The Lotus Exige Cup 380 is a hard-edged track tool for the dedicated circuit junkie. With 440 pounds of downforce—130 pounds more than that of the Exige Sport 380—at 178 miles an hour, and a fairly neutral setup with a reassuring rear end, it’s suited to the billiard-smooth racetrack. However, the Nurburgring has the surface of a public road, so how does it fare there?
The Exige Cup 380 is a featherweight with power, but not an overwhelming amount of torque. Thanks to an abundance of carbon and Lotus’ no-frills approach, there are only 2,490 pounds to push around. Providing the push is a supercharged 3.5-liter V6 which provides 375 horsepower at 6,700 rpm and 302 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. While it doesn’t have the shove from a stop like its turbocharged rivals possess, the motor does make life easy with its progressive power deployment.
That smooth delivery is complemented by the bump in aero grip, and the car is very well-behaved at speed. The downforce comes from a front splitter, bargeboards, diffuser surround, new larger aperture side pods, a new one-piece tailgate and a straight-cut, high-efficiency, motorsport-derived rear wing. Additionally, it wears much wider tires than its less athletic sibling. At the rear, the Cup uses 285/30 ZR1-sized Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires (as compared to the Sport’s 265/35 ZR18 tires), and as shown from the footage above, the traction is immense. Keep in mind it only wears a 215-section front tire, and it tends to border on understeer once that neutral sweet spot is pushed past.
With Nitron two-way adjustable dampers, a set of Eibach adjustable front and rear anti-roll bars, and ultra-lightweight forged alloy wheels, unsprung weight is minimal and the body control is stellar. It’s remarkably stable and it has the famed Lotus steering to place the car precisely.
The Exige Cup is obviously a little on the harsh side, though it rarely breaks away at the back end. The stability and the smooth delivery means test driver Christian Gebhardt can lean on the aero grip and keep his foot down without worry, but there’s a concerning amount of steering lock held well past the apex on a number of occasions. Therefore, it’s a car that excels in fast corners on smooth surfaces (note how planted it is in the section beginning at 4:15), but seems slightly handicapped in the slower corners. For something that looks so aggressive, it’s a little friendlier than one might assume—and perhaps an ideal car to teach the nature of downforce.
Interestingly, it only matches the TT RS’ time on the ‘Ring, which was beaten soundly by the Sport 380 at the shorter, slower, and smoother Hockenheim. Interestingly, the 718 Cayman S, which creates 309 lb-ft at 1,900 rpm, bests both of them by 1.5 seconds. Perhaps that comes down to the accessible torque present in the two turbocharged German entrants, or maybe it’s their slightly more road-oriented, compliant setups—since the Lotus’ specs should place it well ahead. As it goes to show, outright power and grip only mean so much if the suspension is not suited to the particular circuit.