Street Legal Track Car

Lotus Exige S3 (2012-2021)


Models Covered:

(3.5 turbocharged petrol [S,Cup,Club Racer,350 Sport,380 Sport,410 Sport,430 Cup,390 Sport,420 Sport’,430 Cup])


For enthusiasts, the Lotus Exige is a precision weapon, a car which had bold dynamic claims to make in more powerful V6-engined third generation form. Designed by people who knew how to develop and set up true driving machines, this was a sportscar like no other. But does it make sense as a used buy?


Back in 2012, sportscar makers Lotus knew they had to expand their product line for an appeal beyond hard-core enthusiasts. But it was those very people who had built the brand buying models like the Exige.

The Exige in all its forms was a totally focused driving machine that summed up everything this British marque was really about. The kind of car that Lotus founder Colin Chapman used to make. Uncompromising sportscars of course, can take many different forms and back in 2012, Lotus liked to think that it offered a choice to suit the most demanding tastes. The Elise roadster for weekend enthusiasts. The pricier Evora coupe for day-to-day drivers wanting more power and luxury. And this Exige for track tearaways unwilling to compromise or adapt to life on tamer tarmac.

Appropriately, the Exige has racing roots, the original version based on the Sport Elise race car that Lotus produced for a one-make championship series in 1999. Raw and uncompromising with a huge rear wing and up to 190bhp from a lumpy old 1.8-litre MG Rover engine, it sold until 2001 and was brilliant, provided you confined it to a race circuit. The need for both more modern power and a car that would be slightly easier to live with brought us the second generation Exige in 2004, driven by a high-revving 1.8-litre Toyota unit, subsequently supercharged to put out as much as 257bhp. But it was still very much a track car first and foremost.

You could say the same about this third generation version, launched in mid-2012 in coupe and Roadster forms. Powered by a much pokier supercharged V6 engine, it was bigger and heavier than its ‘Series 2’ predecessor, but crucially also faster and more satisfying. Everything in fact the Exige ever promised to be, offering the fun and potential open-topped thrills of an Elise with the long distance power and luxury of an Evora. A ‘Cup’ version was launched in 2014, a ‘Club Racer’ version in 2015, and a ‘350 Sport’ derivative in 2016. Automatic paddleshift transmission was available from 2015. Faster versions followed; the ‘380 Sport’ in 2017 and in 2018 the ’410 Sport’ and the ‘430 Cup’. The final production run was based around three ‘Final Edition’ variants, the ‘390 Sport’, the ‘420 Sport’ and the ‘430 Cup’. The ‘Series 3’ model line sold until 2021.

What You Get

You can’t double the size of an engine in a car as small and terrier-like as an Exige and expect it not to fundamentally change. Replacing the MK2 model’s compact little four cylinder 1.8 with a hulking great 3.5-litre supercharged V6 required of course a bigger engine bay, so a stretch to the back of the car, a longer wheelbase and revised bodywork. The new powerplant also needed a different gearbox and new suspension to carry its weight and transmit its loads through different tyres, wheels and brakes. In other words, though some of the basic underpinnings of this design were carried over from the old ‘Series 2’ Exige, what we essentially had here was a completely different car.

Getting in and out remains something of a gymnastic feat, thanks to the combination of the high sills and the low roof line which will make the cockpit a tight fit for taller drivers. Should you take exception to this yet still somehow want an Exige, with this MK3 version there was the option of doing away with the roof altogether and opting for a separate Roadster version.

What To Look For

There aren’t too many Exige S3s out there to choose from but the ones you do find should be fairly robust. Avoid examples that have seen too many track days, checking tyres and brakes as a matter of course. Lotus hadn’t had a lot of experience in constructing classy cabin environments prior to making this car, so the trim can show signs of wear and tear quite quickly but the important bits are sturdy. Servicing is required every year or 9000 miles, with minor services costing about £500 and major services around £800, the latter required every four years. You should get the geometry of the car checked more frequently than that because even a little like kerbing will be enough to take the edge off this model’s sharp handling.

On The Road

The whole concept of a heavier Exige always seemed like a contradiction in terms – but that’s just what we got with this MK3 version, the adoption of the supercharged 3.5-litre Toyota V6 from the Evora S the main culprit in adding a hefty 250kgs to the kerb weight.

Mind you, this is still performance motoring stripped down to its barest essentials. All of the high-tech trickery that other sportscar makers use to optimise acceleration times, this car will demolish the rest to sixty sprint in just 3.8s, make 100mph from rest in less than 9s and top out at 170mph. Power steering didn’t even make the spec sheet, so there’s nothing to get in the way of the wonderfully connected feeling you have with the road whilst at the perfectly positioned wheel.

Not that technical innovation is totally absent here. Give any car 46% more power and 74% more torque and you need to give it a few extra tools to handle things more easily – namely in this case what Lotus called ‘DPM’ – ‘Dynamic Performance Management’. It’s all controlled via a rotary controller on the dash that adjusts throttle, engine sound, rev limit, ESP intervention and chassis response to suit the way you want to drive.


To criticise this car’s lack of day-to-day practicality is pointless. The designers needed to make this an easier car to drive to and from the racetracks it loves most. Good then, that they did that too. An Exige S3 of course won’t be for everyone. But for the committed few, it offers a unique ownership proposition. More of a sportscar. More of an experience. More of a Lotus.