Lotus has improved its Evora sportscar in a bid to unsettle the big players in the sports coupe market. Jonathan Crouch reports.
There are plenty of car manufacturers that would kill for a little bit of what Lotus has got. The Norfolk-based manufacturer oozes credibility with its single-minded sportscars beloved of enthusiasts and its fifty-year philosophy of performance through light weight looking ever more prophetic in the era of spiralling fuel costs and environmental pressures. Realising this undoubted potential has been the problem for Lotus but we could be seeing the beginnings of a more concerted effort to challenge the big players in the performance car market with this model, the Evora.
Lotus has always been able to do driving enjoyment as well as anybody, but the rest of the package sometimes leaves a little to be desired. The Evora represents the British firm's attempt to break into the mainstream sports coupe market where quality and image are as important as handling and performance. In recent years, this model has struggled with that brief, but this revised range looks to offer a much stronger proposition. Should the likes of Porsche and Audi be concerned?
The Evora's debut at the 2008 British International Motorshow came a full thirteen years after Lotus unveiled its previous all new car. The iconic Elise spawned Exige, Europa and 2Eleven models in the intervening years that shared the same basic underpinnings but the Evora is original from the ground up. It's a highly significant car also because it sets out to broaden the appeal of the Lotus brand. With its upmarket interior and 2+2 layout, the Evora is targeting the customers who would otherwise have turned to leading sports coupes like the Porsche Cayman and the Audi TTS. It's a very different market from the track day regulars and driving enthusiasts who would opt for the hardcore Elise or harder-core Exige. Has the Evora got the right stuff?
Like the Elise, the Evora relies on Toyota for the contents of its engine bay but unlike the zingy 1.8-litre VVT-i engine in the impish roadster, the Evora's engine is a 3.5-litre V6 that has previously seen service in the Lexus RX350 luxury 4x4. It's not the kind of powerplant you'd instantly associate with Lotus but this unit has in recent times been thoroughly revised to give it the edge that Evora customers will be looking for. It's available in three states of tune with a choice of 400, 410 or 430bhp outputs from the three models available, the Evora 400, the Evora Sport 410 and the Evora GT430. Even the entry-level version makes 60mph from rest in just 4.1s, while the 'Sport 410' derivative improves that to 3.9s. The flagship Evora GT430' is the brand's most powerful and accomplished road car to date, dispatching 60mph in just 3.7s en route to 190mph. Cornering is even more astonishing, thanks to up to 250kg of downforce generated through advanced aerodynamics.
This being a Lotus, you can expect a finely honed chassis with real agility, Lotus having benchmarked its own Elise as the standard for the car's handling dynamics. The braking and suspension systems draw on the know-how of some of the biggest names in motorsport, with the Bosch brakes using four-pot callipers from AP Racing, the suspension springs supplied by Eibach and dampers from Bilstein. The Evora rides on purpose-designed Yokohama tyres and Bosch was also involved in the creation of special ABS and traction control systems that allow the Evora's performance capabilities to shine through without intervening too early.
The Evora's designers had the unenviable task of reconciling the need for a bewitching exterior with the car's 2+2 seating configuration and the stringent requirements of modern crash tests. The result is an elegantly proportioned car that lacks the curvy aggression of the Elise but still manages to look taut and purposeful. The real innovation lies beneath the bodywork where the firm's extruded aluminium Variable Vehicle Architecture is employed to reduce weight and maximise rigidity. Under this design, the roof and body panels are stress-bearing and attached directly to the chassis helping the Evora achieve its modest kerb weight - the GT430 version tips the scales at just 1,258kgs.
The Evora's packaging is also noteworthy. At 2,575mm, the car's wheelbase is only 275mm longer than the Elise but it manages to cram in its mid-mounted V6 engine along with rear seats that, Lotus insists, are large enough for passengers of up to five feet in height. There's also a 160-litre boot that's said to be capable of carrying a set of golf clubs, but a visual appraisal of the space suggests you may have to melt them down and pour them in.
The interior of the car certainly looks spacious. The Recaro front seats were designed around the needs of two 6' 5" passengers and there's a good amount of adjustment in the driving position. Getting in and out should be relatively straight forward too, thanks to a driving position that's 65mm higher than the Elise plus lower sills and taller doors. The build quality and design of the cabin is a major departure from the stripped down feel Lotus has become known for. There's a tasteful two tone effect to the leather trimmed fascia with an economy of buttons that will please those who are routinely baffled by the technology in modern cars.
The Evora will come reasonably well-appointed with features including bi-xenon headlamps with LED running lights but buyers will be invited to choose from a range of additional equipment packs that change the emphasis of the car's specification according to the customer's tastes. A Sports Pack will sharpen the driving experience while the Tech Pack will provide the 7" touch screen designed in conjunction with Alpine that houses the iPod compatible stereo and the satellite navigation functions. The Premium Pack will increase the upmarket feel of the cabin with leather trim, piping for the seat edges and special exterior colours. A further option is the deletion of the rear seats in favour of increased luggage capacity.
The Evora's lightweight design promises a strong showing when it comes to fuel economy and CO2 emissions in comparison to rivals. Owners should be able to expect around 30mpg and emissions of 205g/km.
The Lotus Evora won't seriously threaten the established German players in the performance coupe segment but it is a far more competitive proposition than it used to be. These improved variants have more power than their predecessrs - but the improvements made amount to a lot more than that. This is now a more focused, better quality sportscar. Importantly, it's also more of a proper Lotus. If you're looking for a car that offers something different from the usual contenders in this segment, we think you'd enjoy including this one on your shortlist.
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