A comfy Lotus? Whatever would Jim Clark say? The Evora GT410 is billed as a Lotus to use every day. Time for a pilgrimage, from Hethel to Jim Clark country. Words Mike James-R Taylor. Photography Jordan Butters.
The 300-mile test
LOTUS EVORA GT410 NEW CAR MEETS REAL WORLD
This should be terrifying. It’s raining cats and pitchforks, dogs and stair-rods, and this is a mid-engined car with 410bhp. But the Evora GT410 is impervious to rain, happy to be flung ever-faster through trenches of standing water and to dance through cross-track rivulets like Gene Kelly in a really great mood.
I’m on a closed circuit, I should add. We’re at Lotus’s Hethel test circuit to meet the latest in the long line of Evoras, a model with a family tree complex enough to warrant an ancestry. co.uk subscription. This latest iteration is pitched as a more refined, everyday-usable car. By chasing lap times and performance targets, the Evora had been getting steadily stiffer and more aggressive, resulting in the GT410 Sport launched in 2018 – a spellbinding driving experience but not the quietest, comfiest or easiest car to live with. That car continues, but this new GT410 (minus the Sport) joins the range as a return to the Evora’s roots – a sports car for all roads, in all weathers, and over distances. It costs £3000 less than the GT410 Sport, at a still-not-inconsequential £82,900 (a 992 Porsche 911 Carrera’s £84k).
This car came about after Lotus boss Phil Popham, who ran a GT410 Sport on the road when he joined the company in 2018, found US-spec versions he drove to be more rounded for daily use. So after years of obsessively hacking weight out of the Evora, Lotus has put some back on. Extra pads to reduce panel resonance have been reintroduced, and some of the interior trim so ruthlessly deleted in the Sport is back from the dead, not least the doors’ armrests. Where the GT410 Sport has a carbonfibre engine cover with Stratos-style louvres, the GT410 uses the glass tailgate last seen on older Evoras, intended to improve rear vision and reduce cabin noise. The suspension tuning is softer and more forgiving, the geometry calmer, and rather than the track-focused, stiff-sidewalled Michelin Pilot Cup 2s the Sport wears, the GT410 uses Pilot Sport 4S tyres, readying it for cold, soggy days like today.
Out on the circuit, I don’t find myself craving a stiffer set-up – the GT410 feels safe and thrilling in equal measure. There’s so much feel through the hydraulic power steering, and such clarity to the chassis’ responses, that before long you’re happily cycling through the driving modes from standard Tour through Sport to minimum-safety-net Race, and finding that the Evora’s happy to indulge in broad angles of oversteer or neat, fast lapping, whichever you’d prefer.
Before we leave Hethel, we can’t resist heading next door to Classic Team Lotus. A dayglo-red, ex-Graham Hill IndyCar sits next to an ex-Jim Clark Lotus 25 in a state of undress, and there’s another championship-winning Clark car nearby, the Type 32B in which the great Scot won the 1965 Tasman championship. Bob Dance, Team Lotus chief mechanic in period and a man who’s worked with the gods, including Clark and Ayrton Senna, pops out for a look at the Evora.
‘The Tasman series was popular partly because the drivers could combine it with a holiday, and we had a few Australian and Kiwi mechanics who could see their families while they were out there,’ he recalls. Schedules were hectic: ‘On 1 January 1968, Jim Clark won the South African GP, and went straight to the airport to fly to a Tasman race. That was the last time I saw him.’ Clark died at Hockenheim three months later, aged 32.
What was he like to work with? ‘Down to earth; he was a farmer who also drove racing cars. And he drove them fast. He would always get the maximum out of the car. If he didn’t do well, something was wrong. We were in London then and he would commute down the A1 from his farm, usually in a Lotus. It didn’t take him long. The roads were quieter then.’
Which gives us an idea. The A1 is still there, if a touch busier now. And more than 300 miles away is Jim Clark’s farm, the surrounding Borders roads on which he cut his driving teeth, and the recently opened Jim Clark Museum in Duns. We’ll hare up there to pay our respects and, on the miles in between, find out if the GT410 stands up as a more usable Evora.
Nosing out onto Norfolk lanes, I’m soon revelling in an exhaust note better even than a Cosworth DFV’s. It may share DNA with a Toyota Camry but the Evora’s Lotus-fettled supercharged V6 sounds magnificent. When the tacho needle swings past 4500rpm and the valve in the stainless steel exhaust opens (the titanium option’s £5500 and saves 10kg), it takes on a sharp-edged howl like nothing else. The sensation is heightened by watching the wastegate actuator for the charge-cooler snap open and shut in the rear-view mirror as you change gear, almost in unison with your right foot.
It’s best to take a one-pause-two approach to the manual gearchange, which can feel baulky at first. Once you’re tuned in it becomes intuitive. Shame the pedals are so slippery. I find myself scrubbing the soles of my trainers on the carpet every time I climb in from the rain, for fear of slipping the clutch in more ways than one. An auto option is still available, but it’s a touch slower and misses out on the limited-slip diff.
