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Driven: New Lotus Exige Cup 430

Another new Lotus Exige variant? Yes, but this one’s rather special…

Rob Adams
Thursday 23 November 2017 11:09 GMT

Lotus has, for several years now, been rolling out progressively more powerful Exige and Elise variants. They’ve generally been variations on a theme: a bit more power, a revised bodywork, but largely sticking to the same formula. It’s been hard to keep track.

But finally, with the new Exige Cup 430, Lotus reckons it’s reached the end of the line. This is the ultimate Exige, and will carry the model through for the next few years until it’s eventually replaced. And it’s much more than just another car with a bit more power: Lotus describes it as “a new car in every respect”.

According to the on-paper figures, it’s ludicrously fast. As quick as a McLaren F1 in acceleration. Faster than any other road car ever tested around its Hethel track. It’s not only the most Exige ever, it’s also one of the most radical Lotus launched – period.

It’s also ferociously expensive. Just under £100,000 in base guise, quickly jumping over that once you’ve added in essentials such as air con and a radio. But then, says Lotus, compared to the cars it’s quicker than over a British B-road, it’s a positive bargain. You won’t get this sort of intensity and excitement anywhere else for the money. Can it live up to such bold claims?

It sure looks more potent than any Exige that’s gone before. The Cup 430 has a higher rear wing and a new design of front clamshell, giving it more downforce than ever – and a cool set of AP Racing ‘J-hook’ brakes to slow it back down again.

It’s the first Lotus to use three-way adjustable Nitron dampers (this car’s predecessor had two-way adjustable units), which Lotus reckons make it more capable than ever in its natural home of snacking back roads.

And so it proves. The Exige is little short of breathtaking on the Norfolk B-roads surrounding Lotus’ famed HQ, with exceptional fluidity for one so sporting, and exquisite body control no matter how quickly you’re driving. And as they’re fully adjustable, it’s easy to soften the ride off a bit if you find them just a bit too firm and sporting in everyday use.

There’s no such taming the engine. Which is a weapon. This 430hp power plant, when combined with the Exige’s bantamweight mass, will genuinely shock you the first time you give it the beans. Add in the car’s nimble size, plus the fact the engine’s rapid even when you’re not hitting the red line, and it’s easy to see why Lotus reckons it’s quicker than anything else you can buy on a typical British back road.

As for on the track, it’s more like a GT3 race car than a road-spec machine. Or, dare we say, a 911 GT3 supercar? It’s communicative, poised, brilliantly involving and extremely confident: with a flood of feel and perfectly telegraphed limits, the only thing that’s stopping you going more quickly is your own ability.

It’s an amazing machine. This could well be the ultimate Exige, and to us, it’s hard to see how Lotus could make it any better. We’d be amazed if they do: and even if they manage it, you can still buy this one safe in the confidence you’ve the keys to one of the most amazing driver’s cars ever built.

Lotus Exige Cup 430

Price £99,800
Engine 3,456cc V6, supercharged 
Transmission 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp) 436@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft) 325@4,000-6,800rpm 
0-62mph 3.3secs
Top speed 180mph
Weight 1,093kg (unladen)
CO2 242g/km

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