What is it?
A Lotus Exige S Roadster. So isn’t that like a Porsche Cayman convertible? Lotus has anticipated your question and prepared a Powerpoint and everything to suggest that no, it isn’t.
The roadster variant of the Exige is ostensibly the same as the Exige S coupé, most notably with the roof removed and replaced with a hood from an Elise (the Exige and Elise share the same chassis tub).
But the Exige Roadster is different, not just to the Elise (it has a 70mm longer wheelbase, is 243mm longer overall and has a supercharged 3.5-litre V6), but also, subtly, to an Exige coupé, too.
Changes are small but significant. Gone is some of the coupé’s aero package, specifically the front splitter and rear spoiler. That lowers drag minutely (by about Cd0.04) and makes a larger difference to downforce. Not enough that would trouble most manufacturers, but, well, this is Lotus.
So the rear roll bar has been stiffened to keep the back feeling planted at speed, while geometry changes at the front (where negative camber is reduced) and the rear (where negative camber has increased) attempt to compensate similarly. The front changes also reduce steering effort at manoeuvring speed, helpfully.
Other changes? Weight is down by an inconsequential 10kg. Top speed is limited to 145mph. The price is the same as the coupé's, so it's £53,850 on the road.
What's it like?
Different to the coupé However, arguably just as important as any of the other changes is that that our test Roadster was not equipped – unlike every coupé we’ve tried – with the Race Pack that optimises (read 'hardens') the suspension to suit the Trofeo tyres.
If you like a spot of compliance in your suspension – and I do – Lotus tells me I’ll like this car at least as much as the coupé That’s a car that finished third in our Best Driver’s Car 2012 contest. We like it a lot.
The new-found compliance is immediately evident. The Roadster rides with impressive absorbency and plenty of Lotus magic; more so, arguably, than in a Race Pack-equipped coupé It flows over poor roads – still all apiece, still with terrific body control – with a level of comfort that genuinely broadens the Exige’s appeal. You don’t feel compelled to be continuously ‘on it’.
It’s still chuffing fast when you want, mind. The fastest ever soft-top Lotus, they say. Less focused? A little, inevitably, without the Race Pack. But it’s still a great track car – solid brakes, fabulously steering and, although a subtle limited-slip differential would make it more throttle adjustable, still a great balance and with neatly adjustable handling.
Should I buy one?
Maybe. The nice thing is how much more accessible it makes the Exige range, so even if you weren’t considering an Exige S before, you could now.
A standard-setting Roadster differs from a Race Pack-equipped coupé notably and requires less effort to drive, yet on the road it is just as rewarding, with only a small compromise on track. If we had access to both, on track days we’d take the car with the Race Pack. However, we suspect that, overall, we’d spend quite a bit more time in the standard-suspended Roadster.