► First drive of the new Lotus Evora 400
► Improved interior quality and ergonomics
► Less weight, more power – and more money
Yes, the Lotus Evora 400 costs £72,000. It’s worth mentioning the price up front, because it’s not only a sizeable jump from the low-£60k-bracket foothills of the old Evora S but a pretty big wodge of cash full stop. One that’s more than a few rungs above a certain mid-engined Porsche.
So it’s important that the Evora 400 really is more car as well as more money. This isn’t just a new set of bumpers and some nicer interior trim (although they’re both part of the story), but a ground-up overhaul to turn the Evora into the junior supercar it sought to be from the start. And the results are actually a little bit spectacular.
Lotus Evora 400 – what’s new?
On the outside, actually, a new set of bumpers is the main story, making the Evora a more angular, glowering thing to behold. Together with a little reshaping of the rear spoiler, the Lotus now summons a little more downforce (a modest 32kg at 150mph), much of it conjured from the airflow beneath its flat floor.
But it’s everywhere else that the picture’s changed. Lotus claims as many as two thirds of the Evora’s components are new or altered, and it’s been on a fairly extreme diet. A team was tasked with taking weight and cost out of the entire Evora parts bin, the 1395kg kerb result being a net 42kg reduction despite bigger brakes all round (a stipulation from chief exec Jean-Marc Gales – ‘it was not 100% necessary, but I wanted absolute braking power, so that nothing could come close to it on the track,’ he told CAR) and the addition of a new charge cooler unit.
Together with a new ECU and altered exhaust, that last bit has given the Evora’s power output a serious shot in the arm. Under the engine cover it’s the same Toyota-sourced 3.5-litre supercharged V6 but the new charge cooler and upped supercharger pressure has pushed it to 400bhp – a 55bhp increase, and an explanation for the new nameplate. Whereas before both a naturally aspirated Evora base model and a supercharged Evora S were available, the 400 is now the only game in town.
The list goes on. Stiffer springs and dampers, a relocated steering rack and a mechanical limited-slip diff on manual cars (a paddleshift auto is still an option), and reshaped sills to make it easier to get in and out – more on which in a moment. As good a measurable assessment of the changes as any are that the Evora 400 has gone no less than seven seconds faster around Lotus’s Hethel test track than the old Evora S.
Click here to read a detailed walk-around of the Evora 400 with Lotus Group chief Jean-Marc Gales.
Have all the Evora’s niggles really been put to bed? I’m talking about the baulky gearshift, the shonky switchgear, the fact you needed to be a yoga instructor to get in and out…
Bit harsh. But yes, ergonomically the 400 is a big step forward. The much narrower, much lower (yet just as structurally sound) sills have made a huge difference to access. You might still feel the need to slide the (new, lighter) seats back for the easiest possible entry, but it’s a great improvement.
Once you’re in you’ll find a vastly improved interior. Evora switchgear used to be a swathe of anonymous metallic discs, many of which were hidden in a dark corner of the dash behind the steering wheel, giving you a lucky dip of heating the seats, unlocking the boot or opening the glovebox. Now they’re easily read, easily reached and concentrated atop the dash, just above a dubious ’80s-style ‘LOTUS’ script. That, together with a few cheap-feeling plastics and an Alpine multimedia screen that still looks like it was plucked straight from the shelf at Halfords won’t keep any Porsche designers awake at night, but it’s a well-presented, genuinely comfortable cabin nonetheless. There’s no shortage of kit available; our car had heated seats and a reversing camera to play with, and sat-nav’s standard.
You sit in an oddly high position for a sports car, and with the screen wrapping around you like a goldfish bowl and the low nose disappearing ahead you feel almost as if you’re sat over the front axle. The pedals are very close together, and oddly offset (the brake’s on the centreline of the steering, yet there’s now quite a bit of space either side of the pedalbox). Once you’re tuned into them they soon feel natural, even the brake pedal’s long travel.
As for that gear change, it’s still far from perfect, but a great improvement over the washing-line-through-a-cutlery-drawer setup of before. You still have to be unhurried and precise with it, but it is far more positive.
What about the rest of the car? Presumably it’s still great to drive?
Oh yes. We drove the 400 on unforgiving, very wet Welsh roads together with the Aston Martin Vantage GT12 as part of the British Heroes extravaganza in the September issue of CAR (see a preview here) and despite a 192bhp power deficit the Lotus could cover ground noticeably more quickly than the Aston.
That’s not just down to the Evora’s lower weight and greater agility but also down to the accessibility of its handling. It’s just so good at telling you what it’s up to. There are rarely any nasty surprises because everything the chassis does is so transparent, and the stability control is so unobtrusive you rarely feel the need to turn it off, or switch to progressively smaller safety nets in Sport and Race modes.
Despite a shift in the steering rack’s location to reduce bump-steer the measured, communicative hydraulic power steering is still one of the Evora’s key strengths, and so is its ride quality. Some of the old Evora’s smooth-riding silkiness is gone at lower speeds, where the stiffened-up springs and dampers make their presence felt, but at speed it can still put most exec saloons to shame.
So it still handles well. No surprises there. But does it actually feel fast now?
It really does. This is the quickest production Lotus yet, with a big-boy top speed of 186mph, and it feels noticeably more urgent than the old car. Even if it didn’t it wouldn’t matter though, because it now sounds fantastic. That new exhaust system has helped the V6 find its voice, a nuanced, wailing note that sounds every decibel the purebred exotic. It’s quite a noise.
In 400 form, the Lotus Evora now feels closer to supercar than sports car. It’s more well-rounded and easier to live with yet its chassis is sharper than ever, and there’s now the speed (and the sound) to match it.
Certain aspects are hard to reconcile with the heavyweight pricetag; although the interior’s greatly improved it doesn’t quite feel like that of a £72,000 car, and there’s still a slightly toy-like aura to the car as a whole. But what a toy. The Evora 400 is a lot of money, but it’s one of the most absorbing, entertaining cars available at any price point.
Not everyone wants a Cayman.