DRIVEN: First Drive: 2011 Lotus Evora S

June 15, 2011
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If you didn't notice the more pronounced rear diffuser, matte black door mirrors, and single exhaust, then it's this Evora's S badge that gives the game away. The S, of course, means this Evora wears a supercharger atop its mid-mounted Toyota-sourced V-6 engine.
2011 Lotus Evora S Blue Rear Left Side View Track
And that means the scream of 345 horses comes through the tailpipe -- up 69 from the regular Evora. They're less muffled, too, thanks to a new exhaust bypass valve that's open all the time in Sport mode and at high engine speeds otherwise. So not only does the Evora get the sound it needed, it gets the power we always knew it could handle.
The S badge changes little about the Evora's driving experience. Climbing in still requires a fair bit of flexibility, but once you're inside, headroom is vast, rear visibility is scant, and the Alpine double-DIN touchscreen nav/stereo system flat-out sucks in every way, from sound quality to usability. Whatever -- the driving position is, of course, nearly perfect -- but into each life some traffic must fall. And when it does, there's nowhere for your left foot to rest when it's not on the clutch pedal -- the front wheel well lives there. The clutch pedal itself feels about half as heavy as the one in the base Evora, thanks to revisions to the master cylinder and pedal assembly.
The cable-actuated shifter linkage is still vague and notchy, with loads of play in all directions, and the Evora's transmission (sourced from a diesel Toyota Avensis) expresses its distaste for rushed shifts by grinding gears and its intolerance for low revs by broadcasting loads of gear noise. We sampled multiple cars, and each Evora's shifter felt slightly different, though none of them was pleasant. Each had gas pedals that responded differently to inputs -- one car ignored throttle blips (essential for smooth downshifts) completely, another responded most of the time, and others worked perfectly.
Inconsistent quality is, unfortunately, nothing new for Lotus. Something else that's also not new: absolutely perfect, utterly amazing dynamics. On a smooth, dry track, the Evora S ranks among the world's best-handling sports cars. Subtle revisions to the S's chassis (and the additional 120 lb of mass, most of which is located high atop the engine) change the car's balance slightly -- the S understeers a smidge more than the base car. We're slicing hairs here, of course: the Evora S is a dynamic masterpiece on track, responding to every steering and brake input in exactly the right direction, at the correct rate, and with perfect timing. The added speed means you can now finally reach the brake system's thermal limits (at least at brake-killer Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca) but the Evora's braking performance doesn't go away even when the pads are smoking like a Phillip Morris exec. Additional caster imparts slightly heavier weight to the S's steering, which remains beautifully communicative from the second you're moving. No single message is interrupted by the power assist.
2011 Lotus Evora S Yellow Front Right View
And if the Evora S is brilliant on a smooth racetrack, then it's downright mind-blowing over horrendous pavement. We found no mid-corner bump severe enough to upset this Lotus. We aimed for potholes but never ran out of suspension travel. We ran over sticks, sand, and frost heaves just to see if the Evora would care. It never did. It also never filtered out anything -- we felt the sticks, leaves, and ants we ran over -- through the steering as well as in the suspension -- but nothing ever upset the Evora and nothing caused it to deviate from its path. Nothing upset its magic carpet ride, either. The Porsche Cayman may be the Evora's equal on track, but when the road turns to crap, the Porsche will be sent home with a scraped front bumper, well-worn bump stops, and a driver who felt compelled to back way down.
By the way, the Evora S we drove was fitted with the optional big wheels (nineteen-inch front and twenty-inch wheels). That means the Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tires have an aspect ratio of 35 in the front and 30 in the rear -- or in other words, they have sidewalls that look as tall as a rubber band wrapped around a big wheel. If Lotus can make the Evora ride well with these tires, other manufacturers have no excuse for harsh rides with 40- and 50-series tires.
The supercharged engine pulls hard from idle to its 7200-rpm fuel cut (6800 rpm when not in Sport mode), with peak backside shove occurring at the 4500-rpm torque peak. It produces almost 90 percent of its peak torque from 2000 rpm to 7000 rpm, so there's big grunt available at all times and all speeds. Gear ratios are the same as the base car -- that's to say, long: First gear is good for a GPS-verified 40 mph; second will get you to 76 mph, and third tops out at 103 mph. The Evora could be more engaging with shorter gears -- but only if the transmission itself were more fun to play with.
2011 Lotus Evora S Gray Left Side View Track
The Camry's V-6 never sounded better -- and Lotus engineers have done a careful job of tuning the supercharger's sound. Restrained in that darling British way, there is never any trace of drone from the exhaust, and the Harrop twin-vortex supercharger makes not a single unpleasant sound -- only a faint, evil overlay to what is otherwise a pleasant, musical six-cylinder bark. The supercharger muffles intake noise slightly versus the base Evora, but the additional whooshing noises -- not to mention the louder exhaust and added horse pressure -- make the tradeoff well worth it.
The bigger question of "worth it" concerns the sticker price. The Evora S starts $12,000 dearer than the base V-6 Lotus, but additional standard equipment means the actual premium is closer to $9000. Still, that's a lot of money to pay for a supercharger. Of course, $76,000 (the cheapest Evora S you can get) is a lot of money, period.
The Evora's main competition is the Porsche Cayman, and while the two are at least in the same ballpark dynamically, they're not even playing the same sport where everyday usability is concerned. The Cayman has a perfect shifter, it's much easier to get in and out of, and it has far more cargo space. Also, it comes with a great stereo and a flawlessly finished interior -- for $14,000 less.
The Lotus, of course, offers exclusivity well beyond the Cayman's. Some would call the Evora's flaws endearing and insist that's what gives this car its unmistakable character. We wouldn't disagree -- especially now that the Evora S is available with the extra power we've long been waiting for.

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2011 Lotus Evora

Base RWD 2-Dr Coupe V6
starting at (MSRP)
$64,000
Engine
3.5L V6
Fuel Economy
17 City 27 Hwy
2011 Lotus Evora