CAR is reporting live from the Lotus Evora launch in Scotland. Join our assistant editor Chris Chilton as he blogs a real-time test drive in CAR's exclusive Live Drive for our first verdict on Lotus's new 2+2. Stay tuned throughout the day as we update Chris's road test live. NB Start at the bottom and work your way up!
Monday 4 May 2009: Lotus Evora launch
6.53pm: Lotus Evora: the quickfire verdict
Okay, back at the hotel. That's a lot of driving and photography we've squeezed into the past eight hours, but as every mile passed under the wheel we became more convinced that Lotus has served an ace. This is no blithely patriotic let's-support-another-Brit-underdog exercise. CAR doesn't go in for sentimentality and we'll happily shoot down any car from any manufacturer that's no good. But Lotus really has struck a rare seam of creativity with the Evora. It's as comfy as any rival, has an interior that's so much better than any previous Lotus (if lacking in the final degrees of polish some will rightly expect at this level), drives brilliantly and is rapid and different enough to make a very serious alternative to a Cayman or 911. Pigeonholing the Evora is tricky – it sits between the two Porsches in philosophy. But what they have created is a brilliant new 2+2. Hethel: we applaud you.
6.29pm: How the Lotus Evora flows down a road
A great stretch of unhindered B-road, stretching across the south-western Scottish scenery. We're driving at a decent lick to get back to the hotel before Lotus send out a search party. The Evora feels really light, and those brilliantly tuned dampers clamp the car to the surface with amazing control. We're gunning it out of every corner and the traction is excellent – it speaks volumes for the weight distribution in this mid-engined sportster. I know I keep going on about it, but it's the steering that's seared into my memory. There's no sneeze factor built in, it's just bristling with feel even around the straightahead. There's no slop, the Evora just changes direction instantly. Is it too refined for its own good? On a full-bore blast, I could do with a decibel or two more engine noise; that Toyota V6 is a little too well mannered for our liking.
6.12pm: The drive back to the hotel: a few more details
How well finished is the Evora? Unlike its Elise-related brethren, this one doesn't feel like it was designed at Lego's Danish HQ. The materials on the dash are sooo much better, although the execution is still shonky in places. We've already mentioned that dire reflections and tacky sat-nav, but you can't see the minor switchgear around the light cluster. But there's loads of legroom and the driving position is spot-on. After a full day in the car, we realise that Lotus (presumably operating on a budget the size of Stuttgart's annual canteen tab) prioritised the driving aspects.
6.01pm: Squeaks and rattles and design chat
The Evora does seem well made, although ours has an annoying squeak from the dash. We like the look of it, though. It might be too Lotus-clone from the front, but at the rear they've crafted an intriguing, low-slung sports coupe with a difference. Like many of you posting here, I too see a little bit of McLaren P11 in the rear view.
5.48pm: Bugger. The PDA's crashed
Damn, just lost my verdict! Workman, tools etc. Will write the verdict when back in the hotel. Sorry to keep you hanging on!
4.48pm: On reflection...
We're suffering some really bad reflections on the windscreen. Our cabin is trimmed in creamy tan leather and the top of the dash is causing some chronic reflections in the window. I'm sure a darker colour would be better, but our example is another reminder that Lotus is brilliant at many things, but not always a master of detail.
4.27pm: Lotus Evora: the looks department
A subjective thing, obviously. One man's stunner's another man's munter. But Bramley and I are fans of the Evora's chiselled lines. It looks great from the back (and I too can see a little McLaren P11 in that rear wing and outline, like many of you posting here) if a little generic Lotus from the front. But the overall effect is neat, lithe, different.
4.08pm: Do the Lotus Evora rear seats actually work?
Ah yes, the rear seats. They're pretty damn small, but then we knew that already from our static appraisal of the Evora. This is a mid-engined sports car, so we can forgive the 2+not-quite-two layout. Think of it as a Porsche 911 style set-up. Those rear pews are, in fact, optional on the Evora. We've tried them out and they are teeny tiny. Useful for bags or extremely young children. Just don't go expecting to chauffeur your MD to the AGM back there.
3.02pm: Does it handle?
You already know the answer to this question. It's a Lotus, for crying out loud! So yes, it does tackle corners with gusto. It's flat and that composed suspension soaks up all the Scottish ruts and bumps we can throw at it. With no LSD, you occasionally chirrup the inside rear wheel on exit, but traction generally is pretty good. And that steering.... I still love it! Brilliant.
2.33pm: That Toyota V6 engine
The Lotus Evora weighs around 1.3 tonnes (heavy for a Lotus, not bad for a 2+2 V6 mid-engine sports car) and it's quick. Faster than a Porsche Cayman (boggo one, not the S) and feels just about right. We're spoiled nowadays with mentally fast performance cars, but this one feels just about right. It's very well judged. It's torquey and pulls hard, low down. It gets better, too, with a delicious yowl at the top end. It's proving quite addictive on these remote Scottish roads criss-crossing Glen Coe and Loch Fyne. The landscape is jaw-dropping, with mountains rising either side of the road and that inescapably Scottish palette of fern, rock and scree for as far as the eye can see. It's a spell-binding backdrop to our road test.
