The team which worked on the Exige. Centre: director of Lotus Design, Russell Carr, and left, Steven Crihns. Lotus Design has a total staff of 35, including eight designers, and also works on projects for external clients.
Auto and Design, July/August 2004
On the Geneva stand it looked caged in, intolerant of the static dimension and ready to be off racing round the track. The impression made by the new Lotus Exige was echoed and commented on by Director of Design Russell Carr: "At Lotus, design and driving characteristics are always inseparable. Handling is always a key feature of our cars so we design them to reflect that driving experience".
The Exige is pure sports, small in size but a true thoroughbred (3797 mm long, with a 2300 mm wheelbase), a two-seater coupe with a central transverse engine, a four cylinder 1.8 16 valve unit capable of delivering 192 bhp at 7800 rpm - combined with rear wheel drive and a manual six speed gearbox. A true Lotus, with all its aerodynamics, light weight, performance and driveability, based on the tried-andtested chassis of the Elise IIIR, but aimed at those who want to take to the roads in a car designed for the track. A demanding clientele, as its name in French suggests, the only exotic touch in a proudly all British car.
"We intend to develop the Elise range to create a much wider selection of cars", explains Carr. "On the one hand we have clients who love racing cars, and on the other those who want to use our cars every day. The Exige is part of this plan and is dedicated above all to those who want a car with a decidedly aggressive look, which can also be used on the track for pure driving enjoyment". The Exige already has a precedent in Lotus history, and this is in fact the second generation of the model: the first, which was a limited edition also created on an Elise base, was launched on to a number of markets at the beginning of 2000.
"As always with our projects", continues Carr, "the design is the result of a mix of visually dynamic elements and clearly functional needs. We also wanted to make more of a statement on the road, with highly aggressive styling for the front section. The sizeable air inlets needed for cooling thus becam a key design feature". Other st istic/functional elements of the Exige were dictated by the laws of aerodynamics. "The bodywor extends even further down around the tyres, for questions of aerodynamics. The rear is th area with the greatest concentration of features aimed at increasing negative lift to keep the car glued to the road, such as the added spoiler".
Thanks to this "intensive treat ment" the rear has a great design impact, no less so than the front view. The bonnet features open sections with metal mesh inserts, creating an interesting graphic effect: "It evokes the world of martial arts, with the grille which lets air into the engine recalling a Kendo mask", points out Steve Crijns, princips designer, who supervised the entire project. "With a car like this you can work in elements that you just couldn't use on a normal car, like this metal mesh We also wanted to show off thE technological aspects to their best effect to highlight their appeal. One example is the bon net hinges and the pedals, all ir aluminium. Details are vital in cars. Just take the Maserati Birdcage, one of our favourites it's the details that really make I special".
All the bodywork of the Exige created from light, durable CRC (glass reinforced composite), is the result of a specific design, with the exception of doors and sills. The interior is practically the same as the original car, except for a few minor elements and the trim. The project was completed in around 12 months. "It was a typical Lotus project, worked on by a fairly small team, but led by a great passion. That is the way to reach a solution quickly, as in the past, when we made racing cars and each of us had many different tasks", remembers Russell Carl.
"The fact that in Lotus we work closely with our engineering department influences the way we design: everything must be functional and very light. That is why the bodywork envelops the engine so closely - it is all about keeping weight to a minimum. And in this way our cars look agile and slender and once on board the cockpit cocoons you, fitting like a glove", adds Crijns.
Lotus design, a team of around 35 people, including 8 designers, also works for external clients. "We usually do around two or three big projects a year, and a couple of smaller ones; though for obvious reasons all of them are confidential", explains Carr. "So we are even more enthusiastic when we can show one of our projects, such as the Exige".
picture caption of an Exige:
After two years off the market, Lotus has reintroduced the Exige into its product range, in a version designed for use on both road and track. As for the first version, which came out in 2000, the new Exige is based on the Lotus Elise and features the same centrallypositioned engine.
picture caption of Exige drawings:
All the body work is the result of a specific design, apart from the doors and sills, which were kept on from the Elise 111R. A bold aggressive look was chosen for the front section, accentuated by the air inlets. Right, work on the 1:1 model in the Lotus Design Studios.
picture caption of Exige car:
A spoiler was added to the tail to enhance negative lift. The grille design onthe bonnet recalls the world of martial arts, and the masks used in Kendo.
Two details which confirm its racing vocation: the metal mesh inserts to let the engine breathe through the rear of the bonnet and the air outlet behind the front wheel.