Lotus brings us one of its best cars yet-certainly the best of the recent Elise/Exige era. As the name indicates, the new Exige S 240 has a claimed crank horsepower rating of 240bhp, which is plenty for the 2077-pound car. But there's a lot more to the increase in power than just squeezing a couple more pounds of boost out of the supercharger. The engineers at Lotus are well known for their obsession to make every part of a car work in harmony. Various changes introduced to compensate for the additional 20bhp combine in creating one wicked little track terror.
At $65,000, the 240 is on the far side of the sport compact spectrum. But if you have the means, it's awfully tempting. For the rest of us, it's still a great specimen to study and use as a benchmark for future performance goals. Last year (May '07 issue), we tried to take down a Lotus Elise with our turbocharged Project MR-S. The results were close enough to open a debate on who actually won. This was due to some unexpected performance deficiencies in the Lotus, which cost it in the quarter-mile and on the skidpad. With this new Exige S 240, those flaws have been remedied-and then some.
The most significant development is its traction control system (TCS). Yes, that sounds lame. Normally, the first thing we do when getting in a car is figure out how to turn off the TCS. With few exceptions, TCS chokes up the engine, causing an accelerating car to fall on its face or a cornering car to pick up terminal understeer. The TCS on the 240 is one of the exceptions. A dial on the steering column allows the driver to set the allowable speed differential between the front and rear wheels. It can be set between zero and 10 percent, in one percent increments-similar to that found in most modern prototype and formula cars.
With Lotus' strong involvement in motorsport, it should come as no surprise that this technology has been wired into the 240. Drivers competing in Club Racer versions of the Exige S requested a launch control system to assist them in their standing starts. This was developed and integrated into the 240 using the TCS and a specially damped and upgraded clutch. A reasonably simple sequence of button pushing and knob tweaking allows the driver to select the launch revs. Once everything is set, the clutch can be dumped, initiating violent acceleration with the perfect amount of wheel spin. It almost feels like cheating.
The crown that best distinguishes the 240 from the standard Exige S is its enlarged roof scoop. It comes further forward to draw more air off the windshield and route it through to the intercooler. Other than that, the only other visible distinction is the larger four-piston AP Racing front brake calipers.
With each car being hand built, there are plenty of options available. Depending on the strength of your pimp hand, you can have your Exige sprayed in Candy Red paint for $3300 or Moonstone Silver for $5100. Go that route and you'll probably want the leather interior/sound insulation/cup holder package for an additional $1600. We'd be happy with the standard British Racing Green exterior and bare aluminum interior. We'd even pass on the optional limited-slip differential, as the car we drove was ridiculously fun without it. The only absolute must-have would be the optional Track Pack. This includes Bilstein dampers using remote reservoirs in the front, with adjustable damping and ride height at all four corners; $1650 for a suspension designed by Lotus Sport is a bargain. The adjustability not only allows fine-tuning at the track but also lets you detune it to get this street-legal track car home without needing a truck and trailer.
After a healthy dose of seat time in a pre-production Exige S 240 at Spring Mountain Raceway, just outside of Las Vegas, to say it has 'kart-like handling' would be an insult. It's way better. With the shocks set right, the understeer of the old car can be dialed out completely. Then the variable traction control can be adjusted to achieve just the right amount of slip angle while exiting the corners. As with any British car, the Lotus has quirks to pick on, like a completely useless rear-view mirror and oddly placed horn buttons that are triggered at extreme steering angles. But these only add more character to a machine as famous for its styling as its purely performance-oriented design. We can't wait to have an SCC project car that could take down the Exige S 240, but at this point, we can't imagine what car that would be.
2008 Lotus Exige S 240
Price as Tested: $64,890
Engine Displacement/Type/Valvetrain: 1796cc in-line four, aluminum block and head, supercharged and intercooled, DOHC, VVTL-I variable valve timing
Claimed Crank HP: 240 @ 8000rpm
Claimed Crank Torque: 170lb-ft @ 5500rpm
Drivetrain/Layout/Transmission: Transverse mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual, adjustable launch/traction control
Curb Weight: 2077 lbs
Weight Distribution (F/R): 37/63
Suspension (Front): Double wishbone with anti-roll bar
Suspension (Rear): Double wishbone
Brakes (Front/Rear): 12.1-in. cross-drilled rotors, AP Racing four-piston aluminum fixed calipers/11.5-in. cross-drilled rotors, Brembo single-piston sliding calipers
Wheels (Front/Rear): 16x6.5 (F), 17x7.5 (R), forged aluminum
Tires (Front/Rear): 195/50/16 (F), 225/45/17 (R), Yokohama Advan AO48LTS