Bonus torque

BOWEN ROAD IS a blip and Borrett Road a blur, until my passenger, Taddeo Bonelli, taps the dashboard of this Lotus Exige S. The two-seater stops on a button at the Kennedy Road turn. Bonelli is Lotus' head of international development, and his choice of words is more careful than my selection of gears. He doesn't exactly tell me to stop driving his marque's pride and joy like a plonker, but he suggests - in the nicest possible way - that my hands should be at 'nine and three o'clock' on the steering wheel, and that I might show the six-speed gearbox some respect.

'You'll get more out of this car if you change gear smoothly, instead of hurrying through the gate,' Bonelli says. 'You'll find this Exige S prefers kinder drivers.'

Ouch. But then I did ask Bonelli to rein me in if I got silly, because the 218-brake horsepowered Exige S is actually a racing car built for road use and can bring out your inner twit in the jerk of Hong Kong traffic.

The Exige S looks as aggressive as a banded krait, and the meanness of its design can awe an everyman into acting tough. Handbuilt as an epoxy-bonded aluminium speed statement, it sends my 50-year-old kneecaps aclack under Police Headquarters, with every grille and new airscoop to the intercooler blacked up to augment a range of 20 thrusting colours, including this test car's metallic laser blue.

You generate plenty of anorak cred with 16-inch Yokohama Advan A048s on the front, and 17's on the rear under short overhangs, along with an undertray that improves downforce, the faster you go. The spoiler, also tilted for downthrust at 11.5 degrees, hints at the test car's 238km/h top speed and promise of a 100km/h sprint in 4.3 seconds, which is supercar territory.

Entry into the spartan, aluminium-finished cabin - and Lotus' track heritage - involves a manly stride over a wide metal sill, then a bob under the low roof that could send bad backs, high heels and tight dresses screaming for a Porsche Cayman. The black cloth ProBax orthopaedic seats seem utilitarian, but mould to the spine in supreme comfort.

The Mini Cooper S and Porsche Boxster seem roomier, but there's plenty of head and legroom in the Exige S for two six-footers and, contrary to overseas reports, you can shift and brake without touching your passenger's elbows and knees. The pedals are comfy and sensitive, but there's little luxury beyond the small leather steering wheel, an iPod connection to the four-speaker stereo CD player and air conditioning, because the 935kg Exige S is all about weight-saving simplicity.

The Exige S gives you face all over town. Suits, doormen and chauffeurs smile at this Lotus, but the point of this drive is to avoid attention. Rather than whizz the Exige S around the Zhuhai circuit, as the local glossies did in November, I'm assessing whether you can actually enjoy this car in a city of 275 speed cameras, 146 of which are on Hong Kong Island.

The Exige S isn't the perfect Hong Kong car. Front and side visibility's good, but your rear-view is blocked by the intercooler via a redundant mirror, and parking's so difficult that you might fit a reversing camera on your rear bumper, or stick a rubber ring at the back of your parking slot.

Beyond that, the Exige S is a driver's heaven. The steering wheel is snug, the instrumentation is ergonomic and legible and the Exige S's supercharged, 1.8-litre, four-cylinder Toyota engine seems quieter than expected. The gears take a while to get used to - with a more tender touch, I stop shifting into fifth instead of third after about an hour of dressage in the Mid-Levels. Get the changes right and, as Bonelli says, the Exige S flatters we everymen with a beautiful drive. The Exige S thrives in tunnel traffic, snatching lane switches with the nip of the Peugeot 207 GT. Manoeuvring is surprisingly easy at legal speeds. Whereas dearer supercars strain in low gears, the Lotus is docile in first and second, and overtaking is easy in an oomphy third. Acceleration and braking are glorious on Shouson Hill Road.

Sixth gear seems wasted, but an exuberant driver can still find fourth in open, possibly unfilmed Southside stretches between the Chung Hum Kok and Stanley junctions. Warnings of lag from the supercharger prove ill-founded at unprintable speeds from the Tai Tam Reservoir to Shek O, where the Exige S corners, glued to the tarmac. The ride is surprisingly smooth and consumption is pretty dolphin-kissing, too, averaging 12.3 l/100 km (22.9mpg) in town and belching 216g/km of CO2, which is 15g/km less fug than a Lexus IS250 saloon.

The Exige S pulls the rich, too. When we overtake a HK$3.588-million Ferrari 599 Fiorano (0-100km in 3.7 seconds and 499g/km) on Wong Nei Chong Gap Road, its driver catches up for a wave. This Lotus can therefore prove that you've arrived in this town, and at a fraction of a supercar's price.

You might need an alert guardian angel, tighter speed restrictions on the Southside, or a friend such as Bonelli to help keep you in line, but the Exige S has shown enough hints of its mesmerising track potential on Hong Kong roads to seduce you into a crazy showroom moment to savour for the rest of your life. There are more sensible ways to blow a bonus, but I can't think of a happier, more exhilarating reward.

William Wadsworth has just been elected a member of Britain's Guild of Motoring Writers