Lotus Evora 400 – The British Dark Horse
Lotus Evora 400 is not Ferrari. It’s not McLaren. And it’s not Porsche. What it has in common with those companies is that it manufactures cars. Barely. Despite the well-faded glory of seven Formula 1 Constructor’s World Championships, Lotus’s struggles with solvency today are real. In the last decade it has seen three CEOs, the creation and collapse of a plan for five redesigned models, and the full-year delay of the most promising car it offers to the biggest sports-car market on earth, the United States. But we’ve finally driven that car—the new-to-the-U.S. Evora 400—and it was good.
The Lotus Evora 400—the 400 is for the horsepower produced by its Toyota-sourced supercharged and intercooled 3.5-liter V-6—is a genuinely refreshing machine. Wispy, strikingly well made, and communicative, it’s a car for people who want to be engaged deeply by what they drive—and that’s not something we say about all British sports cars.
The Lotus Evora 400 builds on the brand’s signature attribute: efficiency. And by that we don’t mean good fuel economy. We mean the same thing Tony Rudd, former Lotus engineering director, meant when he wrote his infamous 1975 memo that was glowingly approved by founder Colin Chapman. To paraphrase Rudd: The most elegantly effective solution is the one with the least number of parts, effectively deployed. They’re words that still bear fruit at Lotus today.
Lotus, the smallest company selling cars in this country, manages to squeeze masterful machines for discerning drivers from a tiny factory in Hethel, England, where each one is assembled by hand. Its Lotus Cars arm employs a team of 10 people in the U.S. while the entire company, including the Lotus Engineering consultancy, is about 850 strong worldwide. Lotus is to sports cars what Libertarian Gary Johnson is to presidential candidates: an offbeat alternative to the choices made by the masses. That the new Evora is here at all is a testament to the raw fortitude of a few. That it works as well as it does is almost alarming.
What matters about the Evora is not Lotus’s financial stability or its cashflow or even its lighter-is-better ethos. What matters is the same thing that matters about any sports car: how it drives. If it’s personality you want, the Evora will indulge. Built without the economies of scale, it offers instead the obstinacy of raw ingenuity and resourcefulness.
Relatively light steering effort delivers immediate response. The Evora understeers and won’t spin without manipulation of the throttle and steering in search of such behavior. As long as you don’t operate it with impunity, it offers ample warning about its next move. It rotates about the center of the cabin in a way that makes the sensation of turning less obvious than in, say, a Corvette, where you sit farther from the midpoint. That’s not a bad thing.
Like many mid-engine cars, pitch changes are evident in the Evora. Its nose jumps with every jab at the throttle and dives slightly under heavy braking—personality traits that contribute to its Lotusness. It’s alive in the same way as all other mid-engine Lotus road cars going back to the 1966 Europa, but it lacks the hyper-chipmunk nervousness of an Exige or Elise. It’s as honest about its intentions as it is quick. Even 400 horsepower is not enough to overwhelm the balanced demeanor of the chassis.
But its acceleration doesn’t feel as strong as a 400-hp, 3200-pound sports car should. And until we’re able to test one, we’ll stick with saying it’s only as quick as the last Evora S we tested, which hit 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and crossed the quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds at 110 mph.
Braking is stunning. Four-piston calipers all around and larger two-piece rotors than were on the Evora S seem to be utterly indifferent to abuse. They work as if they were sized for a car 1000 pounds heavier. In fact, the car we drove endured more than 100 laps of a challenging road course without a pad change or significant reduction in performance. Carbon-ceramic brakes aren’t available and weren’t considered for several reasons: They’re costly, unnecessary, and customers don’t demand them.
There’s also a lot of grip here. Lotus uses Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires developed originally for BMW. The 235-section-width front rubber is wider than the front tires on the far more powerful McLaren 570S.
Three drive modes—Drive, Sport, and Race—adjust throttle response and loosen the reins of the stability control. Stability control also can be fully disabled but will, frustratingly, re-engage with the slightest overlap of throttle and brake pedals while left-foot braking. Damping is fixed-rate, a product of limited resources and Lotus’s firm belief that a single, well-tuned calibration suffices. It’s an assertion that holds water only in the absence of several less-costly competitors with fantastic adaptive damping systems. Even so, given its intentions and on-track ability, the Evora’s ride is quite bearable.
This is probably the quickest Evora Lotus (Lotus Evora 400) has ever built and, indeed, it’s seven seconds (that’s a lifetime, folks) quicker than was the Evora S around the company’s 2.2-mile test track. Helping the cause are a new front splitter and a three-element rear wing that together yield 71 pounds of downforce at 150 mph.
This Lotus Evora 400 gains 55 horsepower over the S model last sold here in 2014. The power gains are a product of air-to-water intercooling and nine pounds of supercharged boost from an Edelbrock blower (the S was supercharged but not intercooled). Internally, the Toyota 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V-6 remains unchanged. A six-speed manual transmission and a Torsen limited-slip differential are standard equipment. A $2700 six-speed paddle-shifted automatic is optional, but those who choose two-pedal driving will do without the Torsen diff.
Although it uses the same extruded and bonded aluminum construction as the previous Evora, the revised chassis shaves a claimed 6.6 pounds, offers the same torsional stiffness, and has smaller rocker sills, which ease the chore of getting in and out of it. The Evora 400 adds side airbags and makes meaningful leaps in quality over the car it replaces. Two $3400 interior trim options are offered—either leather or microsuede—and both look fantastic. Deal-breakers are now absent in the cabin, too, with touchpoints that feel solid. The only real ergonomic flaw is a somewhat awkward offset pedal location, an inconvenience that faded to insignificance on our drive.
But this isn’t a supercar. It’s a Lotus. And that makes it, well, the eccentric cousin of mainstream sports cars. Even the little things are different at Lotus. So keen is the focus on maximizing resources that the seatback adjustment knob shares its repurposed shape with the fuel cap on early Esprits. Jean-Marc Gales, Lotus CEO, is sensitive enough to the company’s financial needs that he’s not afraid to admit that the Evora’s switchgear is shared with Ford and GM products. He’s also a simple pragmatist, admitting honestly that Lotus won’t offer a carbon-fiber chassis in the next 10 years. Doing so would add cost and compromise ingress and egress, according to Gales. All the same, the Evora’s plus-two rear seating is smaller, harder to access, and less useful than a Porsche 911’s.
How, then, does this Lotus measure against standard-bearers such as, say, Porsche’s 718 Cayman S or a Corvette Grand Sport, both of which will cost less than the $93,785 Evora 400? Put simply, it’s a tough sell. Lotus makes a compelling case for its do-a-lot-with-a-little strategy, but when measured against the best, it’s only occasionally better (think brakes). The competitive set surely includes the Jaguar F-type and the Alfa Romeo 4C, which also stand apart from the mainstream but have more marketing might and a larger dealer base at their backs.
And that’s the rub for Lotus. Independent of the obvious effort expended on making the Lotus Evora 400 a genuinely viable choice, the car will always come with certain compromises. But, hey, Lotuses always have. And for some buyers, that’s where the magic lies. They focus not on the sacrifices in such trade-offs but on the benefits that come in return. Lotus Evora 400 driver is likely to suffer the indignity of parking next to another one. And there’s value in exclusivity, especially when it drives like this.
Lotus Evora 400 Video: