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Lotus Exige Sport 390 Final Edition (2021) review: 5.0/5

A farewell to what remains a mid-engined motoring masterpiece, the Lotus Exige.

Matt Robinson

Words: Matt Robinson - @MttRbnsn

Published on: June 2, 2021

Words: Matt Robinson - @MttRbnsn

Published on: June 2, 2021

Tech Specs

Model testedLotus Exige Sport 390 Final Edition
Engine3.5-litre supercharged V6 petrol
Transmissionsix-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body styletwo-seat coupe
CO2 emissions230g/km
Motor tax€2,400 per annum
Combined economy27.7mpg (10.2 litres/100km)
Top speed277km/h
0-100km/h3.8 seconds
Power402hp at 7,000rpm
Torque420Nm at 3,000-6,700rpm
Boot space112 litres

As we say goodbye to the Lotus Exige after 21 years of making everything else in its class look flabby, overblown and needlessly plush, the two-seat sports car bows out with a sentimental Final Edition - packing more power, specialist details and a mildly revised interior. This is the magnificent Sport 390 version.

In the Metal:

The Exige Sport 390 looks much like any Exige that has gone before it, with the only Final Edition specifics being the badging on the front wings and on the right-hand side of the rear bumper, plus its lightweight forged ten-spoke alloys in silver.

Although, of course, our test car had these finished in black. Right. Anyway, the paint - Metallic Orange - is one of the special colours for the Final Edition models and it harks back to the very first press demonstrator Exige of 2000, which was finished in exactly the same hue. Nostalgic.

Other than that, the Final Edition has the spruced-up interior, with the natty TFT instrument cluster, a new flat-bottomed steering wheel to make ingress and egress easier (but, allow us to be frank, getting in and out of the Lotus remains a colossal faff with its roof in place, especially if you're of the, um... larger persuasion) and a little plaque denoting its status as one of the run-out Final Editions. Apart from that, it's the same brilliant bare-basics interior, complete with that sublime exposed-linkage manual gearbox. Drool. Lots and lots of drool.

Driving it:

If you read our news story on all the Lotus Final Editions then you'll get a flavour for what has changed throughout the entire range as the manufacturer gears up for a bold new future with a strong emphasis on electric vehicles such as the electric Evija.

However, suffice it to say, this Sport 390 is the 'most updated' Final Edition of the lot. It was previously known as the Sport 350, but changes to its Edelbrock supercharger and associated cooling system liberate the extra power. It actually has 402hp, making its new nameplate something of a misnomer, but Lotus prefers to state its outputs in bhp, and as 402hp is 397bhp, the company rounds it down to 390.

Nevertheless, as the former Sport 410 only went up to the Sport 420 as part of the Final Edition changes, and the mighty Cup 430 was mechanically unaltered, it means the 'entry level' Exige is now much closer to its stablemates in terms of performance and speed.

And it proves to be an exquisite thing to drive. Everything that has always made the Exige so wonderful a machine to be at the wheel of is retained for the Sport 390; it in no way feels the undernourished relation of the line-up.

If anything, it'll be the best one for day-to-day use (provided you're sylph-like in build and can get into it easily enough) and yet it retains that magical, unassisted steering of any Exige - so while low-speed manoeuvring is a bit of an effort, once the car is up to anything beyond 50km/h you will not experience better, more communicative and more joyous steering than this anywhere else in the motoring world.

It still has the rapier turn-in and mammoth levels of both grip and traction that allow the Michelin Pilot Sport 4-shod Sport 390 to dissect any road you care to show it in extremely short order, while the mega 3.5-litre V6 engine continues to have that wild duality of nature - in that, it sounds moderately appealing if a little gruff beneath 4,500rpm, but then a flap in the exhaust opens from that point onwards and suddenly the whole vehicle is enveloped in a spine-tingling shriek as the Lotus surges hard for its redline.

Yep, there's definitely added muscle at the top end of the Sport 390's powerband when compared to the old Sport 350, but truthfully, as this Exige only weighs 1,138kg unladen and can corner at speeds other cars can only dream of, you'll rarely need to ever rev it out on the road to make rapid progress; it's just that you'll want to, simply to listen to its savage soundtrack beyond 4,500rpm.

And the damping? It's as outstanding as ever. An Exige is nowhere near as comfortable nor fluid as the smaller Elise, nor is it a patch on the otherworldly grace of the Evora, but then it isn't designed to be.

And for a car that looks like it has just slunk straight off the track at Le Mans and out onto the public road, it has a supple, amazing ride quality that is wholly at odds with how you're expecting it to cover lumps and bumps. It certainly won't be the suspension-and-wheel package that tires you out on a long journey in the Lotus; it'll more likely be the elevated road noise and repeated steering inputs you'll have to dial into that unassisted rack.

Even so, we'd happily attempt lengthy treks in the Exige. Because it is a fantastic car, a genuine privilege to be in it for any amount of time; the genius of its underlying engineering excellence shines out of it from all directions like a blinding light.

What you get for your Money:

We're rating this car so highly in this regard because it offers 99 per cent of what the more focused, hardcore Sport 420 and Cup 430 models do, only it's considerably more affordable. Granted, it won't be cheap imported, but this sort of supercar performance, handling ability and kerbside presence isn't available for any less.

Furthermore, Lotus says the Final Edition is the best-equipped Exige yet, which is true if you factor in that TFT cluster and various other bits, and you're also getting a slice of history in the whole Exige story that will likely appreciate in value from here on in - the Final Edition is a limited-build special, after all, and one of the final examples of a car much in demand from the keenest motoring enthusiasts.

Summary

It's only new paint, new stickers, a moderately new interior and an extra 40hp or so for the Lotus Exige Sport 390 Final Edition, but - as ever with this marque - the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Heading to the great automotive executioner's chopping block it may be, but the Exige remains as scintillating, as sensational and as downright stunning as it ever has been, right at the death. Get one now, while you still can.



Alternatives

Car Reviews | Alpine A110S coupe (2020) | CompleteCar.ie
Alpine A110S vs. Lotus Exige Sport 390 Final Edition (2021): Alpine and Lotus have announced a tie-up, which is fitting as they both favour lightweight, mid-engined balance over outright power. The A110S is fab, but not as fab as the regular A110.

Car Reviews | BMW M2 CS (2020) | CompleteCar.ie
BMW M2 CS vs. Lotus Exige Sport 390 Final Edition (2021): the M2 CS could be the last great M car of them all, in the traditional sense. It's going to be more practical on a day-to-day basis than the Exige, but can it ever truly thrill like the Lotus can at the limit?

Car Reviews | Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 (2020) | CompleteCar.ie
Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 vs. Lotus Exige Sport 390 Final Edition (2021): you could argue that you'd need either of the more powerful Exiges to take on the ultimate Cayman, but the Sport 390 can hold its own against the Porsche. That's how good it is.

Tech Specs

Model testedLotus Exige Sport 390 Final Edition
Engine3.5-litre supercharged V6 petrol
Transmissionsix-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body styletwo-seat coupe
CO2 emissions230g/km
Motor tax€2,400 per annum
Combined economy27.7mpg (10.2 litres/100km)
Top speed277km/h
0-100km/h3.8 seconds
Power402hp at 7,000rpm
Torque420Nm at 3,000-6,700rpm
Boot space112 litres