REVIEW: Lotus Exige Cup 260

S01_4c6ae929a8d42-lightboxI had the privilege to drive a friends’ Exige Cup for a day, around my favourite roads, as far as I wished. The purpose of the trip was to run it in, as it just received a new engine which needed to be run in for a Mas Du Clos trackday the next week.

So what is an Exige Cup exactly? In essence it’s a full-bore trackday version of the Exige; it comes with a whole list of upgrades like carbonfibre bodypanels, 6-pot AP-Racing brakes, a 260hp (but 315hp in this case) 1.8 Toyota Kompressor, completely variable traction control, Öhlins dampers (more on those later), FIA-approved seats and harnesses, … Think of it as Lotus’ GT3 RS.

So off I went, my instructions were clear: ‘run it in properly’ which meant no more than 4.000rpm at first, 4.500rpm later on and 5.500rpm after 750km. It soon proved to be an agonising thing to do in a car with a 8.500rpm rev limit. I chose to go in the direction of the Belgian Ardennes which has some nice twisty roads, ideally suited for a car this size. It was raining in the morning, so a little anxiously I felt how much grip it had to offer on its worn Yokohama semi-slicks, “not much” replied the Exige in it’s trademark quick-witted fashion.

However, the variable traction control did an awesome job of controlling the swelling power in such circumstances. Eventually, I got my feel for the car and dialled the TC back a little to suit my driving style. Now I had the opportunity to exit roundabouts with a certain degree of slip, without allowing the car to overcook things. Perfect.

Immediately you notice how responsive this car is, much more so than my VX220, it seems and feels hardwired to your brain, giving you all the right messages to tell you what is going on ‘steering goes light = I’m understeering’, ‘seat vibrates subtly = the rear is going to break loose’. In my opinion this is active safety at its absolute best, a car which communicates to the driver. If it does break loose, you need to be quick and measured with your inputs, it’s not a relaxed car on the limit by any means, but it rewards like no other.

I somewhat feared my chosen route wouldn’t be the best choice for the Exige as some of the roads are in quite bad shape, I remembered from the drives in my VX220 that it could become a bouncy ride. Not so in this Exige, the Öhlins suspension is simply spectacular; as a demonstration of tight body control without losing pliancy it must be up there with the best. It feels so well engineered, there’s a depth of quality to its damping that I’ve never felt before, in any car. I’m impressed.

So after my morning drive, accompanied by a friend in an Exige S, we decided to pull over in the small town of Durbuy to grab something to eat. I conveniently had a parking spot right in front of where we were sitting. It was hilarious to see how much attention this Exige gets. No less than 3 family portraits were taken in front of it during the 30 minutes it stood there, thumbs-up everywhere, kids wanting to sit in it, just fabulous fun as it’s welcomed so positively by everyone. No surprise there actually as the Exige is kind of a looker, that mini-supercar shape, flashy color and pieces of naked carbonfibre; it’s not an everyday sight…
Salad finished, on to the second part of my journey, direction countryside and back home. We returned on some nicely dried-out B-roads, so I could get a feel of the grip levels of the thing. They are actually quite similar to those on my VX220 on semi-slicks (I actually prefer my Toyo R888 tyres to these Yoko A048’s), but again, the communication is on another level, the steering wheel weighting up nicely as the forces build. Meanwhile that supercharger is literally screaming over your shoulder “Rev the nuts off me, pussy!”. A lesson in self-control this, as I was still only able to go to 4.500rpm. For the second part of the journey north, I took the motorway, curious to see how it’d compare to my VX220, which is nothing less than tiring on motorway cruises. Not so this Exige, the wind noise is much less, perfectly acceptable, but the exhaust is another story. This one was fitted with Lotus’ Stage 3 exhaust which is NOISY, it drones and barks, which is huge fun on anything but the motorway. I’d advise earplugs to anyone who would take it for a long cruise. Exhaust aside, it’s a perfect companion for long journeys.

So, having left the motorway, I took it on the sort of roads that are typical for Belgian tarmac-rally stages, narrow, lots of camber changes, it should be horror for any trackday special, but as this Exige has enough ground clearance it was like it was made to do it; the small size of it actually makes the small roads bigger, you’ve got room to adjust your lines, you’ve got enough clearance to go from one camber to the other without a scrape, serious fun. So, darkness falling, I decide to enjoy dinner with some friends in the middle off the countryside, a perfect addition to my day.

I then headed home, tired, but very happy, even more so as I could finally explore an extra 1.000rpm, onwards to 5.500rpm, which really woke the supercharger and liberated even more sound. You really feel the power swelling like a small but very nasty tidal wave, “iiiiiiiiiiiiiEEEEEEEEE” next to your ear, no other engine sounds as manic as this thing; it’s not pretty by any means, but it’s intoxicating like no other. Even more so when I passed through the tunnels under Brussels on my way home. What a WALL of sound that created, one wouldn’t believe it was coming from a 1.8 litre Toyota engine. Humble basics, not so humble character!

2am, I arrived home, after announcing our arrival to the owner with a bark in front of his house, although apparently he heard me coming some minutes before.

So, that’s it, the Exige is gone, and it left me utterly hooked. My next car has to be an Exige, and a supercharged hardcore one at that. Many thanks to the owner for the trust he had in me.

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Frank Duplessis