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A compelling British sports car, the Lotus Evora combines excellent performance with good fuel economy. With its 2+2 seating, mid-engine configuration and exotic styling, the Evora is a pure sports car yet it's surprisingly practical. This is the first new Lotus nameplate in 15 years, the product of an exclusive brand with a 62-year heritage.
The Evora is not the first 2+2 car Lotus ever offered, but it is the first since 1992. While the back seat is not roomy, it can accommodate a smaller person (5-feet and under) sitting behind a 6-foot, 1-inch driver.
For the Evora, like other Lotus cars, the primary focus is on pure driving dynamics. A lightweight forged-aluminum suspension provides impressive handling and side-to-side balance. Precise steering and powerful brakes that come on strong with just a light touch are also part of the formula. Because of the car's relatively light weight, a 276-horsepower V6 provides brisk acceleration. The agile Evora is capable of over 1g lateral acceleration, can hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and brake from 60 mph in 100 feet. Top speed is 162 mph.
Its exotic appearance combines fluid surfaces, functional cooling ducts, and crisp lines. Most body panels are lightweight composite, and the chassis makes extensive use of aluminum. Lotus cars are built to be among the lightest on the road, and the Evora is no exception.
A greater degree of practicality distinguishes the Evora from other similarly compelling Lotus cars. Along with the back seat for small passengers, the Evora offers tolerable ride quality, more amenities, an easier-to-drive V6, and bigger storage areas. It is easier to get in and out of than the Lotus Elise, and the 2+2 configuration will likely lead to lower insurance premiums. That makes the Evora a more comfortable Lotus that can be driven daily, not just a track/weekend car.
That said, practical is a relative term. The console houses a shifter, not cup holders, and the seats are designed to hold the occupants firmly in place. There is a navigation system and Alpine audio system, but engine sound levels rise sharply after 3500 rpm. The Evora is, first and foremost, about the driving experience.
Visually, the Evora is evocative from every angle. Close inspection yields a race-born obsession to save weight. Even hidden pieces, like hinges on the rear hatch and armrest, are made from extruded aluminum.
Driving the Evora on public roads can be an exercise in self-control. The car rewards a confident driver with incredible levels of grip, and a nearly imperceptible amount of body roll from side to side. Less experienced drivers will find the Evora forgiving of early-apex cornering and mis-judged entries. The car loves tight, diminishing-radius turns followed by sudden twists in the opposite direction. It tolerates choppy surfaces with no apparent loss of control, and keeps tires on the pavement when a rising section of road might get another car airborne. Serious braking power is immediately available by lightly feathering the pedal. Steering is direct and linear, requiring minimal hand movement on the D-shaped, magnesium steering wheel.
Electronic stability control and ABS are standard on the Evora. The systems seem to have a very high threshold, especially with the Sport package, which tweaks the thresholds higher. They are hard to trigger, designed to function as driver aids without interfering with sportive driving. However, even these unobtrusive systems can be switched off should the driver choose.
The Evora is currently the world's only mid-engine 2+2 production car. Approximately 2000 will be built in the coming year, with about 700 earmarked for sale in North America. While there are no exact competitors, size and price range suggest the Evora might be shopped against the mid-engine two-seat Porsche Cayman S. Currently, there are 48 Lotus dealers in the United States, and three in Canada. While regular oil changes and the like could be handled practically anywhere, a buyer would need access to a Lotus dealer for proper electronic diagnosis and tuning.
The exterior of the Lotus Evora balances style with race-bred aerodynamic considerations such as drag, downforce and cooling. A short rear overhang and long front overhang, combined with larger wheels at the rear, create a seductive, crouching stance.
The engine, located behind the rear seat, is cooled via a top-exit radiator vent; the other vents are also functional. A floating rear wing actually produces downforce at speeds over 100 mph.
The car's remarkable presence is best appreciated in person. It's a cliche, but photographs really do not convey the elegance of the design. The Evora is more than pretty; the exposed vents, huge brakes and attention to airflow management suggest a high-strung, temperamental racecar dressed in formal evening wear.
The lines are so smoothly unified, front to rear, that the back seat is hidden. The car looks like a mid-engine sports car, but not a four-seater.
The roofline is just 48 inches off the ground, so bystanders look down on a curvaceous body with wide, muscular shoulders. Mirrors are small but functional. Two different wheel sizes are used: 18x8 inches at the front, and larger, wider 19x9.5 inches at the rear. Standard wheels are cast alloy; three other wheel designs are available, including forged alloy wheels. Ardent Red and British Racing Green are standard, with 18 metallic and premium colors available. Since cars can be ordered from the factory, a customer could theoretically have practically any color they desire.
Trunk space is limited, big enough for one golf bag or a few bags of groceries. To carry more stuff, there is the back seat.
The interior of the Evora is at the same time sparse and sophisticated, appearing not manufactured, but crafted. Our test unit had the Premium Package, which includes leather covering the lower dash, door panel, door pockets, side panels, center console, and center armrest. Practically every interior surface is trimmed in fragrant, soft leather.
Controls and switches are illuminated. Unlike some Lotus cars, there are floor mats, accent lighting, and electric mirrors. Air conditioning and power windows are standard. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes. The rear window is made from insulated, double-glazed glass, filled with Argon gas, and it has a defroster.
Entry and exit are made easier compared with the Elise by a lower sill and a wider door opening, although the seat is definitely low to the ground. Seats are firm but not hard, with appropriately wide side bolsters. The seats are adjustable, unlike those in the Elise. Brief door storage bins have small recesses that might serve as cup holders.
There is a surprising amount of front legroom and headroom. As a 50th percentile male, I had to adjust the seat well forward to reach the clutch bottom.
