Few cars possess the allure of a Lotus. Known in its early years for remarkable racecars engineered by company founder Colin Chapman, the British marque remains famous for producing exotic road cars with distinctive styling and dynamic performance in a lightweight, efficient package.
The Lotus Evora is no exception. Sleek and trackworthy, it straddles the line between true enthusiast machine and flashy commute-mobile, and is compelling enough to elicit comments from well-heeled executives to old hippies in panel vans who declare it bitchin'. Now that the smaller, sportier Elise and Exige models have been discontinued in the U.S., the Evora is left as Lotus's only passenger car on the market.
What separates the Evora from other near-$100,000 sports cars is the focus on a pure, unadulterated driving experience. Unlike other carmakers who cram their sports models with every conceivable driver aid and entertainment techno-gadget, Lotus forgoes many of today's expected creature comforts in favor of engineering and technology that enables drivers to be more engaged, instead of relying on a profusion of electronics.
The engines used in the Lotus Evora are decidedly non-exotic, namely, a version of the Toyota V6 found in the Camry. But that's a good thing, as it means reliability and relatively inexpensive replacement parts. Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic, dubbed Intelligent Precision Shift, or IPS (currently available on the base Evora and forthcoming on the Evora S in Summer 2012). The Lotus-developed automatic gearbox features paddle shifters as well as a full automatic mode.
The Evora S is a supercharged-version of the Evora that churns out 345 horsepower, a 25 percent power boost over the base model. Torque tops out at 295 pound-feet at 4500 rpm. Visually, the Evora S differentiates itself with black outside mirror housings and a modified rear diffuser. The S packs an additional 122 pounds over the base Evora, but with its stiffer suspension and new forged aluminum control arms, you'd hardly know it when darting through the esses on a mountain road or a world-class racetrack. The extra power shaves the 0-60 mph time down to 4.3 seconds with the manual transmission.
The Evora 2+2 is the same size as the standard version except they've stuffed a little seat behind the driver and passenger.
For 2012, Evora comes standard with its Sports-Ratio 6-Speed manual gearbox, previously a $1,500 option. Naturally aspirated Evoras also get a new exhaust system found in earlier model years only on the Evora S. For 2012, Lotus ditches the old Alpine navigation display for a more upscale Pioneer head unit on all cars equipped with the optional Technology Package. There's also a new gearshift knob, new wheel designs, a modified exterior paint color scheme and additional interior colors. A new Premium Sport optional interior package gives the Evora cabin an even sportier appearance. All 2012 Evora models come with additional leather interior trim not found on 2011 models, including on door pull handles and air vent surrounds.
Also new is the 2012 Evora S GP edition which features a special black and gold exterior paint scheme, gold-painted wheels, red brake calipers, the Premium Package with Suede-Tex upholstery, the Technology Package and a rearview camera. Only 15 Evora S GP cars will be available in the U.S. The Lotus F1 Team is using black and gold livery on its 2012 Formula One cars and those colors were used for the John Player Special Lotus F1 cars in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Lotus Evora achieves surprisingly good fuel economy for a sportscar. The naturally aspirated Evora is EPA-rated at 18/26 mpg City/Highway or 21 mpg Combined with the manual transmission and 20/28 mpg with the IPS (23 mpg Combined). The supercharged Evora S is rated 17/26 mpg (20 mpg Combined) with the manual and 19/28 mpg with the IPS (22 mpg Combined).
The closest rival to the base Evora is the Porsche Cayman, while the Evora S is better pitted against the Porsche Cayman S, Nissan GT-R, Audi TT RS and even the Corvette Z06. There is no direct competitor to the Evora 2+2, a mid-engine sports car capable of seating four.
In an era when it's fashionable for high-performance cars to look angry and menacing, the Lotus Evora opts for styling that's athletic, yet elegant and approachable. The front grille opening is a broad-mouthed smile reminiscent of a certain type of puffer fish. It's the classic Lotus grille, a happy look similar to the grilles on the 1962 Lotus Elan, the 1962 Lotus 22 Formula Junior, the 1966 Lotus Europa, and, of course, the Lotus Elise.
Evora's taut lines evoke motion, even when the car is standing still. Its sporty stance and sexy angles are sure to seduce onlookers and valets alike, the latter of whom will most likely leave the car out front next to the Lambos and Bentleys.
Evora 2+2 models are the same size as the standard two-seat models (2+0) except that a pair of seats is stuffed in the back.
