You can’t buy a Lotus Exige to drive on the road in the United States.
Since 2011, when the model was redesigned and moved to Toyota V6 power, it’s been relegated to the track. Airbag, headlight, and other regulations ensure the manic sports car stays off our roads.
But that’s not the case in Europe, where you aren’t committing a crime by driving your hornet-nest-posing-as-a-car on the road. Earlier this year, we did just that when we drove the Exige Cup 380, a car that we deemed “too much fun to be street legal.” All 60 examples were sold before Lotus was even able to quote a price to track day fiends in the US.
So the company came up with a new version, one that would be a regular production model, not a limited edition. And one that would be sold in America, but still just for track duty. Dubbed the Exige Cup 430, it’s a 430-horsepower bonkers maniac of a car, not to mention the quickest car that Lotus has ever built.
Then there’s the way it sounds. It’s powered by a 3.5 liter Toyota V6 with an Edelbrock supercharger attached, the same engine in the Evora GT430. But with so much less weight to carry around and less separating the driver from the sound, it feels totally different. That’s linked to the same six-speed manual as the Evora with the same ratios, but smaller wheels effectively give it shorter gearing.
On the road, there is nothing that can keep up with the Exige. I don’t care what you’re driving or what road you’re on, the Exige Cup 430 is miles quicker. There is no lag, no delay, this is immediacy in its purest form. It has grip for days and feels unapologetically stiff, but isn’t injury-inducing. If you’re in a Cup 430, you know what you’re expecting.
At first, on Lotus’s cold, wet track, I’m hesitant. I’m told that the Exige’s short wheelbase will make it snap quicker and be more unpredictable than an Evora, particularly in the soaking conditions. So I take it easy. Then I take it less easy. Then I start pushing. It’s brilliant.
When we drove the Cup 380 earlier this year, we noted that the variable traction control system would be most useful in the wet, where it could be adjusted on the fly from corner to corner, depending on how wet it is. Instead of using the brakes, Lotus’s traction control cuts spark when it senses slip from the rear wheels, the perfect way to get a reliable, controllable reaction from the car. It won’t cut in abruptly like brake controlled TC and will still allow slip. I spent the better part of an hour on track with the Cup 430, flicking the rotary dial every few laps to see how the car would react.
That’s the intent. The Cup 430 is supposed to go to a lapping event and run all day. But it’s also supposed to drive home, which we can’t take advantage of. That’s the real shame, since it’s the perfect car for someone who loves to go to the track but doesn’t have room for a trailer.