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Lotus Exige Sport 350 sees light Lotus way

11:36 18 December 2015

Lotus Exige Sport 350 has shed 51kg and is faster and purer than ever to drive.

Lotus Exige Sport 350 has shed 51kg and is faster and purer than ever to drive.

Lotus

Light is right as Lotus cuts kilos from its new pure performance Exige Sport 350. Motoring editor Andy Russell says less is more.

“Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”

The ethos of Lotus founder Colin Chapman, who put Norfolk on the top of the world in Formula One and was obsessed with making his cars faster and lighter. It’s one that is still at the heart of the Lotus ‘can do’ spirit.

He would appreciate the new Exige Sport 350, latest version of the track-focused, road-going sports car, which joins the Elise in bringing back the ‘Sport’ tag for a lighter and even more pure performance driving experience.

Any changes have been more about weight loss – 51kg lost from an already light sport car is a like a lithe supermodel shedding half a stone – than visual updates. The former Exige S was one of the fastest, high-acclaimed sports cars on both road and track – its successor is even better.

Trimmer and slimmer

Here are some of the key weight savings and deletions which helped the Lotus Lightweight Laboratory shave 51kg from the standard Exige Sport 350;

3kg – lightweight, louvered tailgate, first seen on Lotus Esprit Turbo in 1980, which also aids engine bay cooling.

1.5kg – new lightweight, more precise gearshift mechanism (right).

3kg – revising the heater pipe system revealed a pipe was no longer needed and it’s now quieter and heats up quicker.

3kg – new rear subframe.

3.5kg – new battery and mounting bracket.

1kg – new one-piece rear diffuser.

12kg – lighter body panels.

2.7kg – optimised noise, vibration and harshness package.

1kg – engine air intake duct.

1.2kg – deleting sun visor and passenger footrest.

1kg – deleting engine beautification cover.

7.5kg – without optional air-conditioning.

Optional extras include cross-drilled and vented two-piece brake discs which save another 5kg and ultra-lightweight alloy wheels shedding another 5kg, bringing total weight as low as 1,115kg.

The strict diet, which saw every component’s weight and worth questioned in the Lotus ‘Lightweight Laboratory’, has some spin-off benefits such as the manual gearbox’s aluminium mechanism now exposed – it’s a joy to behold – to save weight but the bonus is also a quicker, more precise shift.

It retains the 345hp 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine which is blisteringly quick but, with immense low-down pull, you don’t have to work it hard to unleash the performance with a strong linear power delivery throughout the rev range. Not that keeping the engine on the boil would be a hardship with the six-speed manual gearbox’s shift now a delight rather than difficult to coax through the ratios.

The automatic gearbox, with buttons for park, reverse, neutral and drive and aluminium paddle shifters, has all the performance and better economy and emissions, but is not as involving to drive.

And, as well as a lower centre of gravity, the suspension gets firmer dampers and revised geometry to make the handling even more responsive – borne out by the Exige Sport 350 lapping the Lotus test track 2.5 seconds faster than the previous Exige S in one minute 29.8 seconds, the first production Lotus to go under one minute 30.

Not that I was going to press that hard on a damp Hethel track but it brought out the Exige Sport 350’s vast grip and chassis control, inspiring confidence even under hard acceleration and braking. It turns into corners quicker and more precisely and feels so balanced through fast sweeping bends, responding immediately to minor adjustments to the steering and throttle to keep it firmly on course.

So why did Lotus not fit the 400hp version of the V6 from the new Evora 400?

The more powerful engine would have put the Exige Sport above the 1,200kg target weight and, in doing so, given it a worse power-to-weight ratio than its 307hp per tonne.

As Lotus Group CEO Jean-Marc Gales said: “Before you put in a new engine, see if you can take weight out.”

That exposed manual gearshift is the icing on the cake in what is probably the best interior, for looks and ergonomics, of any Elise or Exige – once you have managed to get in – especially with the optional Heritage Tartan trim that harks back to the Esprit S1 in 1976 and makes the cockpit feel even more special.

The Exige Sport 350 is a lighter, faster featherweight that also flatters your driving skills by being very forgiving and that’s what makes it so exciting to drive.

TECH SPECS

Price: £55,900 (automatic £57,900)

Engine: 3,456cc, 345hp, V6 supercharged petrol

Performance: 0-60mph 3.7 seconds; top speed 170mph (automatic 162mph)

MPG: Urban 19.5; extra urban 37.2; combined 28 (auto 21.1, 39.8

30.1)

CO2 emissions: 235g/km (auto 219g/km)

Unladen weight: 1,125kg (auto 1,130kg)

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