Great British Cars That America Missed Out On: Lotus Exige S V6

Feature

As bonkers as it is brilliant to drive.

There’s an old saying that goes something like: “if you can succeed in America, you can succeed anywhere”. It’s hard to find where it originates, or if it was meant as a tongue-in-cheek jibe, but it is a quote that applies quite well to the motoring industry. Most countries have tough legislation that the world’s car manufacturers need to abide by, but the United States seems to have the hardest set of rules of them all.

So much legislation, heaps of emissions hurdles, stringent safety procedures...it’s a wonder that so many car companies operate in the States at all! It’s even more amazing to think that small companies like Lotus have had spells in the States. Not so long ago, you could walk into a Lotus dealer, slap down some dollars, and walk out as the owner of a new Elise. Those days, though, are almost gone. Due to safety bag exemption waivers that expired in 2011, only one road-going Lotus model (the Evora 2+2 coupe) is available to buy in the States. Everything else is illegal. Which is a shame, as 2011 was the year where Lotus unveiled what might possibly be one of the best sports cars it’s built to date: the third-generation Exige S.

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Though prior incarnations of the Exige were based on the Elise platform (quite heavily so, in fact – often the only difference between the two was that the Exige had a fixed roof), Lotus frequently made the Exige the more hardcore version of the two. This attitude culminated in the Series II Exige with the 260 Cup; an 860-kg pocket rocket that was, for all intents and purposes, a racing car with number plates. It was about as extreme a road car you could buy back in the day, and it was hard to imagine how Lotus could make the next version even wilder. But Lotus did, by unleashing a new breed of Exige on the world.

Unlike previous versions, this one was based on the Lotus Evora chassis – meaning that, whilst it was heavier, this Series III Exige came packing the supercharged punch of a 350-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine. Such poke did much to overcome the extra weight that came with the Evora underpinnings (according to Lotus, the Exige S tips the scales at just over one tonne), and endowed the Exige with plenty of straight-line speed. 0-62 mph in 4 seconds is quick by anyone’s standards, as is the claimed top speed of 168 mph. What really matters in a Lotus, though, is handling, and it’s here where the Exige S shines.

It is a car that demands a lot from the driver (there’s no power steering, for instance), but that hardcore focus means that, once you do build that rapport and get into a groove with it, the Exige S is oh-so-rewarding to drive quickly. Should you desire a more track-focused experience, then the slightly racier ‘Cup’ version should be right up your alley. There’s even a ‘Cup R’ racing version that can actually be bought in the States, if that tickles your fancy - though, as it’s a $100,000 track-only car that can’t really be modified for road use, it’s not really the ideal candidate for a weekend toy you can traverse your favorite back road in.

With business slowly starting to trickle in to Lotus’ coffers, it’s hopeful that its now-illegal models will be brought back to the United States in the near future. Until that day arrives, though, we’ll just have to restrain our envy towards the rest of the world that has access to the wonderful Lotus Exige S.

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