Without knowing much about the two different cars it would be understandable to get the Lotus Elise and Exige confused with each other. They are, after all, both roughly the same wheel-base, quite low to the ground and have many similar styling similarities. When you start to learn the differences between the two cars, both aesthetically and in regards to performance, you will realize that actually, these are two quite different cars aimed at two different types of people.
What’s the difference between a Lotus Elise and Exige? The main differences between the Lotus Elise and the Lotus Exige is that the Exige has a more aggressive body, including a rear spoiler and a roof scoop. Also, the Exige has more power and is considered a more track-focused car.
Who are Lotus?
Lotus is a British-based sports car company who are now owned by the Chinese company Geely. Lotus was originally owned by (of course) Colin Chapman who founded the company in 1952. As far as their sports cars are concerned, they are perhaps best known for producing light-weight cars with particularly good handling. This emphasis on light-weight and performance has always been the backbone of everything Lotus has produced.
Yes, the interiors of some of these cars may seem a bit basic, but the interior luxury is not the reason why you buy a Lotus. They are drivers cars. They are cars for people more interested in how the car feels on the road than how many flashing lights and gadgets you can fit inside the cabin.
I think I will always remember my first Lotus (pic below) – it was my first ‘decent’ car and was acquired just before the turn of the century. I remember going into the garage looking to originally buy the Lotus Elan but the salesman somehow convinced me that with a finance deal I could then ‘afford’ the Elise S1. I think he could have offered me any finance package that day and I would have accepted it after seeing the Deep Purple example that was soon to become my own.
The roof leaked. I used to get into it the morning after it rained overnight and there was a puddle in the drivers well. It was difficult to get in and out due to the chassis design. The radio didn’t work properly and the engine felt a little under-powered. None of this mattered though. It was low to the ground, felt like you were doing 100 when you were doing 50 and handling was as good as you’d expect.
Build quality has improved these days and manufacturers can’t get away with the things people could class as ‘quaint’ 20 years ago. Nowadays, Lotus offers arguably, the ultimate drivers cars.
Lotus Elise Summary
The Lotus Elise has been around for probably longer than you think. You may be surprised to hear that it was first released in 1996 and there really aren’t many sports cars that have been in production for almost 25 years. Of course, there have been many variations of the car during that time. In 1998 the Series 1 was produced, followed by the Series 2 in 2000 which included a major overhaul, partly due to new European regulations. The Series 3 arrived in 2010 but at first glance, there’s not really much difference between the Series 2 and Series 3.
The Elise though is essentially a two-seater, mid-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car. It is lightweight (the original S1 weighed in at just 755 Kg!) and has a strong emphasis on driver-engagement. Having had three Elise’s myself, I can most certainly vouch for this. There really isn’t much like the Elise on the road. You sit low on the ground and the feedback you get from the steering wheel is astonishing. You can feel every nuance on the road surface and the closest you can get to the feeling is to probably sit yourself in a go-kart! The Lotus Elise (and the Exige) are probably the ultimate track-day car that you can comfortably drive to the track itself in. Yes, you might get a little more feedback from a Caterham 7 or an Ariel Atom, but the Lotus is more rounded – you can enjoy yourself both on the track and most definitely off it.
Lotus Exige Summary
The Lotus Exige is fundamentally a more hard-core, raw version of the Lotus Elise. Like the Elise, the Exige has been around for a long time also (since 2000) and also like the Elise, there have been many models since that time including 3 major Series lines. Although the Elise and Exige used to share the same engine, the Exige now has its own V6 variant since the Series 3 from 2012.
The Exige has always been the more aggressive of the two Lotus brothers and the S1 Exige felt more like a track-focused car than a road car. I remember having a passenger ride on a track-day in one and it appeared quite difficult to drive. Great once mastered but not a lot of torque and you had to keep the revs high to get the most of it. I liked this though as it made it different from other cars and made you feel like you were driving something a bit special – which you were!
Differences Between the Elise and Exige
The Lotus Elise and Exige share many things, including the same chassis but there are many subtle differences that you may not first realize, we take a look at the major points below. As there have been many variants, I’m grouping them via the different Series models and generally ignoring the purely track-focused models.
Series 1 Models
Elise (original version, from 1996)
- Power came from the 1.8-liter Rover K-Series, producing 118 bhp
- Weight was only 725 Kg (1598 lbs)
- Acceleration was 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds
- Elise 111S produced from 1999, still utilizing the Rover 1.8 K-series
- Increase in horsepower to 143 bhp
Exige (original version 2000-2002)
- Power also derived from the 1.8-liter Rover K-Series but producing 180 bhp
- Acceleration was 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds
- Different headlights to the Elise
- Included Front Splitter, Rear Spoiler, hardtop roof, and rear spoiler
Series 2 Models
The Series 2 brought noticeable changes to the appearance of both the Elise and the Exige but also saw many other improvements.
- The base version sold from 2000
- Used the same K-Series 1.8 liter Rover engine, producing 120 bhp
- Kerb weight of just 860 Kg (1896 lbs)
- Elise 111S available that produced 160 bhp and also the 135R and Sport 190 versions
- Elise 111R model that utilized the new Toyota 190 hp engine that delivered 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds
Exige S2 (2004-2006)
- Utilized the Toyota engine that delivered 190 hp
- 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds with a top speed of 147 mph
- Exige S arrived in 2006 with a supercharged Toyota engine delivering 220 bhp. Kerb weight was just 933 Kg (2057 lbs), had a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 148 mph.
- Exige S 240 (and S 260) version improved performance of 0-60 mph time to just 4 seconds
Series 3 Models
Elise S3 (2010 onwards)
- Changes to headlight design (now single units)
- New model available with a 1.6-liter engine delivering 134 hp (ended production in 2018)
- The 1.8-liter engine equipped with a supercharger, producing 217 hp
- Cup 220 Elise available from 2015 delivering 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 140 mph
- Cup 250 Elise available from 2016, bringing the 0-60 mph time down to 3.9 seconds with 243 bhp and increasing the top speed to 154 mph.
- Cup 260 Elise available from 2017, further reducing the acceleration time to just 3.8 seconds for 60 mph.
Exige S3 (2012 onwards)
- Exige S V6 utilized a 3.5 liter V6 with 345 hp. Acceleration to 60 mph was 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 172 mph.
- Exige 360 produced from 2016 with a supercharged 3.5-liter engine. Acceleration was still at 3.8 seconds.
- Exige Cup 430 produced from 2017, decreasing the 60 mph time to only 3.2 seconds and increasing the top speed to 180 mph.
As you can see from the above, there are numerous different versions of both the Elise and the Exige spanning around 25 years so it’s actually quite difficult to compare like for like. However, what we can say is that the Lotus Exige is a more track-focused version of the Elise. It has a more aggressive stance to it and with its rear wing provides significantly more downforce than the Elise. It doesn’t just stop with the looks though as the Exige is more powerful than the Elise and this is much more noticeable in the Series 3 than the Series 1.
Both cars are awesome, there’s no escaping that. They are though for a certain type of person. A person who doesn’t need the cockpit of their car to look like the interior of some space ship from the future. They are designed for the person who puts more emphasis on the driving experience than the aesthetics. Lotus do what they do very well and I for one, hope they continue down this road for the foreseeable future!