Brian May might struggle to get his hair inside and Naomi won't find much space for her Louis Vuitton luggage, but for Lotus purists that want a Porsche 911 GT3 rival for less money the new Exige S fits the bill. Heavier, yes, but no less hardcore.
In the metal 4/5
Proportionally the new Lotus Exige S looks fantastic, it swelling in width and length - the stretch in wheelbase necessary to fit in the 3.5-litre supercharged V6 from the Evora S. It's still recognisably an Exige, only lower and lither, its hunkered stance at odds with the pent-up, insect-like predecessor.
Virtually every panel is new, though the doors remain and the Kamm tail rear is reminiscent of the original car. Externally it might have changed significantly, but the basic structure remains the same, with all the packaging constraints that come with it. Cabin space is tight and access isn't easy, and while the interior delights with its stark purity in places that does translate to being cheap in others. Sure, the Exige S offers serious performance for relatively sensible money, but it's difficult not to be a touch disappointed by some of the materials used inside.
Driving it 4/5
A few seconds behind the wheel and you'll forget the crappy plastics that feature on the dashboard top. You'll lament the lack of a bigger digital read-out for the speedometer if you're on the road, as the Exige S proves hugely accelerative in any gear. A six-speed manual, the shift itself isn't the most accurate or short in throw - it sometimes reluctant on downshifts - but again, you'll allow for its shortcomings as the Exige S delivers so much enjoyment in other ways. The engine is mighty, even when asked to propel the circa 200kg more this car weighs over its predecessor. Enabling that is the 46% boost in power and 74% increase in torque over the Exige S 260, creating a different performance proposition on road and track, while retaining the Exige S's supreme agility and adjustability.
It may be heavier, but its weight gain is for the right reasons. The wider tracks (25mm front, 38mm rear) and 70mm lengthier wheelbase all add to the increase. A necessary evil perhaps, and the result is a spectacularly sorted car, its reluctance to roll aided by its stiffer structure. The unassisted steering is wonderfully communicative and weighted at speed while the rack's ratio has been reduced for greater feel and off-centre response and the back-lock angle increased to aid controllability at the limit. There's anti-squat geometry at the rear too, new wishbones and revised spring and damper rates.
That speaks volumes about Lotus' goals for the Exige S, the company seeing it as a cheaper alternative to track specials like Porsche's 911 GT3. On a circuit it's sensational. DPM - part of the optional Track Pack - features a dial that allows you to choose between four modes. Tour keeps everything sensible, Sport adds more slip and a noisier exhaust, then there's Race and Off. It's the Race mode that's the most intriguing, as it learns the grip level of the track and measures the outputs regardless of how ham-fisted your inputs, giving god-like skills to even the least talented drivers. Switch it all off and the Exige S isn't scary, its limits easily approached, and power on oversteer is possible if you're inclined, though the lack of a limited slip differential means the inside wheel will spin up.
Off the track it's typical of its Lotus parentage; the Exige S's ride is exemplary on the crumbling tarmac that passes for roads in the UK.
What you get for your money 3/5
Like any other car at this level the price is just a starting point. You'll want that costly Track Pack - including the Pirelli and Lotus developed and track-biased Trofeo tyres. That pack also comes with more focused suspension. Spend some money on the interior, too, as it needs a bit of help.
Lightweight purists take note: the combination of the Exige S's greater power and increased grip has created a car that's five seconds quicker around Lotus' own Hethel test track than an 2006 Exige Cup with optional Ohlins dampers and Yoko A084 tyres. Low weights is good admittedly, but power overcomes it eventually.
This car is a reminder that at its very base level Lotus is about sports cars rather than supermodels, guitarists and insane public proclamations. The Exige S is a fantastic achievement and a credible, cheaper alternative to that ubiquitous Porsche 911 GT3. A few more kilos for finer quality interior trim wouldn't hurt, though.