The $59,890 Lotus Exige S (www.lotuscars.com) may look like a bantamweight in this company of heavy hitters, but make no mistake: This mid-engine racer swings a mighty punch. Key to its phenomenal pace is its weight—or lack thereof. Beneath those composite curves sits Lotus’ advanced bonded aluminum chassis. Incredibly stiff and light—the Exige weighs an anorexic 2,057 pounds—the chassis has allowed the Lotus engineers to hone the Exige’s responses to a scalpel-sharp edge. The 218 hp, 1.8-liter, supercharged screamer sitting just behind your shoulders provides devastating acceleration. When whipped through its close-ratio, 6-speed manual transmission, the Exige will reach 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and not stop until it is nudging 150 mph. This is a fabulously fast car with almost telepathic reactions. It corners, brakes, and accelerates with fingertip-light tactility and synapse-sparking intuition, allowing the Exige to run rings around far more exotic metal.
Mercedes-Benz put its standard SLR on a diet and sent it to the gym to create its fastest car ever, the limited-edition Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR 722 (www.mbusa.com). The moniker honors Sir Stirling Moss’ record-breaking run in the 1955 Mille Miglia endurance race. Leaving at 7:22 am, Moss and copilot Denis Jenkinson averaged in excess of 100 mph on 1,000 miles of public Italian roads. Abundant lightweight carbon fiber, an uprated suspension, and heavily revised aerodynamics complement an engine that is even more powerful than the base model SLR’s. The 722’s handbuilt, 5.5-liter, supercharged V-8 develops a massive 650 hp at 6,500 rpm. The $480,000 722 may lack the driver involvement of a bona fide supercar, but it does offer a 209 mph top speed, outlandish looks, and—with only 150 being built—exclusivity.
The $123,000 Porsche 911 Turbo (www.porsche.com/usa) may look much like any other 911, but it is one of the most complete and accomplished driver’s cars. It is ferociously quick; two turbo chargers breathe on a motorsport-derived, 3.6-liter, flat-six engine, banishing lag and delivering the kind of road-rippling acceleration Ferrari drivers can only wish for. When you factor in its all-wheel-drive layout, beautifully weighted and communicative steering, and a chassis touched with genius, you have a car that can annihilate any rival with adrenaline-fueled venom. The Turbo is almost the antithesis of the traditional supercar. It is compact, reliable, agile, comfortable; offers excellent visibility; and is as easy to drive slowly as it is to drive quickly. Don’t be put off by the ubiquity of the 911; the car is popular, but for all the right reasons.