| First Drive | Loch Lomond, Scotland | Lotus Evora |
Hearing that it's been 13 years since Lotus launched the first Elise makes me feel old. Though I was of driving age at the time that car was launched, most cars were outside my financially constrained grasp, never mind the groundbreaking new roadster, which I would have gladly donated a few limbs for. Those same feelings come flooding back when the new Lotus Evora comes into view for the first time in Scotland.
In the Metal
When Lotus released the first image of 'Project Eagle' in July 2008 we cautiously commented on the new styling. Seeing the Evora at the British Motor Show
that year, we were still not 100 percent certain that it was a success, but a first view of the new car in daylight dispels any doubts: the Evora is dramatic, well proportioned and simply gorgeous. Lotus diehards may rue the lack of raw aggression found in the Elise/Exige models' styling, but everyone else will stand back and admire the new shape. There's no doubt in our minds that it'll attract customers on its aesthetics alone.
Getting potential buyers into the showroom is one thing; given the relatively high price, it's massively important that Lotus delivers in terms of interior ambience too. That the Evora is way easier to get in and out of than its Elise/Exige brethren is a good start. Immediately it feels less hardcore and hence should have more widespread appeal. As should the stylish design of the interior. We worried how Lotus might marry its lightweight philosophy with a more luxurious cockpit, but the Evora carries it off convincingly. Bespoke touch-sensitive switchgear helps set the tone, while there's leather as standard and fantastic seats. Lotus swathes the rear bench in black leather as standard, presumably to hide them from view - which is no bad thing, as they're not very usable. Thankfully Russell Carr's design team has done such a good job on the Evora's exterior that you never feel the car's style was compromised in the bid to claim the 'world's only mid-engined four-seater on sale' tag.
What you get for your Money
Pricing could be key to the Evora's success, especially against other cars buyers may consider. That essentially means Porsche, though Lotus reckons the Evora has no direct rival. Prices in the UK start at £47,500 for the '2+0' model - that's with the rear seats removed. However, Lotus has already found that the majority of buyers are in favour of retaining the back bench, the '2+2' model priced at a not inconsiderable £49,875. That places it firmly above the Porsche Cayman S
, if still ten grand or so short of the entry-level 911 Carrera
. Standard equipment is moderately generous, though there are loads of tantalising options, neatly divided up into option packs. The Tech pack adds all the infotainment you need, as well as cruise control and rear parking sensors; the Premium pack seems to swathe everything in leather; and the Sport pack brings a switchable Sport mode, a rear diffuser, titanium exhaust, cross drilled brake discs and an engine oil cooler. While the Premium pack seems a little steep at £2,495 (the same price as the Tech pack), the Sport pack works out well at £950. Buyers may even choose to have a 'sports ratio' gearbox for £1,495, in which the top four ratios have been shortened so that sixth is effectively the same as fifth in the standard car.
The first thing that you'll notice about the Evora is how well it rides. While Lotus has always made cars that move fluidly with the road, it has undoubtedly sacrificed comfort in the name of handling in the past; that's not something the Evora does. You could quite happily travel for hundreds of miles in this car at a cruise. In stark contrast to the Elise and Exige, engine noise is nicely hushed at idle and on the motorway, thanks in part to a double wall between the cockpit and it.
In fact, the 3.5-litre V6 has something of a dual personality. When you're just ambling along, through town it's a docile companion, managing to be refined yet still sound interesting. The throttle has loads of travel too, making modulation of its 276bhp and 258lb.ft a doddle, no matter what the conditions. You can sharpen up the throttle map with a touch of the (optional) Sport button, but even then the Evora is an easy car to drive smoothly.
Its alter ego becomes apparent the first time you have road space to hold the accelerator pinned for the duration of the rev counter. There's a distinct change of character at about 4,000rpm, when the variable inlet manifold and valve timing do their thing. It's not quite like the original Honda V-TEC on-off effect, but the rev counter's needle accelerates appreciably towards the red line. If you ignore the phased 'change up' lights the electronics stop the fun at about 7,000rpm (with Sport mode engaged), yet this Toyota-sourced powerplant feels like it could keep going for another 1,000rpm without too much difficulty. It sounds fantastic too.
No matter which gear you're in, if you rev the V6 out to these extents you'll be moving very quickly indeed. The 5.1-second 0-62mph time doesn't do the Evora justice, as the car is quicker than that suggests when you're on the move. The six-speed gearshift is the best Lotus does too. If you thought the Evora was good at ambling along at regular pace, you'll be blown away by it at speed. The steering is nigh on perfect, with virtually all the feel offered up by the Evora's more extreme siblings, but without as much kickback (it's a hydraulic power assisted system) and it telegraphs exactly what is going on at the surface of the road.
Unfortunately, we were greeted with torrential Scottish rain for the duration of our test, which could have hampered progress in a lesser car, but the Evora shrugged off the conditions and displayed a real maturity to how it drives. Even on roads strewn with running water it was utterly composed. The car's brakes deserve a special mention. Not only does the middle pedal communicate how close to lock-up you are, there is huge stopping power on tap and the Evora is incredibly stable under heavy braking, even if you've misjudge your entry speed to a corner and need to brush off a few mph with a dab on the pedal. It's a testament to the inherent grip on offer that we didn't once feel the telltale pulsing of the ABS system, in spite of the conditions. Likewise, the wet roads barely troubled the rear tyres, the mid-engined layout giving the Evora tremendous traction. A hint of oversteer is there for the taking on the exit of tighter corners if you want it, but ultimately it grips unless you really raise your game, at which point it rewards hugely.
Lotus's turbulent past has been well documented, but despite the current economic situation throughout the world the company looks to be in rude health. It now has three platforms: the Elise/Exige's, the Evora's and the forthcoming supercar's. Lotus was slow to talk about future plans for the Evora other than to say that a conventional automatic transmission will be available by the end of 2010. If it's a successful model we suspect there'll be several derivatives, including an open version and a high performance variant featuring supercharging of the engine. That's a mouth-watering prospect, as this chassis feels like it could handle a lot more power.
Enthusiasts shouldn't forget that Lotus's engineering side has kept the company afloat in the past and that part of the company is doing better than ever. Last year Lotus Engineering worked on more than 350 projects for over 140 different clients. Interestingly, many of those projects dealt with alternative fuels and propulsion systems. Lotus admits that it's not quite sure how to power its own supercar yet, considering the forthcoming legislation on reduced CO2
, but given its experience with so many new technologies it's well placed to make a call closer to the time.
Speaking of the dreaded CO2
, the Evora's rated figure of 205g/km is commendable, and it's backed up by a combined cycle fuel economy figure of 32.5mpg. In a day playing in Scotland we averaged about 19mpg...
We'll have to wait for an opportunity to drive the Evora on track or at least a dry road before giving final judgement, but even a rain-soaked introduction illuminated what a fantastic job Lotus has done on this car. That it's exciting to drive we could have predicted; that it's also a massively competent all-rounder we could have only hoped for. It is both, convincingly so. Porsche won't be troubled by Lotus's modest production numbers, but now at least there's a real option for buyers looking for something different. They won't be disappointed. Lotus fans can rejoice too.