Lotus Exige

Lotus has always been one of the world leaders when it comes to designing and building thrilling compact and lightweight cars. We get behind one of their best cars from the noughties, a 2005 Exige. 

Words and pictures: Wilhelm Lutjeharms

It is maybe best to be honest upfront. I’m a big fan of Lotus’s Elise and Exige products. That said, there is always the danger that a fresh experience with a favourite can fail to live up to expectations (and memories) after a long hiatus - 13 years in this instance. 

Lotus Exige for sale

The design of the Exige remains such a stand-out feature. To achieve that typical supercar stance in such a small package can not be easy, and Julian Thomson achieved it and made it work with the first-generation Elise, followed by Steve Crijns who was responsible for the second-generation Elise, on which this Exige is based. Then, the most important factor, the car weighs only 935 kg. The result is that the 163kW and 215Nm from the supercharged 1.8-litre engine behind the driver are more than enough. 

Behind the wheel

Lotus Exige

As I squeeze myself through the small door opening and shut the lightweight door, I’m again reminded how some enthusiasts will frown at the car and particularly its no-compromise execution. It is extremely tight in the cabin and this really is a track toy, more so than a Porsche Cayman for example. The basic concept (mid-engined, compact sportscar) of the Lotus and Porsche might be the same, but the driving experiences are vastly different. 

Lotus Exige for sale

There is an immediate deeper burble than expected from the twin-exhaust pipes when the engine is started. I strap myself into the harness which allows for very little body movement, and the seat has very minor padding. The result is that you feel completely connected to the car while the (very) firm suspension further allows you to feel what is happening at each corner of the car. That is also the case with the small steering wheel, which provides pure, unassisted feedback from the front wheels. As one UK journalist once wrote, if you drive over a credit card, you will be able to rear the numbers through the steering wheel!

Lotus Exige for sale

Once the fluids are warmed up, I press the throttle a little deeper and notice how there is already a decent amount of torque from as low as 2 500 to 3 000 rpm. However, keep the throttle pinned and the supercharged engine delivers performance at an impressive rate as you head past 5 000 and 6 000 rpm. The engine and exhaust note are the dominant sounds though and you will find it hard at times to speak to your passenger.

Best to focus on the road which is, in this instance, the beautiful Boyes Drive between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay. First and second gear is done within seconds while there are another four gears to go, but for the last two you will really need a quiet road with some longer stretches.

Lotus Exige for sale

It is when shifting up and down the gearbox that I’m quickly reminded again of possibly the weakest link in any of these models – the shoddy transmission linkages. It is not that you are likely to miss a gear, because you generally know where to shift into, but it is simply too vague for a sports car of this calibre. Cars of the same era such as the Renault Clio RS, Honda S2000 or Mazda MX-5 have better-shifting gearboxes than any Elise or Exige. Thankfully there are some aftermarket parts that can rectify this.

Lotus Exige for sale

Putting that aside, I’m enjoying every moment. When you brake, there is this longitudinal effect (or rather the lack of movement) which few rivals can replicate. There is, what feels like, no body lean (pitch) towards the front. The tyres grip the tarmac and speed is lowered instantly. Furthermore, you also hear every little thing, whether it is road debris that is flicked up by the tyres or boost sounds from the supercharged system.

If the rear axle does brake away, especially at lower speeds, it gets back into line quickly. However, you will need to be a handy driver to do the same trick at higher speeds. Owing to the setup and lightweight, it happens quickly.

Low-mileage example

Lotus Exige for sale

This 2005 car has just under 30 000 km on the odo and there were no negative surprises during my time with the car. It is not everybody’s cup of tea, for sure, but that makes it even more special for those who love and understand these cars. It is a true hardcore sports car and demands a lot from the driver. It does not offer you any luxuries or comfort, but in return you will be thrilled whether you are going to the shops or on an extensive breakfast run.

This car’s supercharged system was fitted in South Africa. It also offers a water-methanol system which according to the current owner helps to keep the engine a little cooler when doing circuit work and when it is activated. 

Lotus Exige for sale

The Exige is a talkative little thing, demanding all of your concentration the faster you start to drive it. The result is that for those drivers who want to be challenged at times, and who enjoy receiving constant feedback, it will be an absolute joy to drive. 

Thank you to Creative Rides in Muizenberg for making this drive possible where this car is now for sale. View the listing here.


2005 Lotus Exige

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, supercharged

Power: 163 kW @ 7 800 rpm

Torque: 215 Nm @ 5 500 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD

Weight: 935 kg

0-100 km/h: 4.3 seconds

Top speed: 238 km/h

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