Join Date: Mar 2001
First Drive: 2007 Lotus Exige S (edmunds.com)
First Drive: 2007 Lotus Exige S (edmunds.com)
A personal spaceship for earthbound astronauts
In February of 1962, 44 years before the 2007 Lotus Exige S made its debut at the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show, an 11-year-old boy watched John Glenn become the first American astronaut to orbit the earth. Later that same year, that same boy watched George Jetson drive away from Molecular Motors in a new Supersonic Suburbanite, and dreamed of piloting his own personal spaceship.
Unless Richard Branson is moved to comp him a seat on Virgin Space it's safe to say our now much older dreamer will never fly into space. But now that boy can afford to own his own personal spaceship — or at least an automobile that comes close to it: the 2007 Lotus Exige S.
Although the 220-horsepower Exige S will premier at the L.A. auto show tomorrow, we've already driven the supercharged hardtop. How is it? Well, with a few aerodynamic tweaks, the Exige S feels as if it could be transformed from an earthbound projectile into an interstellar flying machine.
A more powerful thruster amidships
This supercharged midengine missile on four wheels replaces the normally aspirated Exige and joins the targa-top Elise in the Lotus lineup in North America. For 2007, the 1.8-liter engine, again sourced from Toyota, was fitted with a Roots-type blower and reworked Lotus electronics to deliver 16-percent more power and 20-percent more torque, enough thrust, says Lotus, to power the 2,077-pound coupe from zero to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds and from zero to 100 mph in only 11 seconds. To the occupants, it feels even faster, because the Exige hunkers so closely to the ground (it's less than 4 feet tall) and generates such high G-forces.
In addition to forcing more output from the 1.8-liter four, the blower allowed Lotus to remap the engine to include, for the first time, variable-rpm cam switching. Whereas the unblown Exige engine was compromised by a dramatic dip in torque around 5,200 rpm on the way to a maximum of 133 pound-feet at 6,800 rpm, the supercharged engine boasts a pleasingly linear power curve, absent of any noticeable gaps or surges.
Max torque now measures 165 lb-ft at a lower 5,500 rpm, with 80 percent of the twist available at just over 2,000 rpm, and once the torque peak is reached, it plateaus in an almost flat line to 7,000 rpm. Max engine rpm is nominally 8,000 rpm, but 1.5-second bursts to 8,500 are granted by the engine electronics if the driver deems it necessary.
The supercharger's intake is cooled by an air-to-air intercooler, mounted above the engine and fed by the roof-mounted scoop, while a pair of oil coolers keeps the slippery stuff's temps under control. Because of efficiencies from the increased airflow, the modestly sized powertrain rarely has to be overworked to provide thrilling velocities. With the assistance of the manual transmission's overdriven 5th and 6th gears, the 1.8 returns a respectable 25-mpg combined fuel economy rating.
Despite the engine's extra components, the rear-wheel-drive Exige S is burdened by a negligible 7-percent increase in curb weight — only 62 pounds more than the outgoing Exige. Those who adhere to company founder Colin Chapman's dictum about speed through lightness can delete the air-conditioning (for $250) to eliminate 22 pounds from the car's curb weight, but, even when fully optioned, the Exige S's power-to-weight ratio places it among the most exhilarating automobiles on the market.
Gravity is your friend
Straight-ahead power means little if you can't turn the thing, and this is where the Exige S earns its accolade (which we just now awarded) as the world's Most Accessible Supercar. So little driver input is needed to make it perform well that it's easy to underestimate the limits of its grip, courtesy of almost 100 pounds of aerodynamic downforce and specially developed Yokohama A048 performance radials.
The Exige S grips the ground as tenaciously as a lump of lint hooked on a field of Velcro. The steering is unassisted, but the Exige turns into corners so adroitly that it isn't missed. We spent hours ripping around a small road course near Las Vegas and climbed from the car more refreshed from the experience than exhausted, ready to arm wrestle Celine Dion, Barry Manilow and the entire cast of Cirque de Soleil back-to-back.
About the only item on our wish list is bigger brakes. The standard front AP and rear Brembo calipers are excellent for street driving, but the track's harsher demands will eat them up in a day of hot laps.
Weighty optional decisions
The S is equipped similarly to last year's Exige. The two sport seats, clad in black cloth and padded with ergonomically designed inserts, are surprisingly comfortable given their deeply bolstered contours. A Touring Pack option group adds black leather upholstery and door panels, electric window lifts, an upgraded Alpine stereo with iPod adapter, an interior stowage net on the rear bulkhead, additional sound insulation and full carpeting. A Lifestyle Paint option adds eight colors to the spectrum of choices, which also includes 10 optional metallics. To help protect the paint, a Star Shield clear paint-protection film is available.
Options that affect the car's dynamics include traction control, which monitors only rear wheelspin, rarely intrudes on the fun and can be completely turned off; a Track Pack with adjustable Bilstein shocks (for both compression and rebound), threaded spring perches and remote front reservoirs, a five-way adjustable front anti-sway bar and a safety harness mounting bar; and a limited-slip differential, favored among autocrossers for its ability to divide power more evenly between the rear wheels and thus allow more aggressive acceleration out of low-speed corners. Road-course racers prefer the car without the LSD, which comes mated with traction control.
It won't take NASA's budget to put you in this earthbound missile. Without any options, the Exige's MSRP is $56,990, but we'd opt for the Track Pack at the very least and could probably be talked into choosing the Touring Pack as well, which elevates the cost to somewhere around $60 grand. If the Exige S isn't the most affordable of the world's supercars, it's certainly the least expensive spacecraft on this planet