What do you expect when you get into a Lotus? Superb handling is a given. Lightweight, ditto. Power? Enough to make things plenty interesting. Comfort? Not high on the expectations list, to be honest. The last time I’d driven an Elise, the driving experience was incredible, but my body was in traction for a week afterwards. Features? If you want a radio, bring one with you. If the pedals aren’t in the right position, have surgery.
So how would the new Lotus Evora S stack up, the poster child of the modern Lotus range? I had two days to find out. And what a pair of days. Incident-packed, to say the least, where I found out that there were definitely two sides to this warrior Evora – and both were good. Firstly there’s what you’d expect: the dark road warrior. A stark performance machine. But with the Evora S then there’s a surprise, a lighter side. A comfortable sunny day cruiser. A head-turner for all the right reasons.
Driving a car for me is more than just a physical experience. I want to feel the car. Form a relationship. Understand the way the tyres connect with the road and how the steering gives feedback. The better the car, the more emotional the engagement. It could be a car worth a couple of hundred pounds or a supercar worth a hundred thousand – the brand or value mean nothing when you’re behind the wheel and your hands and feet take over. The aforementioned Elise still rates as the most enjoyable car I’ve taken round a track, so I was excited to see what the Evora would provide.
The Evora S would turn out to be the most pleasurable car I’d ever driven. Plenty would happen in the 48 hours the car was in my possession to create that close bond that I crave, a gamut of emotions and conditions that are things that a love of cars is made of. It would also prove just what a sublime car the Evora S is to drive, and how often preconceptions should be left behind. By the end, even though I knew I had to hand the keys back it felt like ‘my’ car, not someone else’s as is typical on most occasions.
Things hadn’t started well, however. I’d only driven the car for half an hour or so on the first morning, and there I was, heading at an angle towards the barrier of a twisting mountain highway. I’d been looking for a nice spot to shoot the car whilst the weather was particularly poor; with an eye on aesthetics rather than survival, the chilly gloom and low mist looked like providing a great backdrop to the low-slung Lotus.
During the ascent to this high point it had been sleeting and chilly, sure, but the car had felt so planted and the road had looked grippy enough for me to not quite do the conversion from fahrenheit to centigrade and appreciate just what the temperature was outside. I found out pretty quickly.
As I spotted an appropriate-looking side road through the mist, I pushed the brakes – a little too hard, as it turned out. The car slowed but also slowly began to come round as the speed scrubbed off, the traction control going into spasm in an angry effort to deal with the stupidity of my actions. Still, the Evora easily made the turn-off and I gently eased the car to a halt on the side road, with a slightly elevated heartbeat. The only problem being that it felt like I’d broken the front wheel off.
Discretion being the better part of valour, I got out of the Evora to check the situation. And almost immediately fell over on the almost sheer ice. Of course, it had been a case of the traction control still having an understandable fit and the almost total lack of grip. So, hang on, 30 degrees is cold, right? As it turns out, yes, in fahrenheit it is.
I very gently eased the car up the road to get to a suitable position to stop – my general optimism and the overwhelming desire to look for the pretty still wanting to ignore the reality of the conditions.
Five minutes later, at the point of having to push a frozen stump of a hand against the shutter button to fire the camera, reality finally hit. With an Evora full of snow and me now more an abominable snow-photographer than I cared to be, it was definitely time to get back in the snug – and most importantly warm – cockpit of the Evora. Then I could let loose some swearing about just how cold it was and defrost a bit before setting off to my final destination. Still, the car did look great in the mist and sleet, don’t you think…
It wasn’t quite over. Now gently rolling down the hill at walking pace, I came to the uphill left turn to the junction. Easing onto the brakes, the car just lazily slithered straight on, toward a signpost – the only one for miles around of course. Cue more swearing amid frantic steering corrections and little jabs of throttle, and the Evora once again avoided an uncomfortable meeting with something solid. Deep breath.
Optimism now put away. I crawled the following 30-odd miles to my destination, the road this side of the mountain a skating rink, slick with oil on its base and with a lethal covering of ice on top. I passed one car in the ditch, another buried in the central reservation – when I got to my destination, there were reports of 15 accidents and one fatality on that stretch alone.
It’s good to learn lessons. It’s also handy when you’re in a great car that allows lessons to be learned without more serious consequences. Oh, where was I by the way, in such harsh conditions? The north of England? Norway? Siberia? Nope. The desert. Or, at least, the mountains by a desert. Las Vegas, Nevada, to be precise. It turns out that Vegas has a winter, just like everywhere else…Tearing a strip in Vegas
I had use of the Evora S as my ride between the hotel on the outskirts of Vegas and the Spring Mountain Motor Resort the other side of the mountain range, where the finale of the 2013 Lotus Cup USA was being held. Earlier on I said that things hadn’t started well; that’s not quite true. Mine was a flying visit, two days bookended by long-haul flights, the time zone differences compounding the dazzling sensory overload that is Vegas.
I’d arrived at what my body understood to be 5am, picking up the Evora from just outside the airport and five minutes later was dizzily driving down the Strip. In my Lotus. In Sport mode, the exhaust growling away with just that little bit more aggression. I’m not sure life gets better.
The actual start to my first day’s ice-skating journey was equally as pleasing. As ‘my’ Evora was driven to the front of the hotel by the valet, there was a general murmur of appreciation that went up from other people waiting for cars. Not only that, but actual recognition. The bell hop was particularly impressed, recalling how cool the Esprit was back in the day.
This was not something I was expecting on this side of The Pond and it was impossible not to have a smile a mile wide as I tried to be as nonchalant as I could whilst fitting my gear into the various storage apertures around the car. So, a Lotus does still have a reputation – and a good one. Puts on sunglasses.
