Here’s a strange one: an automatic Lotus. Hmm? Well it’s not exactly a new thing, we’ve had an automatic Evora before but it (kind of) made sense in that as that was a sort of grown up GT sports car. In the hardcore Exige S however… Yes it’s understandable why Lotus decided to take a pedal and gear stick out of the Exige, it opens it up to more buyers. But that fact of the matter is you don’t buy a Lotus to be like everyone else. You buy a Lotus because you care about driving and as far as I’m concerned, and in fact every self respecting petrolhead out there too, you can’t have a proper sports car unless it has a manual gearbox.
Or so it was the case a few years ago. Okay paddle shifters will never have the same connection between man and machine as a clutch pedal and gear stick. Paddles don’t quite give the same satisfaction as a well executed heel and toe manoeuvre and getting the gearchanges bang on. But autos, in particular dual-clutch systems, have come a damn long way since those 4-speed slushmatics of yesteryear. Not only do they help keep both hands on the wheel but they also turn sports cars into better all round cars, which help make them a bit more usable on a daily basis. Sure the purpose of a sports car isn’t to be driven to the shops everyday but adding the convenience can’t hurt sales.
Take a look around and more sports cars are adopting the F1-style paddle system. The Porsche GT3, Ferrari 458, and Jaguar F-Type are only available with paddle shifters. The Exige S at least has the option of a 6-speed manual which most buyers will go for as it is one of the last true manual sports cars. But by having a two-pedal option Lotus has opened the door to a new type of buyer. I’m not going to say the auto will be better but as long as it helps Lotus stay afloat then that’s fine by me. Lotus seem underrated and while everyone is getting all hot and worked up about the lightweight Alfa 4C, let’s not forget Lotus have been doing lightweight mid-engined sports cars for donkeys years.
The auto in the Exige S is the same ‘IPS’ Toyota-sourced gearbox from the Evora so it’s a tried and tested thing. It’s been tuned to suit the character of the 345bhp Exige S and is actually a tenth of second faster from 0-100 km/h than the manual, taking only 3.9 seconds While all this is nice and lovely, now that Lotus has gone towards the paddles does is this the sign of the end of the manual gearbox is nigh? I hope not. The only solution I can think of is buy them now. Buy as many manuals as you can while you still can and stockpile them for the future. Manual Audi R8, manual 911 Carrera, manual Aston Martin Vantage, manual Lotus Exige, manual BMW M4… get them all.