We drove a Lotus Exige Sport 410 last year and said you wouldn't need the extra, more expensive edge of the flagship Cup 430 model. How wrong we were.
In the Metal:
Aside from graphics, there's practically nothing different on the outside when comparing this car to the Exige Sport 410. Both have the full aero kit that generates 171kg of downforce and both look thoroughly magnificent, all bristling purpose and intent; Vivid Green with black detailing is also a perfect colour combo for this most intense of Lotus models. However, there is one key change between 410 and 430, and it's the rear spoiler - it's a flat-plane item on the more savage Cup, rather than the shaped affair perched on the back of the Sport.
Inside, there's additional exposed carbon fibre to be seen in the Cup 430, although it's still the spartan cabin into which you must squeeze yourself through a slender door opening, in a process akin to ramming a bulky package through a letterbox's slot. Once you're in, though, you're really in and ensconced in a magnificent, singularly focused cabin with the small, Alcantara-clad steering wheel thrust towards your chest, the exposed gear linkage sitting like a work of art immediately to the left of your thigh and a paucity of needless gewgaws on the fascia allowing your eyes to remain fixed on the road ahead as you enjoy the main attraction of a Lotus Exige - the sensational driving experience.
We didn't think we'd be able to discern a huge difference between the Sport 410 and the Cup 430, truth be told, with the passing of around a year between our two drives of these oh-so-similar models. After all, the Cup's gains of 20hp and 30Nm, which trim 0.3 seconds from the 0-100km/h time, don't look like a lot on paper.
Oh dear, though. Oh dearie, dearie us. The Exige Cup 430 has revised steering-arm geometry and Nitron three-way adjustable (high-speed compression, low-speed compression and rebound) dampers, as well as Eibach adjustable front and rear anti-roll bars. Ultra-lightweight forged alloy wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (215/45 ZR17s front and 285/30 ZR18s rear) on mismatched rims, while forged four-pot AP Racing callipers at the front handle braking power. There's also a T45-grade steel rollover bar, a 1.2kg-lighter seatbelt anchorage frame, a lithium-ion battery, a baffled sump, a 240mm-diameter clutch for the torquier installation of the 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine, and a front towing eye. Indeed, Lotus says that if you add the optional electrical cut-off switch and a plumbed-in fire extinguisher, then all the Cup needs is a roll cage in order to enter official motorsport events.
That's how focused it is. And that's why it's such a thoroughly sublime vehicle to drive. Think of everything that makes the Sport 410 the wondrous car that it is and then sharpen it, notably. You end up with this thing as a result. One of the greatest aspects of all this gym work is the 10kg-lighter, high-flow titanium exhaust system, which is standard-fit on the Cup 430. This permits the mid-mounted motor to make the most apocalyptic shriek in your ears as the rev counter needle swings past 4,500rpm, the supercharged engine yelling at you in a thunderously loud manner we don't remember even in the Sport 410. This pure race car noise only enhances the ferocity of the Exige's acceleration to 100km/h, which feels every bit as demonically quick as 3.3 seconds sounds on paper.
Of course, it's the handling, not the straight-line performance, that makes this car such a star. As the Exige Cup 430 is a noisy thing to travel in, with plenty of tyre roar permeating the non-sound-deadened cabin and the metallic, acoustic exertions of the V6 engine being almost in the passenger compartment with you, we're not about to say this is a refined cruiser in the manner of its Evora relation... and yet, there's that magical damping on display from Lotus once more, which makes the Cup 430 far more comfortable on the crumbling surfaces of countryside roads than it has even the slightest right to be. You're always aware you're in something extreme and hardcore as you cruise along in it, but you'll be surprised with how well the suspension copes with the worst degradations of the public highway.
The pay-off for this firmness is handling that is unparalleled by almost any other carmaker we can think of, save for possibly Porsche - one of Lotus' key rivals. And even then, no Porsche on sale right now has the devoted dynamic earnestness of the Exige. The unassisted steering, bucking and writhing in your hands as you motor along, is so rich in feedback and feel that you'll never be able to sample an electric power assisted steering (EPAS) set-up again without feeling grossly short-changed - and that goes for the very best EPAS systems on offer elsewhere. Body roll is simply not in the Cup 430's vocabulary and yet, for all this track-like brilliance, it's an astonishingly tractable and accessible machine. You can lean on its vast reserves of power from medium revs in a low gear and the Lotus won't try to spit you off the tarmac in the slightest, instead firing itself forward with real alacrity. The brakes are mighty. The clackety-clack gearchange is an unalloyed delight to operate. Plainly speaking, to drive the Cup 430 on a good road is to sample some kind of euphoric high that ought to be as illegal as taking any type of mind-altering narcotic of your choosing. Honestly, this Lotus can reward a keen driver like no other four-wheeled, road-going machine on Earth; what higher praise can we pay it than that?
What you get for your Money:
You don't get a lot, if you're going purely on the 'toy count', and you could also say the €36,800 gap between this Exige and the cheaper Sport 410 is something not to be ignored. Which is true, to a degree, but there is now little doubt in our minds that the Cup 430 is worth this significant price walk. At €180,000, you're talking about a car that isn't really usable all year round for a huge pile of cash, but - as you'll see from the rivals below - you can end up spending almost twice this amount of money for no more rewarding a driving experience. We'll stop short of calling the Exige 430 a bargain, then, but you can see what we're aiming at here.
The Lotus Exige has always been absolutely brilliant to drive. This is the most brilliant Exige of all. So the Cup 430 is kind of 'dynamic brilliance, squared.' Which we think is a proposition that's worth its weight in gold. Not the most practical of cars, the storming Exige Cup 430 is nonetheless one of the very best on sale right now despite this fact.