Road test #Lotus-Evora-400
On paper this new #2015 #Lotus-Evora
is perhaps the only rival capable of taking on and beating the Porsche Cayman GT4. At a soaking wet Hethel, are the first impressions encouraging?
There’s nothing Wrong with a bit of good old-fashioned cynicism. However, there are times when cynicism is simply a euphemism for prejudice and all the ugly things that come with it. The sheer distrust that swirls around Lotus for many these days feels like it’s heading down that path. Of course, we have good reason to question Lotus: the wounds created by the Bahar years will take time to heal. Talk of an SUV when we’re all crying out for a period of stability and great sports cars before Lotus embarks on its next great adventure doesn’t help, either.
Yet, for all the uncertainty, there’s no question that Lotus still has the capability to build what we all love: cars with a purity of feel and response; cars that involve and excite. The last all-new Lotus was the Evora, which won eCoty in 2009, while the fabulously rorty Exige S shared the title with the Pagani Huayra in 2012. Hopefully that magic is still deep within the fabric of the company, even after the turmoil of recent years. Which brings us to the new Lotus Evora 400, a thorough reworking of the Evora S, with more performance, less weight, improved quality and a new edge to the dynamics. In the UK it is priced in line with the Porsche 911 Carrera 991, but the burning question is whether it can shade the Cayman GT4.
After what feels like weeks of warm, dry weather I arrive at Lotus to a deluge. The local roads are flooding and the sky is a leaden grey. These aren’t ideal conditions by any means, but perhaps they’ll play to the Evora 400’s skill set. When the going gets tricky you want clear lines of communication, a predictable balance and linear, intuitive controls – that almost sounds like an Evora mission statement.
Dynamics aside just for a moment, perhaps what’s most important over the next few months is that the 400 draws people into Lotus dealerships, and despite the rain and wind the bright orange shape punches out of the gloom and looks lean, sharp and aggressive. It’s a good start. Just as I climb out of the Cayman GTS I’ve arrived in, another 400 is about to be shifted into position and starts with a gorgeous whoop of revs. The noise is smoother and purer than the dirty Exige S cacophony. For showroom appeal the Evora 400 is already miles ahead of the Evora S.
After that tantalising introduction, it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of limbering up and then contorting myself to get behind the 400’s steering wheel. Thanks to a New charge-cooling system, the supercharged 3.5-litre V6 produces 298kW (400bhp, hence the name) and 410Nm. Coupled to a 41kg weight saving and a new Quaife torque sensing limited-slip differential, Lotus claims that the 400 can cover 0-100km/h in 4.2sec and reach 300km/h. That’s just the start, as Lotus says over two-thirds of the 400 is new, including suspension geometry and steering rack location, larger #AP-Racing
brakes, engine mounts, a significantly revised gear linkage, lighter seats, a completely redesigned interior, a new heating and ventilation system, revised traction and stability control calibration in conjunction with Bosch, and a sharp exterior that produces 32kg of downforce at 240km/h.
Yet perhaps the single biggest change that will count for prospective owners is that the chassis itself has been revised and the huge sills have been cut away dramatically. I need not have limbered up and I certainly don’t need to contort myself. Just swing open the door and get in just as you might with a Cayman. Praise be! The sheer inconvenience and discomfort of getting into an Evora is no longer an issue. The driver’s Sparco seat is set a little high but otherwise all feels and looks good. Can the 400match the fit, finish, design and control interface of a GT4?No, but it was ever thus with low-volume sports cars. Apart from the aftermarket feel of the Alpine touchscreen, the 400 is more than passable.
The engine really does sound terrific and it picks up all 1415kg with a wicked intent, spitting out pops and bangs on the overrun in the Sport and Race driving modes and providing a sense of occasion and performance that an Evora S owner wouldn’t recognise. They’d barely recognise the shift quality of the six-speed gearbox, either. The loose, rattly sensation is gone, replaced with something requiring a little more effort but rewarding with much greater precision. Even so, the ’box remains frustrating at times, refusing to deliver fast shifts from second to third gear without a nasty graunch. It’s way behind the pure joy of a Cayman’s manual, for example.
The Evora claws back points in other areas, though. The detailed steering is a thing of wonder in these days dominated by electric assistance and it really connects you to the much-revised chassis. Lotus wanted to create greater agility with the 400, so completely recalibrated the Bilstein dampers and upped the spring rate at the rear as well as increasing front camber and the fitting that LSD. There’s a bit more physicality to the ride and I like the new sense of aggression and more responsive setup. On sodden roads the chassis conveys every lump, bump and puddle without kicking back through the steering. An intuitive ESC setup means the 400 manages to feel alive and super-alert but also nicely reassuring.
On a similarly soaking but much smoother Hethel test track the 400’s impressive dynamics shine just as brightly. There’s a bit more body roll than you might expect but grip and traction are superb and the balance is as sweet as you could wish. Slow corners can see the 400 push gently into understeer but it’s so easy to turn in off the power, feel the tail swing wide and then balance it with just a trace of oversteer. The ESC deserves a mention again here too, as Race mode allows you to get some angle and then lean on the system to hold it there but not swing any further. Turn it off altogether and the 400 remains a beautifully balanced car beyond the limit.
Our time with the Evora 400 is short and compromised by the weather, but the fundamentals feel excellent. It remains a car that pours feedback the driver’s way with amazing detail. Traction is vastly better with the new LSD and the engine sounds so much more exciting than it does in the Evora S. The chassis retains that feeling of innate poise and control but adds just enough edge to create an experience that’s more special and exciting. Climbing into the Evora has never been easier and the rewards that await have never been more appealing. I’d say that’s job done. And a slot at eCoty and a date with a Cayman GT4 is assured…
The Evora remains a car that pours feedback the driver’s way.
Above: Evora 400 boasts new forged alloy wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber.
+ Performance, noise, grip and sense of excitement all take a Specification leap
- Gearbox still not perfect, interior quality
Drive-My rating 4+
Engine 3456cc V6, dohc, 24v, supercharged
Power 298kW @ 7000rpm
Torque 410Nm @ 3500-6500rpm
0-100km/h 4.2sec (claimed)
Top speed 300km/h (claimed)
Weight 1395kg (214kW/tonne)
Basic price n/a
Top: the 400’s redline is set encouragingly high, at 7000rpm, while maximum torque is developed between 3500 and 6500rpm.