Lotus Exige Sport 410 review: if there’s a fault, we can’t find it

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2018 Lotus Exige Sport 410 - driven by CK in May 2018

The Lotus Exige Sport 410 costs £85,600 and has barely any storage space. Right, that’s the negatives out of the way, let’s crack on.

This car is the filling in a sandwich that starts with the £59,600 Exige Sport 350 and ends with the £100,600 Exige Cup 430, and arrives at what at last seems like a genuinely exciting time for Lotus.

Now owned by Geely, there’s investment enough for what CEO Jean-Marc Gales has recently confirmed will be two new sports cars, while a Lotus SUV based on Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture is also on the cards (Volvo, of course, having blossomed under Geely ownership).

For now though it’s the Exige Sport 410 that’s going to grab the headlines, and deservedly so. This car was originally destined to be the Sport 400, but just prior to launch Lotus engineers realised they could squeeze another 10bhp out of the 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine without ruining type approval, and so 410 it is.

The Sport part of its name is important too, for it sets out this particular Exige as one designed with road use in mind, whereas the more hardcore Cup 430 is really a road-legal track car. 

As you might expect, the Exige Sport 410 is a demon on a circuit, but what makes it so special is its suitability on the road, too

That said, this car still uses many of the parts from the Cup 430, only tuned to be less extreme. The most obvious is the engine, which is still sourced from Toyota but then thoroughly reworked by Lotus. In the 410’s case it includes a water-to-air charge cooler that, along with the headline power figure, helps to generate 310lb ft of torque between 3,000 and 7,000rpm.

Also carried over from the 430 Cup are the oil cooler and 240mm clutch, while the brakes are sourced from AP Racing. “You’ll never get into a situation where the engine overheats or the brakes fade,” boasts Gales.

This car is not only powerful, but light too. The lightest V6 Exige ever, in fact, tipping the scales at just 1,054kg assuming you specify the optional titanium exhaust and delete the steering wheel’s airbag. That’s 2kg lighter than the Cup 430 on account of having slightly less aerodynamic enhancement (the lower part of the Tarmac-grazing chin splitter, for example, has been given the chop for practical reasons), and while you might think such an amount trivial, Lotus most certainly doesn’t.

The interior is best described as purposeful, but this is not an uncomfortable car

That’s particularly the case since Gales took over the reins in 2014, since when he’s implement a fastidious weight-reduction programme across all Lotus cars, looking at every single component to see where a few grams might be saved.

Also making its way over from the Cup 430 are the Nitron suspension and Eibach anti-roll bars, all of which can be manually adjusted. As standard the set-up is biased towards road use, but by twisting a dial at the top of each damper you can alter rebound, low-speed compression and high-speed compression, providing endless opportunities to make the car worse. The wheels (17-inch at the front, 18s at the rear) are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.

Even tuned to Cup 430 settings this car wouldn’t be as fast around a track, due to both its power deficit and its less aggressive aerodynamics. However, it is difficult to envisage any other scenario where a Sport 410 wouldn’t cut the mustard.

"Once you’ve heard the noise that erupts from behind your shoulder above 4,500rpm you’ll want to spend your entire time there, pinned into the lightweight carbon seat under the relentless acceleration, snapping through the gears and revelling in the immediacy of the V6’s response"

Performance is vivid. Getting from 0-60mph takes just 3.3 seconds, while flat out you’ll see 180mph (at which point the Exige generates 150kg of downforce). Select any one of the six gears via the gorgeous open-gate manual gearbox and you are a mere throttle squeeze away from properly serious acceleration.

At the centre of it is the same bonded aluminium tub as you get in an Elise, but as with all Exiges there’s a different steel subframe to accommodate the larger engine (hence why it has a longer wheelbase than its cheaper sibling). The composite panels include a new front clamshell bonnet which has been carried over to the Sport 350 as well, while adorning it all is a lot of carbon-fibre courtesy of Prodrive. Under the rear of the car, meanwhile, sits a gorgeous aluminium diffuser in place of the older plastic design (“It’s lighter and more heat resistant,” says Gales).

You can have your Sport 410 as a coupé or roadster, the latter coming with a fabric roof that, surprise surprise, has also been optimised to be as light as possible. We tried the coupé first on the Lotus test track at its Hethel headquarters in Norfolk. Now 2.2 miles long and resurfaced to FIA standards, it features a mixture of slower, technical turns and high-speed corners so that you can feel the aerodynamics working.

The carbon-fibre seats are snug and wonderfully supportive during high-speed cornering

I begin gently, short-shifting before 4,000rpm while I learn the circuit. However, it’s not long before the Exige’s laser-like turn-in and sublime chassis balance encourage higher cornering speeds and more use of the power. And once you’ve heard the noise that erupts from behind your shoulder above 4,500rpm you’ll want to spend your entire time there, pinned into the lightweight carbon seat under the relentless acceleration, snapping through the gears and revelling in the immediacy of the V6’s response (helped by a single-mass flywheel).

As you’d expect of a Lotus, there’s a consistency across the control weights that makes driving the Exige a truly tactile experience, and the unassisted steering feeds back such rich detail that you always know exactly what’s going on.

The brakes, meanwhile, are simply superb, feeling as good after 25 minutes of track use as they did at the start, yet also easy to modulate on the road and free from squeaks or squeals.

Light, fantastic: the Exige Sport 410 sets a new benchmark in performance with usability

So quickly can you build confidence in this car that it’s not long before you’re trying out Sport and then Race modes, each of which progressively eases off the traction control, and then finally you switch off the systems completely. This is not a decision I usually take lightly in a car of this performance, but the Exige is so responsive and predictable that it seems entirely natural to feel it start to pivot as you take increasingly bigger liberties on turn-in, easing off the power to feel the rear of the car begin to move before picking up the throttle and riding out the slide. For a machine of such intense performance it’s amazing just how friendly the Sport 410 feels.

I later drive a roadster on the B-roads around Hethel and, if anything, the performance is even more startling. Foot to the floor in second gear this little car hoovers up the road ahead in a way that you can’t quite believe, yet still feels entirely surefooted.

No doubt it’d be frisky in the wet, but again because everything is communicated so clearly I really don’t think it’d feel intimidating. Part of that is down to how easy it is to feed in precisely the right amount of power, but it’s also because it rides in a way that is perfectly acceptable on our pothole-strewn roads. It’s firm, naturally, but not so much so that it’s uncomfortable or unruly.

I could go on all day about how good this car is, but I’m already over the word limit. So let’s just give it the full five stars and be done with it.

THE FACTS

Lotus Exige Sport 410

TESTED 3,456cc V6 petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £85,600/now

POWER/TORQUE 410bhp @ 7,000rpm/310lb ft @ 3,000-7,000rpm

ACCELERATION 0-60mph in 3.3 seconds

TOP SPEED 180mph (145mph roadster)

FUEL ECONOMY 19mpg/26.6mpg (EU Urban/Combined)

CO2 EMISSIONS 240g/km

VED £1,760 first year, then £450 per year for five years, then £140 per year

VERDICT A stunning blend of extraordinary performance, accessible handling and a ride that is perfectly acceptable for road use, the Exige Sport 410 might be expensive but it’s also exciting in a way that few other road cars manage. Wow, what a machine.

TELEGRAPH RATING Five out of five stars

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