Evora is no lightweight: Curb weight for Evora is 3,049 pounds, while Evora S is 3,168 pounds. By comparison, a Porsche Cayman S weighs 2,976 pounds, an Audi TT RS quattro weighs 3,306 pounds, a Corvette Coupe 3,208 pounds. The featherweight Elise weighs just 1,931 pounds. The hefty Nissan GT-R tips the scales at 3,829 pounds.
We recommend getting the optional Starshield clear film to protect the paint on the nose of the car.
The first thing we notice when getting into the cabin of the Lotus Evora is that there are a lot of buttons. Six buttons flank each side of the steering wheel (for a grand total of 12). Some are clustered together in logical order, and some are not. The center stack is cleaner, with controls that are well laid-out and easy to reach. In front of the driver, the red color of the electronic display can be hard to read in bright light and is not infinitely adjustable. The chrome trim around the gauges looks beautiful, unless it's reflecting the afternoon sun, in which case it's inconveniently blinding. The steering wheel is comfortable to grip, and, while we're not fans of the flat-bottomed shape, it does offer a little extra room for the driver's legs.
Past Lotus models were dinged for skewing its proportions for the small-of-stature, but the Evora in some ways overcompensates. That's good news for taller folk, but even with the seat all the way forward, someone in the 5-foot, 4-inch range can just reach the pedals. The bottom seat cushion is also longer than in other Lotus models, preventing same-said driver's knees from bending. The pedals are close together, which elicits complaints from those with larger shoe sizes, but it's great for those with smaller feet, especially for practicing heel-toe. The lack of a dead pedal is annoying, but somewhat traditional for Lotuses.
Evora 2+2 models add rear seats, but only people shorter than five feet could come close to fitting. Although it's billed as the world's only mid-engine four-seat sports car, the back seat in the Lotus Evora is essentially only good for carrying small children and abetting lower auto insurance premiums.
The Evora interior is sparse compared to its competitors, but it does offer a refreshing simplicity for those who just want to focus on the drive. Still, there's always a sense that the Evora's fancy leather is just finer covering over a toy, with certain elements looking plastic and disappointing for a car with that kind of price tag. Race-inspired seats offer support around corners, but minimal padding means rear-ends won't fare well on longer road trips. Optional SuedeTex interior trim is a soft-touch, synthetic material similar to Alcantara. On cars equipped with the technology package, the new Pioneer head unit is an improvement over the old Alpine display.
As for storage space, the Evora offers more than other Lotus models thanks to the rear storage/seating area, but it's not the car for someone who travels with a set of matched luggage. The trunk holds 5.7 cubic feet, but its slim opening greatly limits storage options.
Certain features in the Evora, like in other Lotus models, are almost comical. Tiny visors don't block out much sun, and the glove compartment can be taken as a literal description; even the slim owner's manual must be tucked away carefully to fit. The diminutive optional center armrest will support only the sveltest of elbows, which is okay, since if you're driving an Evora, you won't be doing much resting anyway.
The trip odometer only calculates in whole miles, which makes navigating difficult when your route instructions rely on tenths. And rear visibility is minimal due to a miniscule back window. You won't be bothered by this if you're like Italian racer Franco Bertollini played by Raul Julia in "The Gumball Rally" who tears his rearview mirror off, tosses it over his shoulder and proclaims, "What's behind me is not important!" When backing up, the available rearview camera is helpful.
Effortless acceleration, communicative steering, dynamic handling and heroic grip can make those behind the wheel feel like far better drivers than they really are. This is why you buy an Evora over those other cars. The suspension, while perfectly stiff around corners, eats up bumps relatively well on the city streets without compromising sportiness.
Evora is powered by a mid-mounted, naturally aspirated 3.5-liter Toyota V6 engine that makes 276 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm. Evora has an estimated 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds with a top speed of 162 mph.
Evora S uses the same engine found on the naturally aspirated model but with a supercharger that helps crank out 345 hp at 7000 rpm and 295 lb.-ft. of torque at 4500 rpm. Lotus says Evora S can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds and has a top speed of 172 mph. We found the sports-ratio, 6-speed manual transmission can sometimes be reticent to slide into the second-gear gate when downshifting.
Lotus Dynamic Performance Management System is composed of electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, traction control and hydraulic brake assist. In Sport mode, these driver aids are noticeably less invasive. When the system is off, it's truly off, leaving only the ABS and some good counter-steering to get you out of a sticky situation.
The Lotus Evora is a real driver's car. With precise engineering, phenomenal handling, and stunningly good looks, it's easy to overlook the Evora's weak spots. For optimal performance, stick with the Evora S, but be prepared for a hefty price tag.
Laura Burstein contributed to this review after her test drive of the Lotus Evora at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
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