Driven: The Lotus Evora GT Is a Wonderfully Analog Tool for Our Digital Times
History may not be kind to the Evora GT, but we certainly will be.
OJAI, California—We fear that history will judge the Lotus Evora harshly, especially if the Evija—Lotus's promised 1,972-hp, $2.1-million hypercar—comes to fruition. In the future, people may well look back on the Evora and question its role in the Lotus lineup, calling it too plump and plush compared to the minimalist Elise and Exige and not hyper enough compared to the Evija.
But we are in the here and now, and having just driven the latest iteration, the 416-hp Evora GT, our love for the Evora still burns bright.
Yes, it's old and relatively heavy and a little quirky, but it's also a brilliant drive and unlike anything else out there—except perhaps another Lotus. Because at the end of the day, every Evora we've tried, up to and including the GT, drives like a heavier, softer Elise. Cynics will focus on the words "heavier" and "softer", but Elise is the word that really matters.
Driving an Evora is all about the steering. Though hydraulically boosted—the Evora is the only current production Lotus with power steering—the feedback it delivers is magical. Lotus went so far as to make the steering wheel out of magnesium in order to reduce mass that could damp out feedback. And yet there are no sharp kicks as you might get with unassisted steering, just a smooth, constant flow of data.
And that data flow must go two ways, because the Evora GT's steering is so quick as to be hypersensitive. It's not darty, which frankly amazes us (we suspect sorcery as the core technology), but the Evora will respond to the slightest twitch of your arm muscles, and it requires light hands and heavy concentration not to turn each corner into a constant series of tiny course changes. One doesn't steer the Evora so much as guide it—but your guidance must be spot on, because the Evora will do exactly what you tell it. Even a quick glance at the center console to turn up the A/C is enough to send the Evora moving toward the breakdown lane.
Call it a characteristic of British cars: Unlike German machines, many of which seem engineered to make you feel like a better driver that you actually are, the English are harsh schoolmasters, demanding full focus and flawless technique. But the Evora doesn't smack your knuckles with a ruler the way the Aston Martin Vantage does; instead it grades your paper quietly, then hands it back with your mistakes marked in red.
That said, even as the Evora forces you to pay careful attention, it is merciful enough to provide an ideal learning environment. All of your driving takes place within a massive envelope of grip—and believe you us, it's a strange feeling to push a car as hard as one dares and not hear so much as a squeak from the tires. We can't quite credit this to light weight (3,175 pounds, a porker by Lotus standards) or downforce (now doubled to 141 pounds, but that's at 188 mph), so kudos most go to the superwide Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber. The GT's stability-control system has understeer mitigation, which is disabled in Sport mode—but if there's someone willing to push the Evora hard enough on a public road to evoke understeer, you'll forgive us if we decline to ride with him.
For all of this agility and grip, the ride is supremely comfortable, to the point of being hard to believe. When someone says the Evora drives like a softer Elise, that's a compliment.
The Evora GT is no somber experience, rather being a carnival of speed and noise. Forget the stated performance figures of zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 188 mph with a manual transmission (3.9 and 174 for the automatic). The 3.5-liter V-6, sourced from Toyota and supercharged by Lotus, always has thrust to spare and it takes little effort to get the Evora GT on the boil and keep it there. Most of your fast driving can be done in two gears, or even one; the shifter mainly serves as a volume knob. Whenever possible, we left it turned up to eleven.
We split our time between manual and automatic cars, and while an automatic Lotus seems like a sacrilege to us, we understand the necessity in these days of the ubiquitous Porsche PDK. The Evora's automatic is a conventional Aisin torque-converter six-speed, and while it certainly doesn't shift as quickly as a dual-clutch can, the supercharged six's fat torque curve means there shouldn't be much shifting to do.
Unfortunately, the transmission likes to upshift early and the Sport program isn't very good, taking a bit too much time to detect the need for part-throttle downshifts. (Lotus told us the transmission's memory in our car had recently been cleared, so it was still "learning. ") The assumption is that drivers will use the shift paddles, but if you're going to call on shifts yourself, why not buy the manual? Granted, the Evora's stiff clutch pedal requires three men and a pair of Clydesdales to get to the floor, but the shifter itself is sheer perfection. It's no surprise that roughly 70 percent of Evora buyers opt for three pedals.
Ramp down your speed and you can begin to appreciate what a decade of maturity has done for the Evora. Since the retroactively named Series One cars appeared in 2010, Lotus has opened up the footwell, adding two inches of much-needed width, and refined the interior. The 2020 GT largely lacks the built-in-the-backyard feel of the original cars. The Sparco seats are fantastic and the switchgear is simple, well-marked, and easy to use. All of the Evora GTs we sampled had body-color interior panels and stitching—a beautiful effect but at $1,750, an expensive one. Aside from the drumming of the tires and the heavy clutch, the Evora is quite pleasant to drive.
And, man, is it good looking. Lotus has made subtle tweaks to the Evora over the years, and we think the cars we drove for this test are among the prettiest we've seen. A new black panel between the taillights transforms the look from the rear for the better. All of the cars you see here have premium paint colors that cost $5,900 to $8,100, an $8,000 titanium cat-back exhaust (hence the blue-tinged tailpipe), and the $10,000 Carbon Pack, which adds, among other bits, a carbon-fiber roof and engine cover. What can we say? Looking good ain't cheap.
Lest you think there's a lack of typical British quirks, though, let us assuage your fears. In the three cars we tested, we found left-side mirrors that wouldn't adjust far enough outward and at least one good rattle in the driver's door. Outward visibility to the rear exists only if you use the strictest definition, which is to say what little you can see is, in fact, outside of the car. (The rearview mirror is much better suited to watching the supercharger wastegate actuator do its thing.) Oh, and if you've had the driver's door open for more than a minute or two, you cannot start the engine unless you press the unlock button on the key again to disable the immobilizer. We're pretty sure Lotus could fix this were doing so not illegal under Britain's Non-Functional Motor Car Act of 1911. That said, the engine is sourced from Toyota and both transmissions from Aisin, so the oily rotating bits should be pretty well bulletproof.
When the non-supercharged Evora first came out, it was a bargain at 74 grand. Today's Evora GT starts at just under $99K, and the high-spec, Skittle-colored cars we drove all hovered around $132,000. Lotus would be happy to match 2018's sales of 220 or so Evora 400s in the U.S. and Canada, so it seems silly to compare this car to normal production models. But compare we must, because with the Porsche Boxster S starting just over $70,000 and the mid-engine Corvette C8 around $60K, the Evora GT is not really alone in its field. Of course, pricing doesn't account for the Evora's unique driving experience. The Porsche is talented and the Corvette C8 should be as well, but nothing drives like a Lotus.
And at the end of the day, that's all that matters to us. The new Evora GT may be a little irrational and a little expensive, but driving it is one of the few unique experiences left in our rapidly digital motoring world. History may or may not be kind to the Evora GT, but we certainly will.
2020 Lotus Evora GT Specifications
|ENGINE||3.5L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6; 416 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 317 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||20 mpg (combined)|
|L x W x H||173.0 x 77.6 x 48.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.8 sec|
|TOP SPEED||188 mph|