Lotus Exige S Roadster review

* Supercharged V6 Lotus Exige gets a soft-top * 346bhp; 0-60mph in 3.8 seconds * On sale now, priced from £53,850...

Lotus Exige S Roadster review

Yes, it has a removable roof, but the Lotus Exige S Roadster is no boulevard sun-seeker. This rear-wheel-drive sports car with its mid-mounted, supercharged 3.5 V6 is just as intent on delivering driving nirvana as its hard-top equivalent.

The roof is a manual, cloth affair borrowed from the company’s Elise, but beyond that the changes over the Exige S coupe are few. The suspension has been revised, top speed is cut to 145mph and weight is actually down by 10kg to a very reasonable 1166kg.

What's the 2013 Lotus Exige S Roadster like to drive

Noisy, grippy and fast – on the right road. Everywhere else it’s a pain.

Key to the Exige's brilliant high-speed handling is a system that alters its electronic aids, throttle response and exhaust noise.

In default mode, the electronic aids are all fully engaged, but the Exige Roadster still feels like a properly keyed-in sports car. The heavy steering responds quickly without feeling over sensitive, and there's a level of communication that's rare in modern cars. You're always aware of what's going on between tyre and Tarmac.

The downsides are the substantial kickback you get over bumps and ruts, and the fact that the steering is so heavy at normal speeds that driving at anything less than full-attack is a complete pain.

'Sport' will be most enthusiastic drivers' mode of choice. This setting brings sharper throttle responses and a naughtier exhaust note. It also allows the rear wheels to slide a little before the stability control system cuts in.

However, the system still intervenes early enough to prevent you from getting into trouble, and ultimately makes the Exige an easy and invigorating thing to drive in a committed fashion.

In fact, enter a corner too fast and the Exige S will lose grip at the front wheels first, so making direction changes or lifting off the throttle through fast corners is generally fun rather than frightening.

Turn everything off and you have a thrilling track day car that has monstrous grip levels and an overload of communication through the controls.

Perhaps most remarkable is that the Exige S rides impressively well. It's firm and you can feel how rigid the car is over bigger bumps, but eroded Tarmac and small cracks and creases are dealt with remarkably well.

Again, the Exige is great at speed, but less so everywhere else, because it’s extremely difficult to see out of, and at anything approaching dual carriageway speeds the mirrors become blurred by vibrations.

The optional firmer set-up that's available as part of the Race Pack is an unnecessary addition – the standard car is perfectly capable on track and is better on road.

The supercharged V6 motor sounds great and delivers its potent stream of power predictably, making the Exige as fast as plenty of things costing twice as much money.

However, your progress is always hampered by a six-speed manual gearbox that is downright obstructive most of the time.

Even with the clutch all the way down quick gearchanges are hit-or-miss affairs – often you end up in neutral with the engine hitting the rev-limiter. It makes for oddly stilted progress as each blast of searing acceleration is punctuated by a careful and long-winded gearchange.

Lotus Exige S0-60mph3.8 secTop speed145mphFuel economy28mpgCO2 emissions236g/kmTax liability N/AInsurance group N/A

What's the 2013 Lotus Exige S Roadster like inside?

Sparse and cheap-feeling. You can spec the Exige Roadster up to include comforts such as heated leather seats, but as standard you don’t even get air-con (an eye-watering £1100 option), just some cloth-covered bucket seats, and a rather aftermarket-looking stereo system.

Quality is woeful, too. The ancient Vauxhall column stalks feel flimsy at best, the switches work with an insubstantial action, and the pull-out cupholder is verging on pathetic. This is almost the same interior as was in the Exige 12 years ago – and now it’s in a car costing more than £54k.

It's also quite noisy, even with the roof on, and you need to be as flexible as a wet chamois to get into and out of it.

Still, there's plenty of legroom, and the pedals are positioned perfectly. In fact, the Exige S Roadster is surprisingly comfortable, despite having a driver’s seat that only slides back and forward (there’s no backrest adjustment) and a steering wheel that can’t be adjusted.

The boot is definitely on the diminutive side, and should you have the desire to have the wind in your hair the various bits of roof will largely fill it, so pack light.

Should I buy one?

We’d have to say that any purchase of an Exige S Roadster should be undertaken with your eyes very wide open. It’s awkward to drive at any speed apart from flat out, it’s hard to get into and out of, it feels really cheap inside, and reliability is a long way from being a given.

It's also very expensive. You could get a Porsche Boxster S and a substantial amount of change for the base price of the Exige S Roadster, and even though the Porsche is slower, it's a much more sensible choice for most people – particularly those who rate comfort and general useability as equal priorities with entertainment.

The Lotus will also shed value at a wince-inducing rate, where the Porsche won’t.  

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