The Lotus name is legendary in Formula One, as much for the 79 victories and seven titles as for the team’s bold and often controversial innovations. Its return to F1 this year, with cars in colours that are reminiscent of its past successes, has been a happy one – even though it’ll be some time before it tastes victory.
Lotus is also a line of sports cars designed on principles dear to Colin Chapman, the brilliant engineer who created the team and the brand. The radical Super Seven, the Elan roadster that inspired Mazda to create the Miata and the Esprit (with a central engine, designed by Giugiaro and driven by James Bond in an amphibious version) have the following in common: simplicity of their design and a careful attention to maximum lightness.
Today Lotus Cars’ majority shareholder is the Malaysian manufacturer Proton and has remained faithful to this principle with the Elise and Exige series. The former has been constructed since 1996 on an ultra light aluminum chassis that Lotus had presented as a simple technical exercise at the 1991 Geneva Auto Show. This exceptional chassis is also frame of European sports cars like the Opel Speedster but also the electric-powered Tesla Roadster.
At the behest of its new president Dany Bahar, a defector from Ferrari and Red Bull, Lotus has high expectations that will be revealed at the next Paris Motor Show in September. In the meantime, the British brand is introducing the new Evora, which arrives already basking in the glow of several titles won right out from under the noses of some of the most prestigious European sports cars.
The next size up
The Evora is a 2+2 coupe with a central engine and is 557 mm longer, 129 mm wider, 106 mm taller and 408 kilos heavier than its brother, the Exige coupe. At 1,382 kg, the Evora is clearly roomier and more practical but remains lighter than a Porsche 911 by some fifty kg. It’s the first to use Lotus’ LVVVA (Low Volume Versatile Vehicle Architecture) chassis. This structure made of aluminum components is two and a half times more rigid than that of the Elise, and Lotus will adapt it to a convertible version without having to reinforce the structure or soften the suspension.
The body panels are made of composite materials and the drag coefficient (Cd) is 0.33. While the front grille looks like that of the first Europa, its profile is rather reminiscent of the last versions of the Esprit, its wedge-shaped silhouette looks like a Lancia Stratos and its tail end, with its curves and edges, evokes those of the Elise and the Exige coupe.
In the luminous passenger compartment, the dashboard’s modern design sets the tone. The overall finish is more plush and meticulous than in the Elise/Exige duo, especially with the more abundant leather of the Premium Package. The controls are simple and the layout is good, but some of the buttons are too hard. But Lotus played the simplicity card to perfection by adding a removable Alpine GPS unit instead of a navigation system. You can get the optional Technology Package for about $3,000. It’s also the only way to equip the Evora with cruise control, an almost indispensable driving aid. It’s an absurd omission that Lotus should correct.
The front and side visibility is flawless, but the rear window is so small that you can hardly see anything at all in back via the central rearview mirror. Fortunately, there are large external rearview mirrors. One thing’s for sure, the optional parking camera is very handy for parking and isn’t a mere useless luxury. As for the backseats, they’re without a doubt made for jockey-sized adults, children or baggage that you couldn’t squeeze into the tiny 170-litre trunk located between the engine-block and the bumper.
More muscle in the back
The Evora is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 engine with 276 horses built by Toyota and then modified by Lotus’ engineers. Thus, the V6 is equipped with a clutch and a lighter AP Racing flywheel for livelier upshifting as well as a sport exhaust. This engine is paired exclusively with an Aisin 6-speed manual transmission that you can get, on option, with shorter gears from 3rd through 6th for more energetic accelerations and pick-up. Lotus maintains that the Evora goes from 0 to 100 km/hr in 5.1 seconds.
The Evora’s V6 is smooth and powerful but it lacks that hint of ferocity that defines great sports cars, despite a rather delightful sound in flat-out sprints. The cable control for its manual transmission could also be more precise and faster. The brakes are immense Lotus/AP-Racing ventilated discs that are 350 and 332 mm in front and rear diameter, with four-piston callipers.
In addition to a finely tuned Bosch ABS, the Evora is equipped with electronic brake force distribution, an adjustable anti-skid device and an electronic limited slip differential. The optional Sport Package adds perforated discs with black callipers, titanium exhaust tips and a “sport” mode for the anti-skid that lets the Evora skid more freely in sport conditions.
You’ll have to be graceful to slide into the Evora passing through the wide doorway created by the aluminum chassis’ sturdy side-rail. Once seated in the deep, firm and impeccably sculpted Recaro seat, the big surprise is the absence of pedals or even a surface to put your left foot on when it isn’t operating the clutch. The chassis’ big side-rails are again to blame, and that’s the price you pay for its lightness and exceptional rigidity. You learn, one way or another, to put your left foot under the clutch and to rely on the seat to support you in turns, but it’s definitely not ideal.
It’s a shame, too, because the Evora is obviously at its most brilliant on winding roads. The more it turns and rolls, the more it taunts its rivals. The steering wheel is adjustable on both axes and its frame is even cast in magnesium to lighten it by a few grams and to reduce inertia. Lotus still prefers hydraulic power steering for its greater sensitivity. Even on the most fiendish winding roads, the tires screeched only once or twice, if at all. And the suspension couldn’t be caught off guard by any crack or bump. We could have used a circuit to explore the limits of the Pirelli P-Zero tires of the svelte English coupe.
In addition to featuring extremely good handling, the Evora is also completely docile and pleasant in more relaxed ride. On the highway, the suspension should be commended for its comfort and silence. You can reasonably expect good reliability from its Japanese mechanics, but the Evora’s accessories and the quality of assembly will have to prove themselves. The Lotus representative for Western U.S. apparently travelled more than 20,000 kilometres alone at the wheel of an Evora without the slightest mechanical problem.
The Evora is roomier, more powerful, more comfortable, faster and more practical than the Elise/Exige duo and the price tag has increased accordingly. The $73,500 US base price of our test car climbed to $86,000 with the options. Thus, it’s priced between the two-seat Porsche Cayman and the least expensive Porsche 911, the two coupes to which it’s automatically compared. With a slender and distinguished silhouette, exceptional handling, better performances and certain scarcity – with only about thirty Evoras destined for Quebec – they won’t go unnoticed.
Basically, with its group of brilliant engineers and designers, whose services other manufacturers pay for as well, it won’t be long before Lotus comes up with a great idea to equip the Evora with a simple foot rest.