2.13pm: Got to dash, being pilloried by the photographer
Mark Bramley's not happy with me talking to you. We're shooting a (hopefully) lush-looking feature for CAR Magazine and time is tight. Speak later.
2.11pm: What we don't like about the Evora
This might be a great car, but let's provide some context. There are a few foibles. I've already mentioned rear visibility – it's woeful. You may as well mask the rear-view mirror with tape. Or toss a coin. The aftermarket Alpine sat-nav is low-rent and spoils the ambience somewhat. And there are other clues this is the product of a low-volume specialist: the door handles are a bit tacky and the indicator tick-tocks in an odd fashion, with the noises coming from different parts of the cabin in stereo. But come on. We're moaning about indicator noises! Back on Planet Realistic, this is a great car.
2.07pm: Freezing in Glen Coe
Sounds glamorous this road testing malarkey – but it's freezing my body's extremities up here in Scotland! Pretty though, and we seem to be making light work of the bank holiday traffic.
1.30pm: Lotus Evora: the engine room
Lotus and Toyota have been in bed for a while (supplying – most notably of late – the Elise 111R's transplanted 1.8 motor) and the Evora uses another Japanese engine, this time a V6. It suits the Evora's polished personality. Toyota don't sell the V6 with a manual transmission and Lotus offers two: a sports or touring 'box. We're testing the sports gearbox; first and second are identical but the remaining ratios are shorter. Seems well judged to me. It feels a bit 'knuckly' at first, but it's light, quick and accurate.
1.21pm: Why the new Evora is refined
Keep this in context. You'll never mistake the Evora for a Merc S-class. But this is a refined milieu for a sporting 2+2. The chassis rides brilliantly, like an upscale Elise but they've rounded off the 'thwump-crash' as you encounter corrugated tarmac. It's an excellent set-up, body control being well contained on these sweeping Scottish roads. And it's refined too. They've isolated noise too: the shotgun of loose road chippings and the contact of tyre and tarmac are all deftly suppressed. One small criticism – you can hear the noise of the windscreen wiper motor too obviously.
1.07pm: 'It's absolutely brilliant'
Yep, every mile that passes under the Evora's wheels is confirming that this thing is absolutely brilliant. It's surely going to win CAR's Performance Car of the Year gong 2009. It's so well rounded...
12.49pm: Crikey... The new Lotus Evora is really, really good
We've done a few miles now. I've pinched myself. And asked the photographer if I'm hallucinating. It seems not. And the Evora is brilliant. How can I be so sure after only an hour behind the wheel? Because this thing exudes excellence – the sort that makes itself apparent after just a few hundred yards. Lotus has crafted something special here. It's everything a more grown-up Lotus 2+2 should be. There are some residual clues to its DNA: the steering is exactly how you hoped it would be – it's like a grown-up Elise's rack. I'll go one more. It's the best power assisted steering set-up I've ever tried. Let's do a few more miles and I'll explain why.
11.56am: Feels promising
Ok. I couldn't help myself! A quick update after a few hundred yards down the hotel drive. It's riding comfortably (this is a Lotus, what else would you expect?) and I'm expecting great things. Can't see diddly squat out the rear mirror, though. Shouldn't be a problem up here in empty Scotland, but will be an issue if you live in London...
11.41am: That supercar feeling
I'm familiarising myself with the Evora now. And the cockpit has a real supercar feel to it. A Cayman or TT would feel boggo normal by comparison. It's to do with the high scuttle, the low seating position. Sitting in an Evora feels like an event. Time to turn the key. Our next report may be a little later – phone reception is poor around the Scottish hills and we've got some driving to do. We'll publish our first on-road testing impressions as soon as we can!
11.33am: We're in!
I'm handed the keys to the Evora. Time to don the road tester's hat and deliver CAR's first judgment on this new 2+2. And guess what? First impressions are very good. It's mainly to do with the build quality. It feels a notch above the Elise family. This car will compete with the Cayman et al, so it needs to be good. Forget the 'business class' Europa that was akin to the front seat in Ryanair's oldest plane. The Evora feels well screwed together and the materials are a big step forward for Hethel.
11.20am: A hotel somewhere in Scotland
A launch we've been waiting for for a long time: the Lotus Evora. For the past 12 years, Lotus has been issuing variations on a theme. A very Elise-based theme – with every model launch since the late '90s being an Elise pastiche in every conceivable shape and level of focus. But the new Evora is no Elise/Exige/Europa/2-Eleven clone. This one's very different indeed. And like on our real-time review of the Ferrari California, today we're going to attempt a CAR Live Drive – bringing you my impressions from behind the wheel as instantaneously as we can manage.