I hadn’t been given the keys to the Evora merely as a taxi though. The instructions were clear: get out on track. See what the car is really made of. Push it. So, on the first day at Spring Mountain – having ticked my extreme conditions shooting box – I got out on track as many times as possible. What could the Lotus do? The first thing I found was that it could go round corners. Really fast.
As I’d found out on the east side of the mountains, before the ice, the Evora’s speed doesn’t feel neck-snappingly fast, which is disingenuous. That makes it easy for someone with an addled brain such as myself to think that the speedo read out is in kph not mph. It isn’t. You actually are typically going far, far quicker than you should, leading to some slightly panicked cadence braking to get back down to the limit. Out on track, it’s a different thing.
In the introduction, I mentioned the things you expect from a Lotus. So, yes, the Evora had handling in spades and a simply phenomenal chassis. I would have been seriously disappointed if it didn’t. People don’t talk about it in the same breath as a 458 without reason. Chassis stiffness is rated at over 26,600Nm per degree, almost three time that of an Elise. But this S model also had power. A lot of power.
Buried away amidships is a compact 3.5-litre, supercharged V6 mounted transversely, making 345hp. The sound is awesome. Loud enough to make a point; not so loud that everyone thinks you’re an idiot. The blower adds a delicious rasp to the engine note, especially as the revs go into the mid-range.
Like any mid-engined car, the only issue is that you can’t really see any detail of the engine because of its optimum positioning. It’s a price that’s worth paying. I’m sure it looks lovely as a piece of engineering but I’m willing to concentrate on what it does instead of how.
The intakes are neatly moulded into the voluptuous rear flanks, which are ever present in the view from the side mirrors. In fact, the whole car has an organic, almost aquatic shape that is accentuated by the more cinched, chiselled waistline.
Looking forward, it’s almost like a single seater as you’re sitting quite a way up front, with the wheel arches flaring up on either side of your low-down driving position – not that it affected the excellent visibility. It just meant you really felt like you could place the car exactly where you wanted it.
In the rear-view mirror you have a reminder of the power every time you glance up. The big Lotus Performance logo embossed onto the deck cover makes sure that you never forget what’s on tap.
There is Lotus’ Intelligent Precision Shift flappy-paddle system, but I was much happier to have the six-speed manual, with my only issue being a personal one of matching revs on high-speed changes from third to fourth.
The brakes were simply staggering. The big calipers bring the car to a stop with such ease that you can brake deeper and deeper into corners. It’s quoted as being able to stop dead from 60mph in just 111 feet. I believe it.
Warm-up laps went quicker and quicker, as the Evora just drops into track mode according to the way you drive. You don’t need to press stupid electronic buttons or something that changes the way the car handles. It’s a Lotus. It’s made to go fast on a track and feel incredible whilst you’re doing it. Steering was direct, and the rear totally predictable and progressive. A total joy to drive on the limit.
The other thing is that it just keeps going. You drive it off the highway, where you’ve been comfortably ambling along on cruise control at an obviously legal speed, drive straight onto the track and engage race-brain. The Evora just steps up and joins you like an eager puppy. This is not a car that after two laps leaves you with cooked brakes and sky-high fluid temperatures. You just don’t need to ease off. Okay, so the tyres were maybe feeling it a little by the end of the weekend, but I like to think of that as worn-in rather than worn-out…
Then, when you do stop (I ran out of energy before the car), you get the utterly satisfying little pops and crackles of the car cooling down after its exertions. And then you go out again.Creature comforts… in a Lotus?!
So what about comfort? In all honesty, I’d be happy to forego luxuries (with a normal Lotus, read that as ‘anything’) when it comes to a well-sorted Lotus. It’s not what it’s about, after all. But the Evora S is a proper sports car! Like, with grown-up stuff on! It had sat-nav! Cruise control! Actually effective air conditioning! A reversing camera! It even had heated seats! Come on Lotus, what are you playing at? This all seems too sensible. You might say you’d bloody well expect it to have some luxury, given the $80,000 price tag. But seriously, the car is so good to drive that all the extras just felt like early Christmas presents.
The next day, I had a good chance to really get under the skin of the leather-bound cockpit. It wasn’t deliberate. Bewitched by the amazing striations in the rock ahead of me and stopping to take a shot, I accidentally locked the keys in the boot. I’d been building up to doing that, to be honest; I’d almost done it several times already.
But this time I decided to do it in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday morning with virtually no phone signal. The trunk release doesn’t work when the key isn’t in the ignition ‘for security’. As the one flaw I found with the Evora, it’s not such a bad one, if a tad embarrassing.
Crawling around the cockpit meant I could appreciate the build quality and finish. The front seats looked like they were going solid and stiff, but were surprisingly snug and supportive, making the driving position even more sublime.
I then moved to the rear – this car was the admittedly pointless 2+2 version. The luggage space option would make much more sense, but still. Finally, having taken off what I thought was every interior panel I got enough of a signal to find that the manual release is hidden under the rear seat panel. I was back in the game!
Still, at least I got to prove that the leather is, as promised, all leather and the metal is metal. I also found the release for the cavernous space in the hood… Well, big enough for the fluids top-up pipes anyway. And a toothbrush perhaps.
Arriving in an embarrassed but relieved state at the track, I had time for one last run out before taking a look at the Lotus Cup action and then setting up a final shoot with the car as the sun began to set on both the track and my time with the Evora.
All that was left after my brief fling was to drive the Evora back to Vegas and come to terms with giving it back. With time in hand, I found myself driving slower and slower as I approached my destination, wanting to savour the last moments. It was dirtier and a little more worn than when I picked it up, but then this is a car that exists to be driven, not shown off. So, it turns out you can have your Lotus and a bit of luxury, without compromising the Lotus ethic. A guerrilla warrior on the track, not to be missed.