Between us and Scotland there are a couple of hundred miles of A1 to put beneath the Evora’s fast-spinning Michelins. It settles into the journey more calmly, and calmingly, than you expect from a Lotus. Cruise control on and exhaust valve kept schtum, the V6 turns quietly and the road passes beneath us relatively quietly too. Lotus’s chief attributes engineer (and chassis tuning legend) Gavan Kershaw says they’ve worked hard to reduce road and tyre noise. It’s still there, certainly – the Evora’s a sports car with wide tyres, after all – but it’s less prominent than in many performance cars, and cats’ eyes are virtually unnoticeable compared with the event they’d be in a GT410 Sport. You can hold a conversation at cruising speeds without bother, or take a phone call via Apple CarPlay (now standard-fit for the GT410). The Alpine-supplied touchscreen still looks and feels aftermarket but works well enough; better than my long-term- test Lexus RC’s factory-fit system, for example.
The interior’s unlikely to keep any Porsche designers awake at night, and there are a couple of quality niggles; the driver’s window closes with a porcine squeal at times, and the glovebox needs a good slam to close. But none of it’s a deal breaker.
The Angel of the North stands sentinel as we slink off the dual carriageway to our overnight halt in Newcastle. In the days when the A1 passed through the city centre, Clark would have travelled through here in his Lotus Elan company car. ‘For a town car, you can’t beat a Lotus Elan,’ he was once quoted as saying in an interview. ‘It has all the size advantages of a Mini.’ The GT410 makes a decent fist of being a town car here. Its pliant suspension soaks up the city’s cobbles better than most hot hatches, there’s no graunching over speed bumps and the reversing camera makes up for the frankly pants rear visibility through the rhomboid porthole of a rear window.
You sit a little higher than you might expect of a sports car, which quickly feels natural. Less ideal is the slightly offset pedal position, to make way for the wide front tyres. Next morning I’ll wake with a twinge in my back, but on the plus side the supportive (and heated!) Sparco seats do a fine job and the hotel desk is so taken with the Evora, having watched it enter the car park on the CCTV, that they waive the parking fee.
We’re up early the next morning for the final push to Scotland, detouring onto a favourite road on the way. Last time I was here was for a test with an Audi R8 and McLaren 570S. The Lotus feels faster along a given stretch of road than both of them, its power deficit more than offset by its almost supernatural ability to preserve momentum; to retain speed come what may. Back at Hethel the AP Racing brakes had been tricky to modulate, but on the road they’re strong and full of feel. So grippy is the GT410’s front you rarely feel the need to brake. Even with hail and sleet taking it in turns to hit the hillside roads, the tyres dig deep and the limited-slip differential finds traction where by rights there should be none. The GT410 generates a smidge less downforce than the ducktailed GT410 Sport, but the giant rooster tail of rain in the rear-view mirror suggests the diffuser is still making itself useful.
Leaving the bad weather behind, we emerge on the north section of the Jim Clark Trail, a route recently devised by the Jim Clark Trust. I feel a goosebump or two approaching his home village of Chirnside, knowing that we’re driving the same roads Clark would have driven, in the Porsche 356 he raced in local sprints and races, or in his Elan. We pause at Clark’s former farm in Edington Mains, wondering how many other F1 fans and Lotus drivers have done the same. I recognise the house from an old ad, Jim Clark on the drive, leaning on that red Elan: ‘I drive my Lotus for pleasure – not because I have to.’
The red Evora is certainly a pleasure on these roads. Dipping over crests and switching cambers, they would reveal the handling shortcomings of most cars – but the Evora feels entirely at home; a Lotus in its natural habitat. ‘We wanted the car to breathe with the road,’ Kershaw told me back at Hethel. ‘I hate cars that are over-damped and jostle you. A lot of cars are nicely damped as the suspension compresses, but they bounce back. Our cars are set up to breathe out in a controlled way, too.’
The GT410 certainly does that. Over crests, the GT410’s rejigged geometry works wonders, the steering staying true no matter how uneven the camber of the road or the loads across it. The Evora even uses a magnesium steering rim: expensive to manufacture, but a boon to off-centre inertia and steering feel. Whatever the recipe, it works. This is worldclass steering feel, a little slow in ratio compared with modern quick-racked supercars, but beautifully measured in its response. We’re not the only ones driving fast in Clark country. A Citroën Picasso comes flying past in the opposite direction, a hard-charging dad at the wheel. Further up the road, a lorry comes through at warp speed. No wonder more than a few professional race and rally drivers hail from this neck of the woods.
Suddenly, we’re not moving quickly at all. The V6 drops a cylinder, then another, then shuts down completely. We fire it up again; it’s ostensibly fine but in rev-limited Limp mode. Aitken-Walker garage in Chirnside kindly plug in a diagnostics kit, clear the fault codes and the Evora’s instantly back to its old self. Lotus later traces the issue to a loose pin on the engine wiring harness, a fault at manufacture from the supplier and an unlucky isolated incident.
