Lotus Evora (2009): the new review

By Chris Chilton 12 May 2009

By Chris Chilton

12 May 2009

So Lotus is rinsing out another Elise variant, eh?

No, the Evora really is new, the first all-new Lotus for nearly 15 years in fact. It’s built to take on the likes of the Porsche Cayman and 911 and slots into the Lotus range above the Elise and below the forthcoming Esprit.

You might have read our innovative, real-time test drive blog live from the launch of the Evora. That might have conveyed our excitement from the event – and now’s our chance for a more considered full first drive.

How can the new Lotus Evora take on both the Cayman and 911?

A couple of reasons. First, a £47,500 price puts it squarely between the two Porsches on price, and secondly, buyers have the option of adding a couple of tiny rear seats for a £2375 premium. The Evora is the world’s only mid-engined 2+2 and certainly much prettier than the last volume effort, Ferrari’s ungainly Mondial (although we’ve got a soft spot for its wedgy Bertone predecessor, the 308 GT4).

Like a 911’s rear chairs, they’re no use for normal-sized adults other than for a quick trip round the corner. But they’re perfect for kids. The Evora’s wheelbase is the same regardless of configuration – if you haven’t got kids and don’t need the seats you save money and get some extra luggage space.

How does the Evora differ from the Elise?

The chassis is all-new. It’s still made from bonded aluminium extrusions but this time it comes in three parts: the central tub, a front frame and a rear frame. Splitting the chassis like this has huge benefits when it comes to repairing crash damage. In fact, when Lotus was conducting crash tests, it ended up not using a couple of the central tubs it had brought along.

After stoving in the front or back end, engineers just unbolted the subframe at the requisite end, fitted a new one to the undamaged tub and moved on to the next impact. No wonder Lotus claims the Evora is 2.5 times stiffer than an Elise.

>> Click ‘Next’ to read the rest of CAR’s first drive review of the new Lotus Evora

    

What about the engine? It’s going to need more than a Toyota four-pot to take on Porsche. Something special, something exotic…

Something from the Toyota Camry? We’re not kidding, but before you close the page, we should say that it works brilliantly here. The Evora weighs 200kg less than the Toyota and comes with a Lotus-tweaked intake system and is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox for the first time.

So although its 276bhp and 252lb ft of torque is pretty much the same installed in the Evora, it feels very different. It’s a smooth engine, as you’d expect, and packs a mighty wallop in the mid range, which makes it great for road use.

It even sounds great, a sharp-edged wail accompanying every full-throttle trip to the 6600rpm redline (7000rpm if you press the Sport button should you have ticked the Sport pack option when you ordered – you should for the sharper throttle response, if nothing else).

So the Evora is quick?

Zero to 62mph takes 5.1sec and top whack is 162mph. That’s fast, but not blisteringly so. Clearly Lotus has left room for a more powerful version to appear at a later date. Unlike the basic Cayman though, you never feel the need for more performance. Or more economy: the Evora returns an impressive 33mpg and emits just 205g/km of CO2.

But it’s 400kg heavier than an Elise, how does it handle?

Brilliantly. It drives just like a more grown-up Elise with a wonderful balance and strong (anti-lock-equipped) brakes. The ride is simply sensational, bumps are neither heard nor felt unless you’re travelling at low speeds on very rough ground and, even without a limited slip differential, traction is understandably impressive with the drivetrain pressing down on the driven wheels.

Traction control is standard in Europe; the US gets full stability control. Given enough momentum though, you can drift the Evora, and more easily than you can an Elise thanks to the more generous steering lock that also makes town driving painless.

>> Click ‘Next’ to CAR’s first drive review verdict on the new Lotus Evora

Ah, the steering. The heart of a Lotus!

We wondered how Lotus would manage to retain the unassisted Elise’s natural mechanical feel despite moving to a powered set-up, but it has done a brilliant job. There’s no nasty autobahn sneeze factor built in to dim the response from the straightahead as there is in so many modern cars, yet it never feels nervous.

And you’re always aware of what’s happening up front thanks to the subtle changes in the Evora’s steering weight. As power-assisted steering systems go, this has to be one of the very best. And it will come as no surprise to learn that it’s an old fashioned hydraulic set-up.

I thought the heart of a Lotus was its sub-par build quality?

True, our car did have the odd squeak, and although the stylish (and roomy) cabin represents a giant leap for Lotus, it still isn’t quite up to Porsche standards when it comes to fit and finish. But when you consider that the Evora turned from idea to production reality in just 27 months, that’s perhaps no surprise.

Largely, the Evora still feels like a quality item in need of only small detail improvement like silencing those wipers and eradicating reflections from the windscreen. It’s light years ahead of an Elise, trust me.

Verdict

If you’ve outgrown your Elise and want something with the same dynamic qualities but far more refinement, you’ll love the Evora. It’s everything we’d hoped a bigger, more sophisticated Lotus sports car might be. And this is just the start. More powerful versions, an auto and possibly a cabrio are on the way. Lotus hopes to shift 2000 cars each year and on this showing it should have no trouble.

Statistics

How much? £47,500
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 3456cc 24v V6, 276bhp @ 6400rpm, 252lb ft @ 4700rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 5.1sec 0-62mph, 162mph, 33mpg, 205g/km CO2
How heavy / made of? 1382kg/steel
How big (length/width/height in mm)? 4342/1848/1223mm

Ratings

Handling 5 out of 5
Performance 4 out of 5
Usability 4 out of 5
Feelgood factor 5 out of 5
CAR's Rating 5 out of 5

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