The sweet spot of the Exige range will be just right for some.
Lotus might only build three core models right now, but there are a mind-boggling number of derivatives and special editions. They range from entry-level cars right up to hardcore track toys with license plates, many of which can put some supercar noses out of joint. This is the Lotus Exige Sport 410, but really it should be called the Lotus Goldilocks because it represents the middle of the Exige range and for some it will be just right.
Lotus went about this the right way from day one. Instead of modifying the base Exige 350, it decided to tame the track-focused Cup 430 in a bid to provide some incredible performance in a more road-biased package. It gets the same adjustable Nitron suspension, AP Racing brakes, titanium exhaust and sticky Michelin Cup 2 tyres. Power comes from the familiar supercharged 3.5-litre V6 that kicks out 410bhp and 310lb ft torque in this guise. That performance potential is channeled to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission for a 0-62mph time of 3.4 seconds and a top speed that pushes 180mph.
In the eyes of Lotus, less is more and that is why the 410 is actually the lightest Exige at just over a tonne, providing you tick the right carbonfibre boxes. The intricate weave makes up the louvered deck lid, large rear wing, delicate air curtains, front splitter and sports seats. Said seats are made in-house and weigh just 6kg! There’s also less aero on the Sport 410 for a more subtle look — well, subtle for a lightweight sports car that is.
Our test car looked the business sat on the asphalt at Lotus HQ with its carbon elements contrasting the Gulf Blue paintwork. From a distance its silhouette is flowing with soft leading edges, but step closer and the body is full of aggressive details. Large intakes protrude from the car’s waist with angular sills and grilles to channel the air around and through the body. When it comes to appearance it might be marketed as the more civilised sibling, but the 410 is still a serious-looking thing.
Lotus’ dedication to function, simplicity and lightness is immediately apparent as you clamber over the sill as elegantly as you can. The lightweight seats grip you firmly while you survey a simplistic instrument binnacle and dashboard. It’s not what you’d call luxurious, and some materials aren’t befitting of a near-£86k car. Alcantara does trim segments of the dash and steering wheel, but the highlight is the gear lever with its exposed linkage. In many ways this sums up the Lotus ethos of function being beautiful, and if the form is also perceived to be then that’s just a bonus. It’s a sparse cabin, but one that serves a purpose.
Luggage space? There is a small storage area just behind the engine, big enough for a small bag or two, but we wouldn't put food shopping in there unless you want your frozen pizza well done before arriving home.
How does it drive?
Trigger the quaintly old-fashioned immobiliser and hit the starter button for the V6 to bark into life. The whole car fizzes like a child that’s had a few too many blue Smarties; it’s eager to get going from the first piston pump.
There’s no power steering so at low speeds you have to employ some muscle, but it soon lightens up on the move. Bumbling along you’ll notice this Lotus is still a firm car, but perhaps a little more compliant than you might expect — passengers aren’t rattling about in the cabin over high frequency bumps.
Heading out onto the country lanes where these sports cars have been developed for decades, and giving the 410 the freedom it desires, you are instantly reminded why Lotus has its legendary reputation. If something like a Mazda MX-5 is a communicative car, then the Exige is an absolute gossip with how much information it mainlines into the driver. The steering feedback and feel through your backside paints a vivid picture of the road beneath you. You actively engage with the contours of the road and the heavy but precise nature of this car’s controls. It’s this purity of man-machine connection that gives you the confidence to push on.
Bury the throttle and enjoy a very linear response from that 3.5-litre that finishes its torque curve with one final kick as you snatch another gear. The supercharger whines and builds before a 5,000rpm detonation of exhaust noise happens behind you. It is monstrously loud, and someone really should go back and check on the elderly lady whose house just got assaulted with this sonic boom.
As whippet-quick as the Exige Sport 410 feels on the road, it’s on track where you can really discover and exploit its limits. Selecting Track Mode puts most of the electronic nannies to bed, or everything can be totally switched off if you really want to test your mettle. Through the sweeping bends of the Hethel circuit the car’s high grip levels can be explored. With some temperature to aid them, those Cup 2 tyres bite and enable this Exige to corner like a baby blue mosquito. It really is such a joy to dart from apex to apex with such accuracy and conviction. You can feel the limit of adhesion, and with a bit of weight shifting and gentle persuasion at that pinnacle moment, the car will break traction and allow you to cremate the rear tyres.
We’d strongly urge every 410 owner to head to their nearest track on a regular basis.
Should I buy one?
That depends what you want and expect from a sports car, because at £85,600 the Lotus Exige 410 is not a decision to be taken lightly. If you are in the market for a Porsche 911 to use everyday of the week, then you’re not the ideal candidate. However, if it’s uncompromised performance that you’re after instead of heated seats, the Exige is one of the most tactile driving experiences out there.
The 410 does deliver a little more comfort than its track-ready brother, but you’d have to be pretty dedicated to treat it as your one and only car. That said, perhaps we’ve come too accustomed to sports cars that distance us from the actual experience of piloting a car. In that respect the Lotus Exige Sport 410 is something of an automotive awakening for those who are seeking the true thrill of driving.
Gallery: Lotus Exige Sport 410 first drive
Lotus Exige Sport 410 Coupe