By Stuart Schwartzapfel
There is a common misconception that, in order to do right by Mother Nature, environmentally friendly vehicles must sacrifice performance and pure driving pleasure. Lotus Engineering shows the world that green can indeed be thrilling with its latest creation-the Exige 265E. The experimental vehicle, named for the 265 ponies that power it, is an E85 bioethanol-burning little two-seater. Geraint Castleton-White, head of powertrain for Lotus Engineering, says, "We wanted to prove the point that green sports cars can also be very high-performing sports cars."
A renewable alcohol fuel obtained from the sugar or starch in crops such as corn and sugar cane, ethanol offers economic and environmental advantages over fossil fuels. E85 fuel, frequently referred to as gasohol, is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. General Motors currently offers "flex fuel" power trains in many of their full-size pickup trucks and SUVs, which means they can run on either traditional gasoline or E85 fuel.
On the plus side, ethanol is a resource we will not soon run out of, and E85 comes in at a higher-than-gasoline 104 octane rating, which offers the potential for improved performance. Lotus engineers were able to squeeze 21% more horsepower and 16% more torque out of the E85-powered engine. Another advantage of E85 is its lower dependence on limited petroleum resources and the ability to produce it domestically using local resources. Lastly, many advocates claim that ethanol helps stabilize carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere. The only real downside is decreased fuel economy, although that is balanced by E85's lower cost per gallon.
GREEN'S TOP SUPERCAR. The Exige S-a special-edition Exige released this past February with a factory-installed supercharger-serves as the basis for the Exige 265E. The Exige model is essentially a hard-top, more hardcore version of the Elise roadster that has been sold in Europe (and recently America) since 1995. The track-ready Exige ups the performance ante with more aggressive wheels and tires, lowered suspension, added roll bars, improved aerodynamics and breathing, and a more rigid chassis thanks to the fixed roof.
The 265E is the fastest special-edition Exige ever produced; powered by the VVTL-i supercharged and intercooled 4-cylinder engine from the Exige S, but adapted to run on E85 fuel. The high-octane level of E85 provides a blast to 60 mph in 3.88 seconds and 100 mph in 9.2 seconds. Despite modifications to the engine, this tree-hugging rocket still weighs an impressive 2,050 lbs. Those numbers are supercar good and make the Exige 265E the world's fastest street-legal E85-fueled car, according to Lotus.
The Exige 265E gets all the equipment found on the standard Exige, plus some other goodies. Two large yellow and green stripes differentiate the Exige 265E from its cousins (the yellow represents bioethanol fuel; the green, the environment). Also added to the mix is a set of five-spoke lightweight Lotus Sport forged alloy wheels that have a slightly wider section than the production Exige S. The wheels are painted in a “High Power Silver” color.
There are currently no plans for production of the Exige 265E.
The Verdict: Lotus shows us that there is life after petroleum with a concept that defies stereotypes. Americans will eventually have to stop relying on fossil fuels, and it is nice to know there is some fun waiting on the other side of the energy rainbow. Saab already sells a BioPower 9-5 Aero in Sweden (accounting for 70% of Swedish 9-5 sales); why not Lotus in America?
Schwartzapfel, a certified car freak, writes BusinessWeek.com's Concept of the Week column. He has studied the automotive marketplace and worked as an advertising/marketing strategist for major manufacturers. He does not write about any car brands for which he currently works.