on the pounds a bit in recent years.
LP in Brighton 7 February 2015

Add weight and complicate

Seems to be the current Lotus philosophy. Still, at least the company still survives. The real problem for Lotus though is that there are some very good volume producers of sports cars that do a very good job selling their wares at affordable prices.
Personally I'd like to see a low cost bare bones Elise that doesn't pretend to be a Porsche - but I suppose no one would buy it and it would not be profitable.
AHYL88 7 February 2015

Gained the pounds literally and figuratively!

Indeed, this Lotus Exige is not only much heavier than it used to be, it's also miles more expensive by some £22,000, and hardly any better than the Exige S from way back in 2006, so I will never expect to see this on the road due to it's price. Don't get me wrong, I have loved Lotus cars for many years, but their appeal gets ruined when their prices are so massively high at near £60,000 when they used to cost far less and took on other cars that cost double or higher, rather than cars in their own price range. Since this is not really a everyday car, at nearly £60,000, you can get two separate cars that are still both pretty damn good and fast; like a decent Caterham Seven or a base Ariel Atom for your track days, with a hot hatchback like a Golf GTI/R or Fiesta ST for your everyday needs.
si73 6 February 2015

whats it like

There doesn't seem to be any comment made regarding the auto gearbox, how smooth are the changes, does it change up when in manual mode when you don't want it to, are the paddles responsive and is it quick to change gear etc I assume it is a torque converter auto as opposed to automated manual/ double clutch