First Drive: 2010 Lotus Evora

Toyota's DOHC 3.5-liter 2GR-FE VVT-I V-6, good for 276 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, marks a step up from the Elise's VVTL-I four, also supplied by Toyota. It helps this car, which is longer, wider and almost 900 pounds heavier than the hyper-focused Elise, reach 60 mph in just under 5 seconds, and a top speed of 162 mph, while delivering over 30 mpg on the highway. Though six-speed manual transmissions, also sourced from Toyota, are standard, with a sport-ratio option present on the cars we drove, an automatic gearbox will become available with the 2011 model year.

Stepping into the new machine, one is instantly aware that the Spartan aspect of Elise life has been banished. It's amazing what a little leather and carpet and a modicum of sound-deadening material will do for perception. Along with the cabin's extra width, which allows one's shoulders to be on less intimate terms with his front-seat passenger, longer doors mean one no longer require summoning the skills of a contortionist for ingress and egress, instantly making the Evora a car more suitable than the Elise for daily use. The rear seats - marginal, at best - may be deleted for a storage shelf and a 30 pound weight savings, at the customer's request.

In terms of build quality and the solidity of its presentation, the Evora is easily the most mature Lotus yet. While heavier than most of its predecessors, none will doubt they are driving a car built by people who place a premium on roadholding and handling. Its grip in two days of rain driving was exceptional, a testimony to its balance as well as Pirelli's P-Zero tires. Still more impressive was the fluidity and suppleness of the Evora as it traversed chewed up Scottish lanes, with none of the bone-jarring crashing over potholes and tendency to tramline found in the Elise. Body control is superb, rattles nonexistent, and steering seemed little compromised by the Evora's weight or sissified mission. If its reflexes are not quite as razor sharp as an Elise, the sensation through the Evora's leather-trimmed magnesium wheel reminds one strongly of the delicious steering feel Porsche 911 drivers experience. So, too, does the punch of the Evora. The sound of the variable multi-cam Toyota under full-throttle is sophisticated like Zuffenhausen's finest, though more in the vein of some fine Italian V-6. Who knew top-of-the-line Camry drivers were having so much fun?

At an expected $75,000, the Evora will likely undercut the 911 in price. And while most would-be Porsche buyers will choose to stick with the accomplished master, a discerning few might find they prefer this new type of Lotus, less raw and more relaxed than those that have come before, but still 300 pounds lighter than the lightest 911. You've got to hand it to these Lotus boys. Even when they're adding weight, they're still adding lightness.

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