First Drive: 2010 Lotus Evora

Company founder Colin Chapman's apocryphal credo - "simplicate and add lightness" - may have to be amended in honor of Lotus' new 2+2, the Evora. Of course, "complicate and add relaxation" doesn't sound as good, but that's what the new car does, with excellent, possibly even brilliant results that will tempt not just the Lotus faithful, but more than a few Porsche 911 intenders.

Lotus has lived on the razor's edge most of its 61-year existence but has enjoyed some of its greatest sales since the introduction of the extraordinary Elise in 1995. That car led many Lotus fans' eyes to tear up, for here again was a revolutionary Lotus - with its rigid, safe and easily configurable aluminum tub chassis - a technological beacon that pointed the way forward for other low-volume manufacturers (notably Aston Martin, which has adopted the concept throughout its lineup) and restored the Norfolk carmaker to its place at the forefront of sports car technology.

But 13 years and more than 30 Elise variants in, the company saw the need to move the brand up-market, while at the same time broadening its appeal. Rather than launch a promised replacement for its long-lived supercar, the Esprit, which went out of production in 2003 after 28 years, Lotus radically rethought its plans - following the return of longtime executive Mike Kimberley in 2006 - and instead turned out in an astonishing 27 months the Evora, marking the company's return to the 2+2 market after a 17-year hiatus. Models like the Elan +2, the Elite, and the Excel comprised 20% of all Lotus sales volume through 1996, and the Evora - expected to sell at the rate of 2000 cars per year, with roughly one-third coming to the U.S. - picks up where they left off. Being a mid-engined four-seater, however, it is currently in a class of one on the world stage.

The Evora expands on the Elise theme, but its aluminum chassis - slated to provide the basis for an eventual Esprit replacement - is significantly revised, for even greater torsional strength (it's one and a half times stiffer than the Elise) and safety. Looking better in person than in spy photos, with strong hints of both the Elise and the Lancia Stratos, (check that wraparound windshield,) the Evora hardly looks like the four-seater it is, though 2 + 2 two-year-olds is more like it.

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