Our verdict? It's the most fun you can have on four wheels!
The Exige is the latest from South African importers Pearl Automotive - also responsible for Bentley and Proton, and soon, the return of MG - and it slots in alongside the open-top Lotus Elise.
The Exige S2 was developed from an original track car, the Exige S1, which has gained global acclaim for its ride and handling, as well as its superb power to weight ratio.
A closed coupe using most of the design elements of the Elise, the Exige benefits from having a much stiffer body, making it even crisper than its open-topped brother.
At the same time the Exige gets the more powerful of the two Lotus drive trains - the 141 kW Toyota 2ZZ-GE with VVTL-I, linked to a close-ratio 6-speed gearbox that rockets the 875 kg (fully tanked) car from rest to 100 km/h in just over 5 seconds, and on to a top speed of 237 km/h.
On the way the 160 km/h mark is dismissed in just 13.2 seconds - the time it takes your average family hatchback to reach 100 km/h!
Amazingly, the Exige offers family car type fuel economy, averaging around 8.8 litres/100 km on the Euro test cycle. Fuel tank capacity of 43.5 litres.
The Exige comes with a high specification for a car of this type.
Built at the world-beating Lotus manufacturing facility in Hethel, England, it has a special aluminium composite chassis, clad with glass reinforced plastic bodywork that is built to award-winning standards.
The result is tight-fitting doors, absolutely no rattles or squeaks - even when we got the car onto the teeth-chattering rumble strips at the sides of the Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria - and high quality fixtures and fittings.
These include brand-new seats specially made for Lotus by ProBax, and designed to offer top support while at the same time reducing fatigue and encouraging blood flow.
And the list of suppliers for the brakes, suspension and other mechanical components reads like a who's who of the motor racing world - Brembo and Bilstein to name just two!
Because it's a car designed for those lucky people who can afford to take their Lotus club racing, but want to also use it as daily - or weekend - transport, the Exige has additional aerodynamic aids designed to extract even more downforce from the already-aerodynamic Elise package.
Thus we see a black front splitter in the airdam, side scoops to force more air into the engine compartment and radiators, a rear wing to give more downforce at the back, and a three-piece rear defuser to guide air from under the car.
There's also additional brake cooling slots aft of the front wheels.
As standard the Exige gets wide black 8-spoke alloy wheels shod with Yokohama Advan A048 LTS tyres, 195/50 R16 84W front and 225/45 R17 90W rear.
Air conditioning and ABS brakes are standard on the Exige, giving the car the sort of comfort customers expect at this price level, with central locking and a front-loader CD/radio standard.
However, to keep weight down it has manual window winders - made of polished aluminium.
But the Exige still feels very much the racer when you manage to clamber - inelegantly at first, but it improves with practice - over the high side sill, under the low door jamb and plop into the deeply-dished seat.
The dash panel is finished in black glove leather, as is the steering wheel centre, while the rim gets a perforated leather trim.
Leather also covers the sun visors and the gear-lever gaiter, while the gearknob is in polished aluminium.
The handbrake sleeve is also aluminium, and there's a lightweight aluminium foot-well divider.
Finishing off the prolific use of aluminium are polished alloy heater control knobs, and an aluminium footrest/brace for the passenger.
On top of the standard specification there are four additional packs that can be specified when ordering the car.
The first is a the Touring pack, and this adds extra sound insulation, auxiliary front driving lights, plain/perforated leather or suede-effect ProBax seats, plain leather door panels, perforated leather door inserts, electric windows, an interior stowage net, and a Blaupunkt DAB radio (CD-R/W, MP3, MMC/SD card).
Next up is the Super Touring pack. In addition to features found in the Touring pack this adds driver and passenger air bags, an engine start push button, a trinket tray divider, cup holder, and black carpet mats with embroidered Elise logo.
There's also a black plain/perforated leather high specification steering wheel, black plain leather gear-knob and black perforated leather handbrake-lever gaiter.
Then there are two Sport packs.
The first adds to the standard Exige twin oil coolers, switchable traction control, sport suspension (non-adjustable dampers and ride height) and Hi-Power silver finish split-type 7-spoke ultra lightweight 'narrow front' (6 inch) forged alloy wheels.
There's also a BS4 T45 steel roll-over hoop and struts, a cross-bar with harness mounts and black suede-effect/carbon-effect leather ProBax sport seats with embroidered Exige logo.
Top of the line for those who want to take part in track events is the Super Sport pack.
This gets features found in the Sport pack plus track suspension (one-way adjustable dampers and ride height), adjustable front anti-roll bar, double shear track control arm brace, and Hi-Power silver finish split-type 7-spoke ultra lightweight 'wide front' (6.5 inch) forged alloy wheels.
I drove cars with Super Touring and Super Sport packs.
As I mentioned, the Exige is not a car to get in and out of easily, and I would suggest you practice before you go off and park outside your local News Café!
But once in you're immediately comfortable, and the car sort of fits around you like the proverbial glove.
The clutch is light and as you pull away you immediately feel lots of grunt from low down. Once the revcounter hits the 6 000 r/min mark, though, everything changes, and all hell breaks loose as power rockets up to the red line, but you don't have time to look and instead wait for the red light to come on to tell you to change up?
You quickly slot up a gear, nail your foot to the floorboards, and the car simply powers through the corners as if it's stuck to the road, high G-forces pushing your body against the side bolsters.
The steering is very, very positive, with just 2.8 turns lock to lock, and enough power assistance to make driving easy without losing road feel.
Zwartkops is a lovely circuit to drive, but the first time you arrive at the hairpin after the back
K straight you feel you're going far too fast.
You brake hard, and the Lotus slows so rapidly that you're now too slow, and you have to ride the car hard to get through the bottom curve, the car reaching upwards of 160 km/h as you straighten up and then brake and gear down again.
The Exige with Super Touring pack allowed a high degree of ?chuckability?, and I managed to get the
car nicely sideways for the spectators as I powered past the clubhouse.
However, the Super Sport pack was having none of that. It gives a much firmer ride, while the traction control never allows you to even force sideways stuff.
Lotus has gone through various stages. Kit car maker, sports car maker, F1 car producer, and back to sports cars.
There was a time when the company had a reputation for shoddy workmanship, but all that has gone out of the window and Lotus has won awards for the quality of its manufacturing - in fact it has just been named Manufacturer of the Year for 2005 in a competition that includes all sorts of manufacturing, not just automotive.
On the other hand Pearl Automotive has developed a reputation for offering superb sales and service, at the sort of levels customers in this bracket expect.
Hopefully, a marriage made in heaven.
Lotus Exige S2 R499 999.
Touring pack R34 734; Super Touring pack R18 703.
Sport pack R18 703; Super Sport pack R34 734.