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The new two-seat Lotus Exige coupe, based on the soft-top Elise, spurs such euphoria from behind the wheel that if the secret of its sheer delightfulness were more broadly known, it’d be deemed a nonconsumable narcotic. It takes little time driving an Exige to realize that it, like the Elise, perfectly embodies Lotus founder Colin Chapin’s mantra: “Simplicate and add lightness.” The overwhelming simplicity is apparent as soon as you slip into the thinly padded driver’s seat and take in the bare-bones interior with lots of exposed metal and scant carpeting.
To put its lightness in perspective, consider that the entire chassis same as on the Elise weighs just 150 pounds and is a tub-like structure of extruded aluminum bonded together with an aerospace adhesive. Only 300 2016 Exiges are slated for the U.S. at an $8,000 premium over the Elise. Exterior body panels, designed to improve aerodynamics and better force the car against the road, distinguish it from the Elise. Other than some cosmetic and trim differences, most everything else is shared between the two little Lotuses.
At 100 miles per hour, an Elise roadster has about nine pounds of added air pressure holding the front wheels to the road, while the Exige has 42 pounds. The difference can be felt through the steering wheel. We took both cars to 120 mph, where the Elise’s steering felt fingertip-light, while the Exige’s was more confidence-inspiring and solid. Rear-wheel downforce (airflow pressing the car against the road) is 4.4 pounds for the Elise and 48 pounds for the Exige, which also helps handling.
Like the Elise which has been on sale in the U.S. since mid-2004 the Exige is a tiny, simple, 190-horsepower street racer that will run rings around far more powerful sports cars on twisty roads. Because it’s remarkably easy to drive competitively, we suspect it will be just as popular at “track day” car-club events as its Elise sibling.