A lot of what you fancy More power, less weight: the Exige 380 Cup is the ultimate modern Lotus. Words Richard Aucock.
Never mind the suit. Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales is on his knees, pointing out the Rimstock alloy wheels, forged to be as light as possible. You’ll struggle to find a more bantamweight road car rim, he says. Check the AP Racing two-piece brake discs behind, he implores, before giving an impromptu masterclass on how the technology works. He’s barely dusted off his trousers before he’s back down enthusing over the carbonfibre front splitter, then dashing round to the rear wing: ‘200kg of downforce at 175mph!’ he shouts. Gales’s enthusiasm for Lotus is infectious.
And apt, given it’s to be bought by Geely, the Chinese giant that’s done amazing things for Volvo. For now, Gales’s outlet is the new Exige Cup 380, the road-legal track special he’s relishing. Lotus’s 911 GT3 RS, if you like. The 2018 Lotus Exige 380 Cup returns in limited numbers, after arriving as a Lotus Racing-built Cup back in 2014. In effect a ‘series 3.5’ model, with no more power than last year’s Cup 380, the latest features further-enhanced aero, a central-parking windscreen wiper and adjustable traction control. Lotus planned on selling 60. Then came an order from Japan for another 20: Gales wasn’t going to turn that down, particularly given Japan’s propensity to add exotic options such as yet more carbonfibre (the standard one already weighs just 1057kg dry, 62kg lighter than a normal Exige).
I drove it at Hethel straight after the Elise Cup 250, itself a magical new evolution. I thought I had my eye in, yet the step up in ability, potency and raw race-car-like responsiveness from the Exige Cup 380 left me breathless. It was like a driver doing a recce in a road car then getting down to the serious stuff in their racing car.
The engine howls with titanium-exhaust-enhanced purity, serving up its energy instantaneously. A supercharged 370bhp (375PS) and that tonne-and-a-bit kerb-weight give it racer-like energy and vibrancy: 3.4 seconds to 62mph without the aid of launch control or auto gearshifts is evidence of that. In comparison to the Elise, I arrive at corners way faster, brake monstrously hard and still come up short. No wonder Lotus is reviving its driver academy. Buy one of these and investment in training will buy you seconds of laptime.
As it has aero, it comes alive the faster you drive. Teetering around, slightly daunted, is one thing, but chewing some brave pills and attacking the quick stuff, feeling it start to work is something else. All 2017-spec Cups have Porsche-style bonnet vents, 20mm wider rear tyres and Nitron adjustable dampers: the whole package has incredible depth. Oh, and a level of driver feedback you thought modern road cars had lost.
Even at £83,000, it’s sold out. ‘I do hope they don’t get locked away in a collection,’ says Gales. ‘These are cars that simply must be driven.’ Boss’s orders, Cup 380 owners: you don’t want him on his hands and knees, do you?
Top and above You wait 20 years for the ultimate Elise derivative, then 80 arrive at once and immediately sell out. 370bhp, carbon, aero downforce… Think Lotus’s 911 GT3 RS.