Our test unit had the Technology Package, which includes an upgraded Alpine audio system with additional amplification. Two 6.25-inch two-way speakers, dash-mounted tweeters, and a separately amplified 150-watt subwoofer deliver sound. We have to admit, we never thought about turning it on, although we did drive with the map illuminated on the Navigation System screen. Full connectivity for iPod touch, Nano and other models is standard with a dock connector, and there is also a standard Aux input. Bluetooth wireless and USB jacks are part of the optional Technology Package.
Even though the above equipment transforms the interior into a more refined, everyday driving space, it does add weight. The Evora is about 1000 pounds heavier than the smaller, spartan Elise two-seater. But the Evora interior doesn't look unfinished, or like a car that someone tore everything out of to make a faster autocrosser. Nor does it look like a kit car. It has the look of a premium car, hand built, by people who care about what they are doing.
Our route took us from downtown San Diego, California, along a mix of highways and mountain byways, including County Highway 1, known in that region as the Sunrise Highway. Along the way we saw rough surfaces, smooth surfaces, tight turns and wide-open superhighways.
It takes a little effort to swing down into the driver's seat, but there is no need to be a contortionist. The instrument panel is front and center, dominated by a 9000-rpm tach and 180-mph speedometer with red needles against a charcoal background. Adjusting the mirrors is a bit awkward, but it only takes a second and we're off.
The Evora looks racy enough to be intimidating, but happily, driving it is a playful experience. Once on the move, the car is a sweetheart, easy to shift, easy to steer, and ready to go along with whatever you have in mind. It's not fussy or temperamental at all.
That said, the Evora can be intoxicating, and will reward forays into higher rpm levels. The engine bursts into full song just above 3500 rpm. With the sport transmission in Sport mode, there is a sweet spot at about 4000 rpm, and the engine pulls strongly all the way up to 6700, where it bumps into the rev limiter. Its 3.5-liter engine is a Toyota V6, the optional engine in the Camry, but with Lotus tuning and Lotus engine management, it revs a little higher and makes a little more power. The Evora is so much lighter than a Camry, and some 450 pounds lighter than a Porsche 911, that the car responds to throttle with a pleasing, potentially addictive rush.
There are two choices of gearbox: standard and Sport-ratio. After driving on the Sport gearbox, we think it's the best choice for North American roads. Ratios in the Sport gearbox are a little lower than those in the standard gearbox, starting with third gear. It's probably the gearbox the Evora should have for American roads and American speed limits, lending itself to better acceleration and reducing the need for shifting. The standard gearbox, with its much taller overdrive sixth gear, might be best for high-speed European highways and European drivers who love to shift. According to Lotus testing, the Sport gearbox is actually the better transmission for fuel economy. In short, the Sport gearbox results in a quicker and more fuel-efficient Evora, so it gets our vote.
The 2011 Evora will be offered with a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. We hope there won't be many takers. We found the manual six-speed easy to shift, with short throw and light clutch pressure. Most of the roads we traveled allowed us to shift between second and third most of the time, with short straights that could prompt a shift into fourth gear when we really wanted to hustle. But a great deal of shifting and downshifting is really not required. The engine has a broad range of operation, and the Sport gearing is such that operating speeds between 20 and 80 mph can be maintained without much shifting at all.
Even with the Sport gearbox in our test unit, we found it possible to cruise quietly at legal highway speeds in fourth gear, without engine stress or undue vibration. In sixth gear, a 0.861 overdrive, the engine is relaxed and noise levels are unremarkable. Even at 80 mph, there is just 3000 rpm showing on the tachometer, well below the torque peak. In fourth gear, 80 mph arrives at 4000 rpm, at which point the engine begins to wake up and smell the coffee.
Tires, Z-rated Pirelli P-Zero ultra-high performance radials, seem to have more adhesion than the car requires. As hard as we drove, we were never able to hear any noise or howl through corners, but the tires do feel the road well, with slight changes in pitch as the surface changes. Pavement irregularities come through to the seats and wheel, but the suspension is supple enough to take the edge off the bigger inputs, so it's more like a thrill ride and less like a beating. In short, this car has more grip than we were willing to use on public roads.
Steering is delightfully precise. It's hydraulically assisted, tuned by Lotus. We can't recall a car with a smoother turn-in, or more poise on difficult turns. Brakes consist of ventilated discs, 13.8 inches at the front and 13.1 at the rear, with four-piston AP Racing aluminum alloy calipers. These are bigger brakes, and better, than what would normally come with an 8500-pound diesel tow truck.
The car is weighted 39/61 percent front to rear, but 50/50 side to side, so the moment of inertia during hard-right-to-hard-left transitions is practically invisible. The car stays flat, the tires stay quiet, and we stay firmly planted in our Recaro seats. The steering wheel barely moves, hardly any effort is expended, and actual road speed becomes difficult to judge. At one point, we looked down to see 80 mph on a 35 mph mountain road.
On a wide-open highway, pure straight-ahead speed is still impressive but not explosive. The V6 pulls strongly, but in the taller gears, acceleration comes on steadily, not with a bang. In a 50- to 100-mph roll-on contest, a Corvette would pull away. The Evora's performance, and good mileage for that matter, is based on lightness, rather than sheer engine power. It is incredibly quick, agile, and undeniably fast, but not a burnout machine like a muscle car.
We found getting out of the Evora was harder than getting in. By driving, we had become part of the car. Breaking that connection, limb by limb, does take a moment. One does not just hop out. And the world, when you stand up and look around, seems different.
Easy on the eyes, and easy to drive fast without noise, drama or protest. We're sure there are limits to this car's handling, but it might take some time at the track to discover them. If we owned a Lotus Evora, we would drive it every day, and every trip to the grocery store would be an occasion.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Stewart filed this report after his test drive of the Evora near San Diego.
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