When you were a kid and you got a radio-controlled car, didn’t you imagine how cool it would be to be the size of GI Joe and able to climb inside and drive it? That feeling is what the new crop of Lotus sports cars is like. It’s just as cool as you imagined it would be, and it’s a good way for GI Joe to meet Barbie, too.
We recently got to climb inside and drive the new 2008 Lotus Exige S 240 and the fabulous new 2-Eleven track car, which would make GI Joe leave Barbie far behind, pouting and wanting to drive it.
It seemed only a few years ago that Lotus was about to drive off the edge of the map in the U.S. market, but the company now offers seven models to American customers. All of them share the same bonded, extruded-aluminum chassis, that wonder of lightness that weighs only 150 pounds. All have variations of the 1.8-liter Toyota four with six-speed manual. And all will make you seek out and attack twisting roads for as long as your kidneys and vertebrae can stand it.
We spent a day on the west loop of Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, far more interesting than the constant radii of Spring Mountain’s east half, and found it perfectly matched to a flock of Loti.
First around the loop was the Exige S 240. This new model has 20 more hp than the Exige S–which has been out for a year–thanks to recalibrated engine management, high-flow injectors and a roof scoop that gets more air to the intercooler. The clutch also was upgraded to handle the increase.
Brakes are now 308 millimeters in front with four-piston calipers and 282 in the rear with two pistons and upgraded pads and hydraulic lines.
Right off the line, you appreciate the car’s new launch control, a unique program that lets you predetermine redline and wheelspin. Simply adjust the knob on the steering column, floor the throttle, and dump the clutch. Repeat as necessary. Results for 0 to 60 mph should be in the four-second range.
Once launched, you can select the amount of rear-wheel slip you want out on the track by setting the traction control for anywhere from 0 to 10 percent slip.
“It is not stability control,” emphasized engineer Nick Adams.
For only $1,650 more, you should get the track package, which adds adjustable ride height, front roll bar and Bilstein dampers. Our first laps were with the Bilsteins set on the default setting of 3, but after a little plowing around, we went out in an Exige with 8 front and 7 rear, the numbers Adams set for this track, and felt much more capable going through all the wacky radius turns. The 8/7 setup made the car stick much better over bumps and stabilized it in transitions between turns. On the 3/3 setting, it was easier to make it understeer and oversteer all over the place. Isn’t it cool, we thought, that here is a car so finely balanced that you can feel these differences?
Cool, yes, but the 2-Eleven made us forget all about the other Loti that were available that day. Made by Lotus Sports, it is a thorough reworking of the already delightful chassis. By removing any pretense of creature comfort, along with the roof and most of the windshield, engineers sliced out almost 500 pounds, bringing curb weight to an astonishing–even for Lotus–1598 pounds. Side members are beefed up, and there is a nice roll bar that is almost SCCA-ready, Adams says. With more chip tuning, output rises still more, to 252 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque.
We got three laps in this superb car, easily one of the best track-day vehicles we’ve ever been in. You could spend several seasons experimenting, trying to find this exact balance in any number of lesser cars; in this one, the lads from Hethel have already done it for you. It’s wonderfully loud and perfectly fast; it holds on and on through the longest corners and powers smoothly and wonderfully out of them. It’s like a dream.
Upon awakening, you’ll be told that it costs $78,500 and can’t be driven on the street. But who cares? They have trailers, don’t they? And it’s street-legal in most of Europe. So move there–nice racetracks to drive it on and everything.
Of course, you still can get a perfectly balanced, highly tossable Lotus Elise for $46,270, which offers the same (sort of) 190-hp, 1.8-liter Toyota four attached to a six-speed manual. Add a supercharger and/or a roof, and you get an Elise S/Exige S with a 1.8 that jumps to 220 hp. Not to mention that cosmetically “enhanced” California model, the very limited S Club Racer and the supercharged Elise SC.
The point is, there are seven models now from Lotus, all superb drivers even if they’re miserable as everyday transportation. Who wants everyday?
LOTUS EXIGE S 240
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $65,815
DRIVETRAIN: 1.8-liter, 240-hp, 170-lb-ft supercharged I4; rwd, six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 2077 lb
0-60 MPH: 4.0 seconds (manufacturer)
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 25 mpg
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $78,500
DRIVETRAIN: 1.8-liter, 252-hp, 179-lb-ft supercharged I4; rwd, six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 1598 lb
0-60 MPH: 3.8 seconds (manufacturer)
FUEL ECONOMY: N/A