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Fuel and emissions gains don't dent the fun factor one bit

What is it?

It’s a Lotus first drive with a difference. Unusually for a car from Hethel, the story here isn't about performance tweaks, the addition of yet more lightness or keener handling.

No, the big news behind the 2010 model-year Exige is that it emits less carbon dioxide and uses less fuel than before.

Lotus Exige S emissions for the 2010 year are now 199g/km, down from the 2009 car’s 216g/km, which significantly changes the first-year rate of road tax. True, it makes far less difference thereafter, but a sub-200g/km output may stay important as tax rates change, plus it's a four per cent reduction for benefit-in-kind taxpayers. In short, it's worth having.

What’s it like?

To drive? Mostly as it was. The reduction in consumption come from changes to engine management and a slight alteration of the aerodynamics. You might have noticed those: the big new rear wing and the front splitter?

I'm not convinced they do anything for the aesthetics, but they make the same downforce as before while causing less turbulence. The lateral slats on the front wing air intakes better direct cooling air, while there's a larger air intake for the supercharged 218bhp engine's intercooler too.

Spec the optional Performance Pack (as fitted to our test car) and power rises to 237bhp; remarkably, emissions stay the same because the legislative test cycle doesn't put the pokier engine into a rev zone where it's using more fuel.

The Exige's performance is as fantastic as ever. Throttle response remains keen and there's decent power and torque through the mid-range (158lb ft or, with the Performance Pack, 170lb ft), so riding third and fourth gear is ample on the road, though it's fun to use all the revs on a track.

The ride and handling are unaltered, which is no bad thing. Few cars steer so delicately and, though the Exige's ride is harder than an Elise's (which now has lower emissions too), there's a suppleness to it you won't find in any other car that's so focused.

Small tweaks as ever, then, but this time not in the usual direction.

Should I buy one?

For sure. These worthwhile changes take absolutely nothing away from the Exige’s ability, nor do they affect how compelling it is to drive. They just make it a touch more frugal and cheaper to run.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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aceman 12 August 2009

Re: Lotus Exige S

I saw one of these the other day except it as standard and not S. But the noise that it makes is great. I was sat at the traffic lights and it was next to me but once the light was green it was off the line hardly having to rev where as I had to rev to the very pitch of gear one and two to get anywhere near. Nice little car Lotus has made there. And if the standard Exige is brilliant this version should be very good.

Nikonguy 7 August 2009

Re: Lotus Exige S

Not my type of car at all. If only Lotus made cars as good as they were in the 50/60's. I managed to hitch a lift in aLotus Elite with the Climax engine, Now that was a beautiful car. One even had a 1.5lite GP engine installed.. That was a real mover.

CAT3 7 August 2009

Re: Lotus Exige S

Looks even more of a Group C racer with the new wing/splitter than previously. I always wandered about reverse parking in the Exiges, as they have no rear view vision to speak of. Must be a leap of faith and good job the car is small. Great little car though.