At first the thought of an automatic Lotus Exige S is an oxymoron — a self-shifting transmission in a track-ready sports coupe?
But no, the engineers at the Lotus headquarters in Norfolk weren’t joking when they added an auto to the lineup — instead they were future-proofing the famous British race car.
With an ever-increasing number of people only passing their driver’s licence in an automatic, the company realised there was a market for fans who wanted to drive a sports car, but couldn’t handle a “stick” on the track.
The British sports car isn’t a big seller here, with seven sold last year, but Lotus reckons that number will double in 2015.
Lotus Australia and New Zealand’s general manager Glen Sealey told Driven that 90 per cent of Aussie owners raced the vehicles in targa events or on track days. The company also reckons that by adding a six-speed auto to the Exige range, it will become more of an everyday commuter car.
Though, due to the low ride height and agility needed to enter and exit the car, you’d have to be a real purist, or have a short ride to and from work.
Priced from $137,990, the roadster and coupe autos are $5000 over the manual models, and add 5kg to the 1200kg weight.
The auto keeps the now famous supercharged 3.5-litre V6 engine that produces 257.5kW of power and 400Nm of torque and, of course, remains a power steering-free zone. That combination, plus the low centre of gravity ride, means you get to channel your inner Lewis Hamilton whether on a quiet road or on a racetrack.
Priced from $137,990, the automatic Lotus Exige S roadster and coupe cost $5000 more than the manual models, and add only 5kg to the car’s 1200kg weight.
The auto also gains track cred by posting the same time as the manual on the company’s test track at Hethel, Norfolk, while in the 0-100km/h dash it drops 0.1 second over the manual with a time of 3.9 seconds.
But the auto doesn’t lose street (or track) cred by having large steering wheel-mounted paddles, and the continuation of the Lotus Dynamic Performance Management (DPM) system offers four different modes.
While “touring” mode is suitable for city driving, hit the motorway or winding country roads and you can dial in “sport” for a more spirited drive, while “race” and “launch mode” are best kept for track days, says Lotus.
Now on sale in New Zealand, Driven headed to Sydney for the official launch of the auto, combining city and motorway driving with a spin around the back roads of Hunter Valley.
A quick flick to “race” while negotiating the back roads of Hunter Valley had an instant response both drive-wise and with regard to sound, especially as the mid-engine is so close to your ears.
The gear change is more assertive and the V6 sound dials up a notch and, if you use the paddles, then suddenly the drive becomes so exhilarating you don’t even notice you’re not in a manual.
A few days before the launch I borrowed a friend’s 2005 Lotus Elise (manual, of course) so I could compare the two transmissions.
The interior of the two — despite the age gap — is similar and the driver’s seat only moves slightly so I needed a cushion behind my back to operate the clutch. In the Exige auto there was no need for the cushion, so maybe Lotus should add short drivers to the list of potential owners.