Weights and pleasures: Lotus Exige Sport 350 first drive, CAR+ February 2016

Published: 20 January 2016

► We drive the new Lotus Exige Sport 350
► It's back to Lotus roots for new Exige
► Same power, but weight is down 51kg 

‘Adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.’ So said Lotus founder Colin Chapman. Now Lotus has applied that logic to the Exige Sport 350, an evolutionary tweak of 2012’s fabulous Exige S.

The 345bhp/295lb ft is deja-vu, but weight falls from 1176kg to 1125kg courtesy of a louvred engine cover, reduced sound deadening, lighter battery, binned sun visors, optional air-con and more (less?). The chassis has been modified too, with extra front camber and toe, and more rear camber. Less understeer, more focus, and 2.5 fewer seconds spent lapping the Lotus test track is the result.

The gruff supercharged V6 can’t match the drama of a flat-six, but the power-to-weight can: a 911 GT3 punches barely any harder. Step on the throttle and the Exige doesn’t so much build momentum as catapult itself at the next bend, refusing to quit until you’re past 7000rpm. Throttle response seems superior to the Evora 400 too, perhaps because the Evora is now intercooled.

Lotus took some flak for the S’s gearshift, so it’s exposed the gear linkage and made the shift tighter for an instantly noticeable improvement. There’s an auto, but it adds weight and the paddleshifters have as much travel as an actual gear stick.

Lotus is more about chassis and steering finesse than powertrain excellence, and that’s where the Sport 350 really shines. The heavy unassisted steering perks up at speed, and intimately quivers with surface texture, though I suspect the geometry changes make this a slightly stickier helm than the Exige S.

Carryover suspension is effectively stiffer because it’s springing and damping fewer kilos, but marries exceptional body control with acceptable absorbency; it means you go where you point the steering while blatting cross-country, unlike, say, an Alfa 4C. The Exige keeps its composure under braking too, the four-piston set-up offering excellent feel and gravel-trap stopping power.

The Exige S was already the best Lotus you could buy, and the Sport 350 only cements that position. It’s half the price of a 911 GT3 but feels similarly quick and engaging. That much you might expect. What’s most refreshing is just how usable it remains. Hardcore and slightly impractical it may be, but I’d happily daily drive an Exige Sport 350.

Noisy enough for you? Seats double as an invisibility cloak for golfers

The specs: Lotus Exige Sport 350

Price: £55,900
Engine: 3456cc 24v supercharged V6, 345bhp @ 7000rpm, 295lb ft @ 4500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 3.9sec 0-62mph, 170mph, 28.0mpg, 235g/km CO2
Weight: 1125kg
On sale: Now

Love: Chassis, steering, gearchange, throttle response 

Hate: Supercharged V6 lacks drama, seat fabric has way too much drama

Verdict: A great car, and the best Lotus

Rating: ****

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator