If there’s one car I really am qualified to comment on, it’s the 2006-2007 Lotus Exige S. Because that’s my car.
It’s the car I pop to the shops in. Visit friends in. The car I wash (occasionally), and insure. The car I’d need to quickly jump into in an emergency, pick a mate up from a pub, or to go and see my Mum. Or anyone’s Mum.
It’s a 1796cc car that can rev to over 8,500 rpm on its way to work, but sit at traffic lights at a gentle tick over and not drink gallons of fuel.
Having bought my first Lotus, a track-prepped series 1 Elise 111S, back when I was young and a recession was a thing that happened in other countries, I was hooked on the directness and agility that I’ve been unable to replicate in any other marque. I always missed selling that titanium-coloured toy, even though I sold it in 2007 for a profit after two years of ownership. After a few sensible cars, I knew I had to get back to sports, so I did. Sort of. For a couple of years I enjoyed (yes, you read that right) a Smart Roadster with it’s great grip, tiny proportions and lack of frills which almost scratched the itch, but when circumstances aligned nicely I went Lotus-hunting. A typical pastime for us Norfolk-based petrolheads.
This time I knew I wanted to do it properly. For a start, I wasn’t going to have a Rover engine. After repairs were needed on my old Elise’s VVC engine I’d never truly forgiven the old fuddy-duddy marque and knew it should be Toyota VVTi sitting over my left shoulder from now on.
Having decided that, I was lucky that my budget could stretch beyond the base 140ish (Elise) and 190ish (Elise and Exige) bhp variants and turn it all the way up to 220ish (Exige only). Short of some rare hyper-tuned models with 240 or 260bhp which appeared in ’08 and ’09 (and my colleague was lucky enough to experience for Influx), this was the pinnacle of Exige ownership and, at the time of its launch, the quickest roadgoing Lotus in the 60mph-scented sector of schoolboy bragging rights (officially 4.1 seconds, if you’re interested. Under 4 with the right tyres).
I’d like to say that the colour wasn’t important, to say that I’m not interested in how it looks, but I can’t. Although there’s no rubbish or undesirable colour, I wanted black or white. And it was after a few months after searching, researching, enquiring, umming and ahhing that the car that fit the bill became available for sale at the reassuringly-titled Car Adviser in Doncaster. It was a Touring model – which to me meant maybe it could be a bit compromised. However, it turns out a few half-hearted tiny (lightweight, I’m sure Lotus would advertise them) sun visors, some small pieces of carpet and an air con pump were what Lotus thought made a luxury car, so it was a sacrifice I was happy to make.
I didn’t even test drive it. The garage’s reputation preceded it, and with a mate who teaches auto repairs at the College of West Anglia giving it a thumbs up whilst he was grinning from ear to ear I was happy the car was as good as they promised and, to be fair, you can’t really test an Exige on the public roads. Especially as its real talents lie in braking and cornering, rather than that 4 second blur between standstill and three points on your licence.
So the first proper prod of the throttle and foray into the perfomance-cam side of the rev counter came on the journey south from Donny. In hindsight, I should’ve pre-warned my friend.
Heading down a sliproad onto the A1 motorway, I’m guessing in third gear, we shot from sanity to speed limit as quickly as my friend’s head whacked into the headrest. He said some words he wouldn’t want his kids to hear, and I felt alive again. In that couple of seconds I had returned to 2007, and I knew instantly that I’d been missing that pulse of petrol-adrenalin mix through my veins for too long.
And how do I feel about the car now? After shopping trips where bags have been on the passenger’s lap, in deep rain and fog, or commuting to work in standstill traffic? I feel the same as I did when I first saw it. The same as the young kids that point and shout “wow!”, I feel the same as the people who check to see if anyone’s looking before taking a picture of it, I feel the same as the guy who came up to me in a petrol station to say “well done” for having a nice car at my age – I feel like it brightens my day, just by knowing it’s there. And when you can feel like that, and when you can look at no other car with more desire than you have for the one you own, you know it was a great decision. Even if you have to have sunvisors weighing your race car down.