RAC Cars News

#WeLoveCars

Lotus Exige Sport 380 first drive

By raccars Published

Lotus

Lotus takes the Exige range further upmarket with a new track-focused Sport 380 edition.

Lotus Exige Sport 380

Price: £67,900

Engine: 5-litre supercharged V6

Power: 380hp

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

0-62mph: 7 seconds

Top speed: 178mph

Fuel economy: 5mpg

CO2: 275g/km

On sale: Now

Three 2016 Lotus Exige Sport 380 facts

1. The £67,900 Sport 380 is the new Lotus Exige range-topper, sitting above the £55,900 Sport 350

2. You can spot a Sport 380 from its bigger wings, yellow brake calipers and black detailing around its headlights

3. Lotus says the Sport 380 is more than three seconds a lap faster than the 350 around its test track

Test Track Lotus

What is it?

Lotus is on a roll. Throughout 2015 and 2016, it has been launching special versions of its existing cars, perfecting the core models with ever-more impressive setups. After a few years in the doldrums, sales are responding accordingly. This famous specialist British sports car maker is back.

To ensure it sees out 2016 with a flourish, Lotus has saved its most focused iteration of the year until last: the Exige Sport 380. A higher-performance and more track-focused version of the acclaimed Sport 350 which launched in late 2015, it ups excitement levels yet further.

Mind you, the Exige itself is already a super-sporting Lotus. Deep down, it’s a Lotus Elise, but it’s been developed extensively in its various iterations – this Series 3 model packs a potent 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine from Toyota. You can have it both as a coupe and a roadster: the Sport 380 comes as a roadster as standard, with the optional hard-top roof making it into a coupe.

Lotus also offers the entry-level Elise and the luxury sports car Evora as part of its three-car range – but it’s the Exige that’s most heavily geared towards performance car enthusiasts.

Lotus Drivers Seat

Styling and interior

The Exige Sport 380 is one mean-looking machine. Compared to the Sport 350, it has a much larger front splitter, aero-shaped access panel, a larger rear wing, a sharp-looking diffuser and, at the side, a prominent set of barge boards.

This has all been done to improve downforce. The car can do 178mph, at which speed it’s generating 60% more downforce than the Sport 350 – a huge improvement. Lotus will also let you option a detail pack that adds a hand-painted red stripe to the carbon fibre panels: choose it to offset one of five colours – black, blue, grey, silver or white.

Inside, Lotus has fitted carbon fibre sports seats clad in Alcantara. Like many detail aspects of the Sport 380, these save weight and give a sporty feel to the low-slung, racy and minimalist driving environment. The cool exposed gearshift gate of the Sport 350 remains, as does the significant step-up in quality.

A leather-covered dashboard is standard but other luxuries, such as carpets and sound insulation, are optional. Air con is an option as well – this is a very focused car in its rawest guise, although most owners do add on a few luxuries such as chilled air…

Lotus Interior

Performance

Power is up from 350hp to 380hp, and Lotus has slightly lowered the maximum revs this power peak is produced at. The firm has also given it a bit more pulling power. It means that the Exige Sport 380 is a little more responsive at lower revs – but a lot more responsive when you rev it harder.

The step-up over 4,000rpm is significant. It’s even more thrilling than the already exciting Sport 350, an effect enhanced by a new sports exhaust that’s burblier at lower revs and howls with much more intensity at higher revs. The 178mph is 8mph up on the Sport 350; 0-62mph takes 3.7secs instead of 3.9secs.

It’s the sheer alacrity of the Sport 380 that really shines through. The fast-reacting supercharged V6 engine combines with the low kerbweight to ensure it’s a car ever-ready to fly. You sense no lardy mass or inertia to overcome, simply glorious acceleration whenever you demand it.

The uprated brakes are powerful as well. Certainly we didn’t tire them despite driving the Exige flat-out around Lotus’ Hethel, Norfolk test track for 45 minutes. They’re packed with feel out on the road too – and while the gearchange is perhaps a bit slack on the circuit, it’s much more precise and positive in day-to-day use.

Lotus Side View

Handling

If you haven’t ever driven a Lotus, you’ve never truly driven an authentic sports car. That’s how good they are, that’s how much of a leap on they are even over something like a Porsche. The Exige Sport 380 is perhaps the finest incarnation yet.

It doesn’t have power-assisted steering, so it’s heavy at slow speeds. Other than that, it’s magnificent. We can’t think of a car that has better steering feel than this. It’s like driving a racing car on the road, and it makes almost every other car seem dull and numb.

The mid-engined chassis is already responsive. A combination of wider front tyres plus the greater aero effect at speeds helps this Exige show keener alacrity at speed. You have to be going very quickly indeed to unstick its new semi-slick Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.

It’s a complete thrill, pure and simple. Lotus has meticulously set this car up to offer wide-eyed enjoyment both on track and road, and it delivers. That it manages to do this with a beautiful sporting-car ride, that’s far more refined and compliant than you’d ever expect, simply adds to Lotus’ achievement.

There are ‘sporting’ cars out there that neither ride as comfortably as this, nor have the same handling purity and feel. Case closed: this Lotus offers it all.

Lotus Rear

Price and value

The Sport 380 is a pricey car. £67,900 is a great deal more than, say, a Porsche 718 Cayman S. But the Sport 380 is a specialist car, one honed for the track. Its exotic brakes, tyres, carbon fibre additions, all don’t come cheap. Which curiously makes it seem rather good value.

Let us explain. It would cost you a lot more than £11,000 to bring a Sport 350 up to the same spec as this Sport 380. And that’s before you factor in all the engineering development time that’s been put into honing this model. Don’t forget the thrills it delivers, either – it’s a driving experience some may just consider to be priceless.

Head On Shot Lotus

Fuel economy

You’re talking sub-30mpg fuel economy at best. Chances are, you’ll likely see much worse. The Exige Sport 380 is that sort of car. Owners don’t worry about it either – besides, no car is particularly efficient out on track. The measure of economy is less about MPG and more about how many laps you can get per tankful.

Lotus has helped here. For years, the Exige has had a tiny 40-litre fuel tank. At last, the Sport 380 brings in a larger 48-litre tank. It makes it a bit heavier, but will give a few extra laps on the racetrack, and a few more hours behind the wheel during a touring holiday before you need to fill it up again.

Lotus Wheel Front Left

Verdict: Lotus Exige Sport 380

We think the Lotus Exige Sport 380 is an instant classic. A real thriller, it’s wonderful to drive and is a worthy step on from the still-appealing Sport 350. If you’re an enthusiast who wants one of the most exciting Lotus produced by the firm in years, look no further.

Back Right Of Car

Looking to Buy?
Search for cars