When one lightweight, mid-engined sportscar isn't enough...
By Alex Cox
No manufacturer has a model range like Lotus. Ferrari and Lamborghini supply
hautecouture with cars that are faster but less agile. Pagani and Bugatti, in
their pursuit of shock and awe, make cars that are both more powerful and more
intimidating. Porsche has an SUV on its books.
Lotus does pure, undiluted driving pleasure. Does that come with
concessions?Absolutely. There are no cup-holders in a Lotus Evora, There are no
heated seats in a Lotus Exige. And there are no memory seats in a Lotus Elise.
None are needed.
If the Elise was the original cocky teenager that set modern Lotus on the
road to driving-zen, the Exige represented the wildchild 20-something who got
experimental haircuts and a tattoo. Now we have the Evora, the 30-something who
got a gymmembership, a black turtle-neck and their own office. It's the same
person, just in different guises and I've been given a day with a brand new test
car and some mountain roads to see just how the little car from Norfolk grew up.
The location of those mountain roads is America's Pacific North-West. An
invitation from Lotus's Seattle dealership, to try the new Evora in new
territory proves impossible to resist. Before diving into the car I start with a
quick drive in a 2007 Exige S to get reacquainted with the Lotus brand of
petrol-headonism and to provide a benchmark.
You don't get cockpit tinsel in an Exige. You get three small knurled dials
for the heating and ventilation, the occasional LEDtopped pimple controlling
headlights and electric windows and a stereo. You adjust the wingmirrors by
sticking your hand out of the window. None of this matters of course because
5000 rpm the Exige experiences a small psychotic episode. Give the accelerator a
hefty shove in second and the sound from behind you changes from hornet to
screaming buzz-saw. As the rev counter touches 6000, the addictive shove of
G-force strengthens. As it touches 7500 there's a lunatic whistle from the
supercharger and a small red light illuminates in your peripheral vision to tell
you that the Exige is ready to do it all over again in 3rd. This is 220 forced
induction horsepower in 915 kilos. It's the wonderful, violent, deftly balanced
little car that I remember. Time to switch to the Evora.
Within 5 minutes of the start of my drive I'm sitting in the rain at a freeway
on-ramp watching a blue on white 2009 Mustang GT next to me light up its tires.
Watching big V8 muscle break traction and then fishtail down through the spray
on to the road below is always good entertainment. It also provides a
demonstration of an alternate route to 200 bhp/ ton. The 1.5 ton Ford uses a 4.6
litre, 300 hp V8, the 1.3 ton Lotus a 3.5 litre 276 hp ‘six. The Mustang has the
edge on noise, but I'm headed to Lotus territory.
My destination is the Summit at Snoqualmie about 40 miles east of Seattle. It's a
ski resort in winter but I've received a tip that the area offers the right
setting for exercising a Lotus and a quick check on Google Earth shows a
promisingly twisty route just off the interstate. There's short freeway schlep
to get there so, sat in the Evora at 60 mph in the rain, there's time to take
Now, a Lotus Exige is no more designed as a freeway commuter than an F-15 Strike
Eagle is designed to take you and your family on holiday to Hawaii. The Evora
however is different. In sixth gear, there's a muted drone from the engine at
the 70 mph legal limit. Conversation doesn't require raised voices and road
surface imperfections are confidently
"Within five minutes of the start of my drive I'm sitting in the rain at a
freeway on-ramp, watching a blue on white 2009 Mustang GT next to me light up
absorbed. The Toyota engine provides useful torque when needed. It won't snap
your head back in the higher gears but overtaking is easy and drama free.
From the driver's seat the Evora dials back the highly-strung energy of the Exige
and there's even a nod towards gadgetry. To the right of the dials is a neat red
digital schematic of the car showing tyre pressures and vital fluid
temperatures. To the left a graphic shows the fuel tank level. Compared with the
Exige's cockpit, the slice of leather running across the dash, colour-matched to
the seats, is almost decadent. It's red leather in the car I'm driving, lending
the impression that the instruments are set into a red-lipped mouth ahead of the
driver. If it's what you want, the Evora can be as demanding as watching ESPN
with a mug of warm milk.
And yet...as you drive, the Lotus begins a stealthy campaign to corrupt your
calmer driving instincts. The steering wheel is small and always communicating.
