The story of the Lotus Exige is quite an interesting one. The project first started in the mid-1990’s, when this British company was under the control of an Italian businessman, named Romano Artioli, who at the time was also the head of Bugatti Automobili.
Artioli had bought Lotus from General Motors back in 1993, and saw that the product was in great need of improvement – typical of any foreign car company ever owned by General Motors, the American auto-giant didn’t help Lotus’ portfolio grow. So, plans were put in place by Artioli to not only improve the Lotus Esprit – the brands’ flagship car at the time – but also phase out the underperforming Lotus Elan, and replace it with a car that would be much truer to the ideology of Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus Cars, who started the brand in 1948.
Chapman was an engineer, and he understood that in order to make a car go faster, the best way was to reduce weight, rather than just add more power. That is what the company stood for, although by adding more power to a light car in their later years also proved its benefits.
So, Artioli wanted to give Lotus enthusiasts a car that would pay homage to the company’s founder, and the end result was the Lotus Elise of 1996. The first-generation Elise was powered by just a 118 hp, four-cylinder engine taken from Rover, but because the car was light, it performed really well, hence winning the hearts of auto journalists and car enthusiasts around the world.
The Elise was a simple car, with not many gadgets to offer, but its construction was very high-tech, using a bonded aluminum chassis, a first for the production automotive industry.
This platform has been the basis for Lotus cars for the past 20 years, and despite its age, it is still cutting edge in terms of safety and torsional rigidity.
Over the last 20 years, Lotus had done a lot to the Elise. First big performance gain came when the Exige model was introduced in the year 2000. Not only was the Exige more powerful than the Elise, but was set up for more hard core track use. Over the years, the Exige saw power gains up to 260 hp, attained by supercharging a Toyota sourced 1.8L four-cylinder motor.
So, in 2012, Lotus introduced the Exige V6. As the name suggests, this model has a six-cylinder motor, and to accommodate that, the entire rear-subframe was modified to house the new mechanicals. The Exige was now longer and wider than before, and thanks to the work of a great design team, the end product also looks simply spectacular, and stands apart from an Elise.
However, with the design change, there was some bad news for Lotus enthusiasts in North America. The cars had to be crash tested all over again to pass certification for road use, and Lotus felt they would not be able to recoup that cost, and decided to put all their effort towards their Evora model in North America.
So, no more Elise or Exige for Canada or U.S. past 2011, that’s a shame.
However, where there is a will, there’s a way. Lotus Cars North America (LCNA) discovered a bit of a loop hole in the system, and that is, you can bring these new cars in the country, just as long as they are only for track use. So, LCNA decided to turn one of the Exige’s special edition models, even more special.
The car I’m talking about, is the one you’re looking at on this page. This is a 2015 Exige LF1 – Lotus only made 81 examples of this model for the global market, each one commemorating a win Lotus has achieved in Formula 1. Of these 81 cars, seven track-only CUP version were made for the North American market – two of which ended up in Canada.
One of those two LF1’s is now the star attraction at the newest Lotus franchise in the world, called Lotus of Oakville. This franchise is owned by Peninsula Imports, a dealer that has had a long history in Oakville, dealing with not only used prestige cars, but also in Ducati motorbikes. So, they know a thing or two about speed machines, and have the clientele to match.
The excellent staff at Peninsula Imports are thrilled to now offer Lotus Cars, and gave me the permission to test the Exige LF1 – in the process, becoming the first Canadian auto journalist to get to drive this car.
Well, it truly is a full-on experience. From the moment you approach the car, you know you’re about to get into something very special. The Exige V6 is a stunning looking car, made to look all the more special in this unique black paint, with gold and red stripes, sitting on staggered gold wheels – 17-inch at the front, 18-inch at the rear. If the dictionary needs a picture as a descriptor of what a ‘supercar’ is, they should use a picture of the Exige LF1. I think, it is the most stunning looking new car on the planet.
