From £52,9009
With less weight and more focus, the Exige Sport 350 feels a very Lotus way of making an already fast car even faster. We drive it in the UK

What is it?

The boundaries between the original Lotus Exige and the Lotus Elise it was developed from were blurred by the fact they were fundamentally the same car, sharing basic layout and four-cylinder engines.

The Exige was always the hardcore, track-day-ready version though, coming with a fixed rather than fabric roof and increasingly potent states of tune in keeping with its enthusiast focus. Then the arrival of the supercharged V6 engine from the Evora S in 2012 brought about a very different Exige S, one far more potent and rapid than any that had gone before. 

Geneva Motorshow unveiling: Lotus has revealed what the Exige Sport 350 Roadster will look like

Roadster, automatic and race-ready Cup versions built by Lotus Motorsport have followed, but with this new Sport 350 Lotus has brought the pace of the most extreme variants into its standard Exige. And it's done it in a very Lotus way - primarily by removing weight.

Every single component has been scrutinised for its purpose, weight and cost. If it wasn't needed it was simply dumped - the near-useless sun visors have been removed for a saving of nearly a kilo, while the distinctive louvred rear deck is 3kg lighter than the glass item it replaces. More than 100 parts were either removed or revised, and a further opportunity to save weight was offered by optional forged wheels and lightweight brake discs. 

If all this minimalism is too much, you can put a few luxuries - and kilos - back in. Everything from a radio to carpets are on the options list, air-con is too, although it'll add 7.5kg to the kerbweight. But, even fully optioned up, the Exige remains a single-minded, focused car.

An Audi TT or Porsche Cayman will give you the pose value and creature comforts for the daily grind and Sunday drives alike, the Exige is a car for the track with just enough to make it viable on the road too.  

What's it like?

If not the sub-tonne flyweight of the original Exige, the V6 version is still more than 200kg lighter than a Porsche Cayman S; that's doubly significant when you consider the reach of the 350ps, 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine.

The equivalently-priced Cayman GTS comes close at 340ps, but the Exige's 295lb ft of torque beats the Porsche's 280lb both by numbers and feel. The naturally aspirated Porsche may set the hairs on your neck tingling, but it needs revs to deliver its best. The immediate punch of the supercharged Lotus - and its lack of weight - means it feels much, much faster across the board. 

Its nearest on-paper rival in terms of price and lightweight minimalism is probably the more exotic looking Alfa Romeo 4C. Its fancy carbon fibre tub may mean it's lighter, but its turbocharged four-cylinder engine can't keep tabs with the sheer grunt of the Lotus's V6. 

The Lotus also shows up the Alfa in terms of handling. Wisely there are no significant tweaks to the suspension, beyond a sharpening of the camber and toe to dial out the initial understeer present in the original S. The non-assisted steering is heavy at low speed, but wonderfully communicative at pace, feeding back nuances of grip and road surface through microscopic shifts in weight through the tiny rim.

This makes it a delight to drive right up to the clearly telegraphed limits, the performance fully exploitable even on a greasy track or wintry Norfolk B-road because you feel so intimately involved in what the car is doing. It may be a touch more pointy at the front end, but the Exige still has a very safe set-up, gently sharpening its line with a lift of the throttle and offering scope to get more creative with its cornering stance if you so wish.

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The clever 'Race' mode of the Lotus Dynamic Performance Management stability control gives you enough leeway to explore this, while maintaining a safety net if you overstep the mark. Even fully disengaged the Exige remains predictable, fun and unthreatening, though. 

Its new exposed gearshift linkage is a neat touch, but also a visual reminder Lotus has worked hard on improving this traditional weakness in Elise-based cars. Donated by the Evora 400, it's quicker, more positive and more enjoyable to use than ever before. The automatic option remains, but is really there to cater for markets where manuals don't sell - Porsche's PDK is a much better option if you prefer a two-pedal car. 

Should I buy one?

If you think modern performance cars have lost the plot with their endless gadgets and gizmos, synthesised controls and lardy kerbweights, then absolutely. There aren't many options remaining for the true purist driver, but the Exige Sport 350 is one of them, retaining just enough daily usability to make it work as a single car, while delivering the kind of track-focused precision no rival can touch.

Because it's light you could pound round a circuit all day long without fear of wearing out brakes or tyres too, making the occasional track day well within its capability without any concerns about expensive consumables. While it would be a waste to buy an Exige and not do this every now and then it's also a compelling road car, two apparently disparate attributes few cars manage to successfully pull off. 

This focus is not without compromise though. The fat sills and shallow doors make it hard to get in and out of with any elegance, its minimalism will come as a shock to those accustomed to mainstream cars and the intensity of the feedback through the non-assisted steering will likewise be something of a wake-up call.

But that's the Exige's beauty - it makes no apologies for being an out-and-out enthusiast's car, and for that, and its ability to live up to the brand DNA of delivering more performance and less weight, it remains a breath of fresh air. 

Dan Trent

Lotus Exige Sport 350 manual

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Location Hethel; On Sale Now; Price £55,900; Engine 6 cyls, 3499cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 345bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1125kg unladen; Top speed 170mph; 0-62mph 3.9sec; Economy 28.0mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 235g/km, 37%

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bowsersheepdog 17 December 2015

Perfect match

A big, comfortable estate with a vast boot, something like a V70, Superb or E-Class, plus one of these Exiges, would be a hard to beat combo to cover any situation.
scrap 12 December 2015

200 kg is a big weight saving

200 kg is a big weight saving over the Porsche, but it would seem the Cayman justifies every one of those kilos.
voyager12 12 December 2015

I assume...

that the rear wing is removable?... Only to be used on track days. Nice color and upholstery.