The Evora isn't nervous, it's just acutely transparent. The wheel occasionally
writhes gently in your hands as the car explores a camber change before
returning obediently to its original path. The gearlever sprouts from a central
island and presents an aluminium sphere a perfect hand-drop away from the
steering wheel. In fact, the positioning in 4th and 6th is so good that you feel
the Evora constantly goading you to let your palm fall the bare inches to the
right and find the lower gears.
40 miles of temptation later my exit appears, I pull off the freeway and stop.
The narrow road ahead is deserted. It snakes downhill from where I sit, bounded
by huge boulders and, after a couple of hairpins, disappears from sight into a
pine forest complete with tourist-brochure ribbons of mist.
Time to learn more. Compared with the Exige the gear change has a longer throw
and a more metallic feel. There's a reassuring weigh to the controls, heavier
than the smaller car's, though not actually heavy. This, together with the
slightly larger dimensions mean that it's initially not quite as easily placed
as the Exige. But to hold the the steering wheel is to mainline uncut
information from the road beneath the wheels. The road's damp with mist and the
camber changes constantly but the Evora's ability to deploy most of its power
without getting twitchy means that confidence grows fast. After three or four
miles of an increasingly wide grin I turn around and make a return pass.
Pushing harder on the run up the hill, it's true that a little of the explosive
acceleration of the Exige has been sacrificed. The Evora nonetheless should
manage 0-60 in 4.9 seconds and go on to 160 mph and it does so making a more
cultured sound. There's more bass than the 1.8 'four can manage so the Evora
growls where the the Exige wails. The supercharger whine has gone, instead the
Evora provides the occasional, well mannered pop on the overrun. Close to the
top of the road again and around a corner the shrapnel of a small rock-fall
covers my half of the road. An abrupt swerve troubles the Lotus not at all, it
darts around the debris with insouciance.
Parked for a moment next to a resting lime green snow plough, a man with a parka
and black labrador delays getting into his truck to shout, "What's that car? Is
it a Lotus?" "Evora", I reply. He gives up on the truck and comes over. "How
much is it?" "Around 86 thousand dollars". He whistles. "Man I'd love to have
one of these. Guess I'll have to keep fixing the ski-lifts a little longer."
It's certainly a handsome car. Ultimately for me the styling loses a little of
the delicacy of the smaller cars. Hard to avoid perhaps, but there's a slight
heaviness about the rear haunches that introduces a hint of awkwardness for me.
That said, it stands up
On either side the wings slope down towards the centre-line and a single wiper
wiper sweeps across the screen. At traffic lights the heat wash from the front
radiators makes the view head dance gently. There's a hint of the Le Mans
well against the 911 in my opinion. In the dark metallic grey of this car, the
Evora has a well calculated predatory air about it.
As I head back into Seattle, kids, imprisoned in the third row of people
carriers, do literal doubletakes and proceed to ignore Spongebob Squarepants on
their TV screens as the Evora appears next to them. Their parents up front nudge
each other and point.
Lotuses all share a certain otherworldliness on the road, heightened amongst
pick-ups and SUVs. There's a sense that a Lotus on the freeway, like
roller-skating at a funeral, is technically possible but somehow, shocking. It's
not that the cars are ill at ease in that setting, just that alongside giant
Ford F350s, Grand Cherokees and Crown Victorias, their looks suggest you
recently arrived from a parallel dimension.
This sense of drama is likely to be a little reduced in the UK, where a Lotus is
a more familiar sight. But in any market, behind the wheel, it's easy to be
seduced by the Evora. The bonnet drops out of sight, leaving the road apparently
disappearing a foot ahead of your toes. On either side the wings slope down
towards the centre-line and a single wiper sweeps across the screen. At traffic
lights the heat wash from the front radiators makes the view ahead dance gently.
As with the smaller cars, there's a hint of the Le Mans Prototype here.
It's a confident car the Evora, unafraid to retain the DNA of the Elise and Exige
as it moves up a weight division. That it manages the transition successfully is
undoubted and welcome, the 911 has too long been untroubled in its niche. Its
price and perhaps the perceived lack of glamour in its Toyotasourced engine will
give some pause for thought. But for those who care about the sum of the
complete package, the balance of power, feel and response, the Evora represents
a company at the top of its game.
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