First Drive: 2011 Lotus Evora S

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.

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.

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