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Lotus Exige S Roadster review (2013 onwards)
Lotus Exige S Roadster: summary
Less hardcore than the Exige S Coupe, Lotus’s fastest-ever drophead still provides the thrills in equal measure.
We like: thrilling performance, tactile steering, brilliant chassis
We don’t like: difficult to get in and out, tiny switches and instruments, uncompromising
Lotus Exige S Roadster: first impressions
You’ve heard the rumours about Lotus. When owners Proton were bought by Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom in 2012, Lotus was part of the package. Since then, while DRB-H has been a) making its mind up what to do about Lotus, then b) getting a plan into shape, car production has plummeted.
This is the removable-roof version of the coupe we drove 12 months ago
Or has it? The headlines say Lotus sold fewer than 80 cars in the UK last year, but that number has already been breached six months into 2013. Still far from healthy, even if total production so far this year is 544 cars – obviously mainly for export markets – things are turning around at Lotus. The factory floor was full of cars when we visited to evaluate the new Exige S Roadster.
This is the removable-roof version of the coupe we drove 12 months ago. It has the same roll-up roof system of the Elise, some very minor changes to the suspension and a revised aero package.
145mph is the artificially limited top speed because that’s all the soft roof can take. The coupe is good for 170mph. At the same time the rear wing and front aero splitter are binned, to give the Roadster a more benign, comfort-oriented appeal.
Lotus Exige S Roadster: performance
The Exige S is awe-inspiring on road. The sheer breadth of the performance from the Harrop supercharged V6 beggars belief. Benign as you want it around town, a dab on the throttle punches it forward with such conviction that it takes some time to appreciate the full magnitude of what’s on offer. It always seems to find another stage when you press the throttle even further to the floor.
The Exige S is awe-inspiring on road. The sheer breadth of the performance from the supercharged V6 beggars belief
Once the revs reach 4,700rpm a valve in the exhaust opens, the noise cranks up even more and there’s a brand-new level of performance that pulls your eyeballs backwards. It is quite astonishing, so much so that the time it takes to go from 6,000rpm to 7,000rpm happens too quickly for a safe gearchange. Better to change up at around 6k and let the torque handle the rest.
On the Lotus test track at Hethel it was possible to see 140mph on the speedometer down the back straight, damn close to maximum speed. Whether the lack of 170mph bragging rights that you get with the coupe is a concern only you can answer.
You’ll need to be driving round Silverstone for it to really matter in the UK, but of course you may feel a bit of a wimp in the pub when you admit your Exige S Roadster is only 2mph faster than the Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring Edition.
Still, just move from Touring to Sport mode and that exhaust valve is open 100% of the time. Everyone will then know that your Exige is the genuine article.
Lotus Exige S Roadster: ride and handling
Never experienced a Lotus from behind the wheel? Then you are missing out on arguably the finest, most tactile steering experience to be found in a road-going car. The wheel is small, the steering unassisted, the chassis designed to feed back as much information about the road surface as possible.
Lotus offers a sense of involvement it’s hard to find in any other car
The result is a sense of involvement it’s hard to find in any other car except a Caterham. The wheel dances in your hands as it tracks minor road imperfections, but you quickly learn to accommodate that and delight in the ability to place the Exige with incredible accuracy on the road.
The tyres are wide, which can make parking a bit heavy, but there is an enormous amount of grip that is easy to exploit with that fine steering. Stick the Exige S on the Lotus test track, as we did, and switch the Dynamic Performance Management (DPM) system into Sport and there’s a new level of excitement to be found as more tyre slip is allowed before the safety systems cut in.
Turning DPM off and full-blooded tail slides are only as far away as your skill. Strictly not for road use, though.
Lotus Exige S Roadster: interior
Cars in the price range of the Exige S tend to offer a classy interior, something that has always been hard to attribute to any Lotus, including the Exige S coupe we drove 12 months ago.
We can’t think of a car that would be faster on a UK road
DRB-Hicom has tasked the company to up its game here, and with the £2,000 Premium pack there is quilted leather and enough detailed niceties to move the Roadster up a star in our ratings.
It’s still no Boxster, though, while getting in and out over the high, wide sills and beneath the low roofline is a challenge. Don’t anticipate carrying much luggage, either.
Lotus Exige S Roadster: economy
28mpg is the figure for the combined cycle, but you’ll find it easy to slash that if you use all of the performance. CO2 is officially 236g/km, which means an annual car tax bill of £475
Lotus Exige S Roadster: the MSN Cars verdict
Certainly there are naysayers who will pick holes in the package Lotus offers in the Exige S Roadster. The interior, access and luggage space are all open to criticism. And it’s far from cheap.
Yet we can’t think of a car that would be faster on a UK road, including the McLaren 12C, Porsche 911 Turbo or Ferrari 458 Italia. The relatively compact dimensions of the Exige S, its bullet-like acceleration and the sublime chassis make it an extraordinary car.
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