The Lotus Exige S is the second Lotus to receive an automatic transmission, following on from the Evora S IPS. The British brand, known for taking a purist stance, has relented to sports-car-buyer demand for a self-shifter option, though the stick-shift is expected to remain the more popular pick.
WHAT IS IT?
The Lotus Exige S automatic is of the same hardcore specification as the manual version – it has the same power and firmly focussed suspension. The new gearbox adds only a mere six kilograms, and makes the Exige S a fraction quicker to accelerate from 0-100km/h, at 3.9sec, and slightly less thirsty, at 9.6L/100km.
The automatic version costs $5000 more than the manual, at $137,990 in either coupe or roadster form, and offers manual paddle gear shifters and specific shift calibrations as part of its Sport and Track modes.
The six-speed automatic is of the conventional torque-converter type. It’s not as quick as a dual-clutch auto, but is smoother than some, and should be long-lived.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The Lotus Exige S automatic is on sale now in roadster and coupe versions, and Wheels was offered a first drive on roads from Sydney to the NSW Hunter Valley.
Alfa Romeo 4C
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The Exige S is among the most involving cars you can buy to drive on the road, and the automatic version removes a degree of that involvement. This will likely make the Exige S appealing to new buyers, but it’s not an auto for those who would weigh it up against the manual, because it uses a torque-converter auto, which can’t provide the rapid-fire shifts of the dual-clutch auto (as is used in the Alfa 4C), or its immediacy of response to the gear shift paddles.
PLUS: Hard-wired steering and talented chassis; full-on involvement; blinding speed
MINUS: Tardy response of paddle shifters; unassisted steering heavy for parking
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IN A world in which automatics dominate Porsche sales, and you can’t even buy a manual Ferrari or Lambo anymore, it seems fitting that Lotus, as the purest of the purists, held out for the longest, finally relenting in 2012 with a shiftless Evora.
The fact that a two-pedal Exige S now joins it doesn’t signal the death of the H-gate – not as long as customers keep buying the stick – and Lotus guesses at a sales split of around 50:50 between the ’boxes.
It’s difficult to imagine those who are attracted to the British brand of uncommon focus, unassisted steering and undiluted involvement being attracted to an Exige that embodies those ideals in every aspect except for the delivery of gear-lever and clutch-derived entertainment.
Yet, Hethel, having seen the direction the world’s supercar makers (and buyers) are going, and watching as new rival the Alfa Romeo 4C was born sans-manual, would’ve been mad not to offer the option.
The Exige S automatic isn’t a softened-off kerb-crawler. It still accelerates (and rides bad roads) like a bastard, its steering weighting up, kicking back and delivering unrivalled feedback when cornered.
Nothing changes other than the slotting in of an Aisin-via-Toyota-sourced six-speed conventional automatic, reprogrammed to deliver eager kick-down response and over-excited auto-downshifts in Sport and Track mode.
The auto adds six kilograms to the kerb weight, which is no longer feather-light now there’s a blown 3.5-litre V6 shoehorned behind the cabin, at 1172kg, but is still trimmer than most.
A single tenth is shaved from the 0-100km/h, now 3.9sec, according to claims, official economy falls from 10.1L/100km to 9.6, and the auto adds $5K.
Is this the autobox Lotus really wanted? Engineers would likely have preferred a dual-clutch, yet it was impossible to ignore the ready-made Toyota six-pack-’n’-slusher combo.
The auto’s response to the paddles, which are fixed to the steering column, isn’t nearly dual-clutch quick, and shift requests can be denied if you’re not in the acceptable revs/road speed window.
Without relent – and with six-pot snarl – the Exige S shoves its occupants in the back, via bum-numbing race seats, though torque converter slur subjectively takes the edge off compared with the DIY gearbox.
Few cars offer more raw fun than a Lotus Exige S automatic, then, but the manual version is one of them.
Engine: 3456cc V6, dohc, 24v, supercharger
Max power: 258kW @ 7000rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 4600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 9.6L/100km
On sale: Now