It’s interior though, is a little less stunning to behold. This is a very minimalist sort of car, so there are no cushy seats that electrically adjust in 16 directions – no, you get racing buckets – with minimal adjustments – that are very thin, and hold you in all the right places for when you’re driving quickly around corners. There is no fancy infotainment system either, and the most luxury oriented item in here are electric windows. But wait, there is some other stuff in here that you won’t find in a normal car. Stuff like, an integrated FIA approved roll cage, five-point racing harness, and a detachable steering wheel.
This last item is quite a handy one, because any Exige is difficult to get in and out of, one fitted with a roll cage and a fixed roof is harder still. I surely struggled to get in, and especially, out of the Exige LF1, and if it weren’t for that removable steering wheel, I might still be in that car – and yes, I do need to get on a diet.
Once in, the Exige LF1’s cabin feels like a glove. Everything falls readily at hand, and there is nothing to distract you from the business of driving. That is a good thing, because this car is a sensory overload of driving emotions.
At the twist of its key, you wake up a mid-mounted, 3.5L V6 supercharged engine, which produces 345 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. That might not sound like a whole lot, but you have to keep in mind, that this car weighs just 1,176 kg – a mass-market sports car like a Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 GT, which has similar power to the Exige LF1, weighs 1,646 kg – and that 470 kg of weight saving means, the Exige LF1 can play ball against much higher powered machines. Use its six-speed manual gearbox and clutch properly, and you’ll sprint from 0 to 96 km/h (0 to 60 mph) in just 3.8 seconds. That means, the LF1 can keep up with cars like the Porsche Carrera GT, a car which has 604 hp. Top speed of the LF1 is 274 km/h (170 mph), which trust me, is fast enough.
Power is fed to only the rear wheels, but it gets translated to the road via Pirelli P-ZERO TROFEO tires, which grip the road like nothing else. I have never experienced a car that holds the tarmac with this much determination. This means, you can go into corners at speeds you never thought were possible, and that is both surprising and scary – just ask my wife. Best to test the limits of this car on a race track.
Driving the Exige LF1 is a very physically involving experience – not having power steering adds to that. However, don’t for one moment think the car is a pain to drive, it is quite the opposite. The pedal position is good, the clutch is light and easy to work with, the gear shifts are light and precise, all of which makes it quite easy to maneuver. On top of it all, I was surprised how well it soaked up the bumps on the road. I thought it would bang and crash at the merest hint of a pebble on the road, but it doesn’t. A track car with a compliant ride! Didn’t think such a thing existed.
I just loved driving this thing. I enjoyed the noise its supercharged engine made, I just giggled like an excited school kid who is high on caffeine every time I squeezed the throttle – which saw the car accelerate like a startled cat, I was awe struck by its steering feel and the grip it exhibited in the corners. In short, I really liked this car and now want to own an Exige LF1 in my life.
Having one permanently placed at my house is not going to be easy, as this 2015 Lotus Exige LF1 is yours for $149,000. That is a lot of money for a car you can’t really take out on the road. But, it does come with some rather interesting stuff at that price. Included in the purchase price is a tour for two at the Lotus factory in Hethel, England – and at the Lotus F1 headquarters at Enstone, England. You also get a Collector’s edition owners pack, that includes a special USB key, a keychain, a 1:2 scale replica helmet used by Romain Grosjean – the lead driver at Lotus F1 at the moment, some scale models of your car, and some very nice books. In short, this LF1 is a collector piece that could appreciate in the future.
If the asking price is still hard to justify, I have a suggestion. If you have the kind of money that allows you to buy a new McLaren 650S – which has a base price of $283,000; why not buy this Exige LF1, and the upcoming Lotus Evora 400, and both of those combined will still cost you less than the price of that one McLaren. Plus, having these two cars would mean, you have a track-only car for when you want to have some unrestricted fun, and a great road car for every other day. Plus, given Canada’s 15-year rule for cars, I am sure by 2030, you’ll be able to register it for road use – it does have bumpers, lights, and indicators.
If you want to see this stunning car in the flesh, make your way to Peninsula Imports/Lotus of Oakville, and go soon, being the only one in Ontario, it might not be sitting in the showroom for much longer.
*A version of this story is also published in the Oct. 2, 2015 issue of The Weekly Voice.