DRIVEN: Driven: Lotus ExigeS 260 Sport

By Eric Tingwall - November 20, 2009
Born from one of the most pure and minimalist sports cars, the Lotus Exige is an extreme car. Adding a fixed roof, a stiffer suspension, and a supercharger to the track-worthy Elise creates a rare intersection of capability and simplicity. So when Lotus announced the limited-edition Exige S 260 Sport, it was difficult to imagine what was left to change without diluting the form.
0912 02 Z+lotus ExigeS 260 Sport+front Three Quarter View
Unsurprisingly, the wizards of weight loss found fat to cut by exchanging more than twenty parts, resulting in a roughly fifty-pound savings over the Exige S 240. Mass has been trimmed with extensive carbon fiber and lightweight items for the wheels, intercooler plumbing, battery, and floor mats. Lotus even goes as far as using a lighter coating of sealant for the revised engine subframe. Eibach springs and adjustable Bilstein dampers connect to a stiffer antiroll bar, and a limited-slip differential is standard. The supercharged four-cylinder also delivers 17 more hp, for a total of 257 hp. An oil accumulator maintains pressure in high-g turns.
On less than smooth roads, the 2040-pound Exige is a crude machine. Constant creaks and pops in the cabin cause you to wonder how many miles the Lotus can endure before splitting in two. The seat covers are paper-thin. That the car pounds the pavement at every opportunity isn't an afterthought but a reminder of the design's sole performance focus. This Exige is really a street-legal track car, and a true evaluation requires time on a closed course.
The flat, compact road course at Chrysler's Chelsea, Michigan, proving ground plays to the Exige's strength. The lack of a serious straightaway means more time enjoying the Lotus's handling. As you work your way around the track, the turns become progressively tighter and closer together before opening up again. But the Exige's unfiltered and unassisted steering is snappy quick. Even the tightest bends can be tackled without shifting your hands on the tiny Momo wheel.
There's no stability control to be switched off, but a variable traction control system can be adjusted to allow from zero to nine percent wheel slip, or it can be completely deactivated. At its limits, the Exige remains neutral, but understeer and oversteer are eager to show their faces should the driver ask for them, intentionally or otherwise. When the tail does break loose, catching the car comes naturally with a small flick of the steering wheel.
The 1.8-liter engine is sourced from Toyota, but the engineers in Hethel have pushed this powerplant to deliver far more energy and presence than in any Corolla. The six-speed stick allows quick shifts, but there's a surprising amount of play when directed more casually.
0912 01 Z+lotus ExigeS 260 Sport+rear Three Quarter View
Some other cars offer better performance values or faster lap times, but the 260's appeal lies in its unique form that respects the nimble, light, efficient ethos of simpler times. Lotus has built just fifty samples of this Exige for North America. Whether due to the economy, the insane price, or the 260's extreme personality, Lotus dealers still have some on the lot looking for buyers - maybe you, if you're extreme enough.
The Specs
On sale: Now
Price: $76,120
Engine: 1.8L supercharged I-4, 257 hp, 174 lb-ft
Drive: Rear-wheel
Automobile Test Results
0-60 MPH 5.0 sec
0-100 mph 12.6 sec
1/4-MILE 13.8 sec @
  105 mph
30-70 MPH PASSING 5.8 sec
70-0 MPH BRAKING 155 ft
CORNERING L/R 1.00/0.95 g
0912 03 Z+lotus ExigeS 260 Sport+cockpit

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