British automaker Lotus is best known for its fly-weight track cars, but now they want to join more mainstream performance automakers like Porsche as a purveyor of sports cars that can be driven daily. Hence we have the Evora, a car that attempts to give a nod to comfort and convenience without compromising Lotus' light-weight ideals. Is that even possible? Read on.
First Glance: What's the big deal?
To understand the hue and cry over the Evora, it's necessary to know a bit about Lotus. Lotus Cars was started by Colin Chapman, who was famous for saying "Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere." Chapman knew that a light car could go, stop and turn faster with less hardware, so rather than bulk up horsepower and spring rates, he mercilessly paired down weight. The result, as anyone who has driven a Lotus will tell you, is pure motoring brilliance. Lotus' modern-day Elise weighs right around 2,000 lbs -- 500 lbs. less than a Honda Fit -- and seems nearly immune to the laws of inertia.
Hence the uproar when Lotus announced that the Evora would weigh 3,000 lbs, be powered by six cylinders instead of four, and even have such hedonistic amenities as navigation and -- dare I even type it? -- carpets. But the fact is that a company cannot survive on specialist cars like the Elise and Exige. If Lotus is going to remain in business, they need products with mainstream appeal to pay the bills. Just as Porsche must build the Panamera, Lotus must build the Evora.
From the outside, the Evora starts out on the right foot. Many exotic automakers hire outside styling firms, but Lotus styled the Evora in-house -- and from stem to stern, it's an absolutely beautiful car. The shape is visual poetry, the proportions are lovely (no easy feat in a mid-engine car), and even the details are perfect -- what 15-year-old wouldn't want this on a poster pinned to his ceiling?
In the Driver's Seat: Modern, yet primitive
It's very likely that you, constant reader, have never sat in a Lotus Elise or Exige, because only about 17% of the population can actually fit into one -- you have to be short, thin, flexible, and willing to strike a series of unflattering poses to anyone who may be watching. That's one reason why the bigger Evora is better -- it's possible to get in and out with some semblance of grace and modesty. There's still a big sill (link goes to photo) to step over, but the fully-adjustable steering column means less wriggling to get comfortably seated.
Once there, you'll find comfortable seats and an interior that is shameless in its honesty: Real leather, real metal trim, with barely any sculpted plastic to be found. Though the Evora does grudgingly come with 20th-century amenities like air conditioning, navigation, and cruise control, it's still built primarily for function -- and yet the form is surprisingly attractive. Everything has a hand-crafted appearance, which can be viewed as either quaint or primitive, depending on your perspective. My only real complaint was the cramped footwell; despite having short legs, I found no comfortable place for my left foot when it wasn't working the clutch pedal. The design of the Evora's super-strong chassis pan means that a large foot-box is out of the question. In Lotus' world, comfort takes a back seat to performance.
Speaking of a back seat, the Evora has one -- although who exactly can fit there is beyond me. I tried climbing in and my back still hurts. Kids? Sure, if you want a visit from Child Protective Services. Best to use the back seat as luggage space to supplement the 5.7 cubic foot trunk, which is big enough for a single set of golf clubs but a tight squeeze for groceries.
On the Road: As good as it gets
The most important thing to know about the Evora is that it drives like a proper Lotus. What does a proper Lotus feel like? It feels raw, unpreserved and unprocessed, more like a go-kart than a passenger car. The ride is tuned to provide maximum feedback without edging into discomfort, while the throttle, brakes and steering feel as if they are hard-wired to the driver's brain. Automakers have spent so many years refining their products that we've forgotten what it feels like to truly be in touch with the road. The Evora will remind you.
Like the smaller Elise, the Evora uses an extruded-aluminum chassis pan as its frame, with the composite roof panel helping to provide stiffness. Suspension and drivetrain are carried on subframes, extruded aluminum in front, steel in back. Unlike the Elise and Exige, where the subframes are bonded (glued) to the main tub, the Evora's subframes are bolted on, which helps with both crash durability and ease of repair -- in fact, Lotus was able to use the same cars over and over for their government crash tests.
Power comes from a 276 hp Toyota 3.5 liter V6, with intake and exhaust plumbing and engine-control software designed by Lotus. The advantages of using an existing engine are manifold; one is that engine parts are Toyota-cheap, not Lotus-expensive. An optional Sport package ($1,275) raises the redline to 7,200 RPM; if you're buying an Evora, you'll want that. The only transmission is a six-speed manual. $1,500 extra buys you a close-ratio setup, which provides better acceleration, and you'll want that too. The Evora is quick -- 0-60 in 4.9 seconds, according to Lotus -- but it doesn't feel supercar-fast.
Journey's End: Still not right for everyone
Pricing for the Lotus Evora starts at $74,675 (including a rather steep destination charge of $1,175), which makes it about four grand cheaper than the least-expensive Porsche 911. As with all exotics, the options can get pricey -- some paint colors cost $3,300 -- but even with all the boxes checked, the Evora tops out at $88,995. Get a base-model 911 with all the toys, and you can spend well over $150k.
But there's a big difference between an Evora and a 911. With a 911, you're paying for hardware; with an Evora, you're paying for an experience. A seasoned Porsche owner might be shocked at the sparseness and build quality of the Evora's cabin, but a seasons Lotus owner would be shocked at the 911's weight and refinement. As good as it is, a 911 just can't reproduce that wonderfully raw feel of the Evora.
Still, if the Evora is Lotus' attempt to go mainstream, they still have a ways to go. While the amenities are nice, the Evora still requires quite a bit of compromise. Well worth it, though, if you ask me. -- Aaron Gold