Like its All-Star sister, the Elise roadster, the Lotus Exige coupe is a handling masterpiece that falls just short of unqualified praise because of its bipolar engine. On the track, the Toyota 1.8-liter four will scream all day without a hiccup. However, if the tachometer needle is pointing anywhere but in the top quarter of the engine's rev range--as it is almost all the time on the street--that scream can seem like more of a yawn.
If you blow into someone's face while he's yawning, he'll wake up for sure. Lotus did exactly that to the Exige, pushing 7.3 psi of supercharged air into the four. The resulting 220-hp Exige S makes 80 percent of its peak torque from just over 2000 rpm. It will still rev to 8500 rpm, and it retains enough of its intoxicating midrange power surge to make you want to keep the revs up. The 0-to-60-mph time drops by nearly a second to a manufacturer-claimed 4.1 seconds, but the power never overwhelms the chassis. It just makes a very focused sports car even better.
On the track, it doesn't matter that the Exige's intercooler blocks the rearview mirror, since not many cars can keep up. But when you're driving on the street, it would be nice to be able to see what's behind you. And since the supercharger's greatest benefits are felt at around-town speeds, it's too bad Lotus wasn't able to fit the blower to the Elise instead. We'd love to see one of our favorites get a shot of compressed air.