Back in fine fettle, we reach Duns. The Jim Clark Museum is technically closed today, gearing up for its opening weekend of the year, but we’re kindly shown around by Kenny, one of the proprietors. The modernised museum opened in full last summer, and has seen 13,000 visitors since. A fully assembled cousin of the Lotus 25 we saw earlier at Classic Team Lotus sits next to the Lotus Cortina Clark three-wheeled to the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship title. Glass cases house a hoard of trophies. Kenny estimates it amounts to a quarter of the cups Clark amassed in his career. You wonder what the modest Berwickshire farmer who happened to be a multiple F1 title winner would have made of all the fuss.
And what he’d have made of the GT410. It really has been easy company; docile in town, comfortable on the motorway (offset pedals excepted), quiet at a cruise and hair-raising at high revs. Where the GT410 Sport is a car I admire but could only ever envisage as a weekend toy, with the right mindset you really could use a GT410 every day, yet be thrilled almost as intensely on a great road. It might not slip into your life quite as effortlessly as a Porsche 911 992 or 718 Cayman 982C but it is a rounded car. To paraphrase Clark, it’s still a Lotus to drive for pleasure, not because you have to. It’s the most versatile Evora yet without compromising on its essential Lotus-ness. Clark would approve.
With thanks to the Jim Clark Museum (jimclarktrust.com)
Impervious to rain, the Evora is happy to be flung ever-faster through trenches of standing water
Luxe spec extends to armrests on the doors. Armrests! You big softy. Every Lotus calls Hethel home – and the GT410 feels at home here The Evora’s light – but the ’60s Type 32B is lighter. One of the most comfortable Lotuses ever, if hardly a preview of the planned SUV’s cabin. Road-realistic ride height is a bonus again and again Clark’s silverware: underwhelming after James’s own trophy room. Should have brought a green one with yellow wheels.
Trying to keep it neat like Clark (and failing on this cold, almost grip-free road).
It might share DNA with a Toyota Camry but the Evora’s Lotus-fettled supercharged V6 sounds magnificent
There are niggles: my window closes with a porcine squeal at times, and the glovebox needs a slam
The Evora uses a magnesium steering rim: expensive to make but better
PICK-UP: 0 MILES
There’s a lot to be said for a straightforward, traditional key. But for an £83k car the Evora’s feels a little ordinary.
GT410 is softer and less grippy than the Sport but it still feels superb around Lotus’s test track. I don’t find myself wishing it was faster.
Glad Lotus has re-fitted the Evora’s armrests. As the miles tick by, my elbow really doesn’t mind the weight they’ve added.
Time for a fuel stop. Trip computer nudges 30mpg on the A1. Being small and light has its advantages.
A fuel stop for the occupants this time. All that work by the engineers to save weight…
Overnight stop in Newcastle. The trick with the boot is to pack sideways, into the corners. Back seats accommodate the rest of our gear.
Talking of the back seats, here’s what a 5ft 10 adult looks like using them… Unless you’ve very small children to transport, just tick the 2+0 option and get a luggage shelf instead.
Lotus’s Gavan Kershaw drew graphs on his notepad to explain how his team tuned the GT410’s dampers; this cattlegrid confirms the work’s paid off. Barely a ripple.
The Evora feels thoroughly at home on the borders roads, suspension uncannily supple yet controlled. Hethel’s still got it.
We stop to pay our respects at Edington Mains, once Jim Clark’s farm. I doubt I’m the first Lotus driver to pause at these gates.
We’ve overshot the 300-mile test target but the Jim Clark museum is worth the effort – and the car makes distance work a joy, not a chore.
The right kind of Evora
This car feels like a tacit admission that, in the hunt for lap times and a lower kerbweight, the Evora had strayed too far from its original premise. Where the GT410 Sport is a borderline 911 GT3 991.2 rival, the new GT410 feels more in-line with the Evora’s ethos, and is only fractionally less exciting to drive than the Sport. Of the two, the non-Sport is the one to have.
£82,900 – really?
In terms of the way it drives, absolutely – there’s little else out there to touch the GT410 for ride, handling and involvement. But its list price puts the Lotus up against the Porsche 911 Carrera 992, which is yet more well-rounded and capable, if a shade less engaging, and comes with the benchmark sports-car cockpit. Or you could have a used 718 Cayman GT4 982C and some change. But the Lotus has its own appeal.
Tech? There’s some, yes
Extra standard equipment has increased usability, including better seats and a touchscreen with reversing camera and Apple CarPlay. Heated seats, too, and multi-stage stability control; understeer-proof Tour, nicely relaxed Sport, ideal for- track Race, and off. But you’ll be looking in vain for adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist or blindspot monitoring, should you crave them.
MAX POWER 410bhp @ 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE 302lb ft @ 3500rpm
MAX SPEED 186mph
POWERTRAIN 3456cc 24v supercharged V6, six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
EFFICIENCY 26.7mpg (official), 24.6mpg (tested), 239g/km CO2
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