First Drive: 2008 Lotus Exige S 240

Weight, bad. More power, good. That, in a nutshell, is Lotus's latest featherweight flyer.

April 2008    By Peter Egan

Las Vegas, Nevada — We should get something out of the way immediately: If you're looking for a fun, light, responsive sports car, the Lotus Exige coupe is pretty much in a class by itself. (Same for its open-topped sister car, the Lotus Elise, even if it's not quite as serious a track weapon and has less horsepower.)

By comparison, every other sports car seems to be carrying some kind of baggage, either literally — as in trunk volume or vehicle weight — or metaphorically, with excessive luxury, size or attitude.

Lotus Exige S 240 Track Photo

Not so the Exige. Here we have a pure sports car whose main purpose in life is to communicate what the tires are doing via that small steering wheel with the yellow and green logo in the middle. Which it does in sublime fashion; there's absolutely nothing else remotely like it.

These thoughts quickly began to run through my mind on about the second lap at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, a curvy club-racing facility west of Las Vegas. Lotus had invited us to try out a new "extreme performance" version of the Exige called the S 240. Its design brief, according to Lotus, is to be "a road car that's very at home on the track, not just a track car that works on the street."

The "240" in the car's name stands, as you might expect, for 240 bhp, up from 220 bhp in the Exige S. The extra horsepower in this supercharged 1.8-liter Toyota 2ZZ engine (built by Yamaha, using Yamaha's variable valve system) comes from a recalibrated engine-management system; a new, higher-volume roof scoop that now extends to the very front edge of the roofline; and a large intercooler — that obscures rearward vision through the back window deck. You'll be using your side mirrors with this car.

We haven't tested this car yet, but Lotus claims a 0–60-mph time of 4.0 seconds, and 0–100 mph at 9.9 sec., with a top speed of 150 mph. With 170 lb.-ft. of torque at 5500 rpm and a claimed curb weight of just 2077 lb., acceleration is brisk indeed.

Other modifications are larger, 12.1-in. brake rotors with uprated pads and hoses, an uprated clutch, launch control and traction control that can be varied with a knob on the steering column.

Lotus Exige S 240 Raceway Photo

At the raceway, I started lapping with the traction control at 100 percent, then dialed it back and turned it off entirely, with very little perceived change. But this is a traction-control — rather than stability-control — system, so on a dry track the car just grips and goes. And boy, does it grip and go.

In power delivery, the car is turbine smooth and effortlessly fast, with excellent torque across its entire rev range, and the 6-speed manual transmission moves through its gates with a short throw and a light, effortless click. If you run into the 8000-rpm rev limiter, it cuts fuel injection to the cylinders randomly, giving you a nice soft wilting of power rather than an abrupt cutoff. Brakes are powerful with excellent feel and feedback.

And launch control must be experienced to be believed. Turn it on, preset your maximum chosen rpm, put the pedal to the floor in 1st gear and side-step the clutch. You get the thrill of a smoky burnout — but without the smoke or the burn-out — and the car just rockets down the road. Very...nice. And possibly addictive.

I didn't drive the Exige out on Nevada's public highways, but ride quality and comfort seemed fine on Spring Mountain's access roads. The lightly reclined bucket seats are a marvel of comfort and support (at least for a human of my shape), and there's an excess of leg and head room, if needed. The new "soft-touch-finish" dash is a muted, suedelike vinyl, and the instruments and controls are tasteful and logical. The front end of this car is all radiator, so there's just a rear, moderate-sized trunk behind the engine, with a small oval top opening.

Lotus says the S 240 is coming off the assembly line at Hethel now, and will be in showrooms by the time you read this. The MSRP is $64,890, with an additional destination charge of $925. Various paint, interior and suspension packages can add several thousand dollars to that base price.

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