First Drive: Lotus Evora Sport 410
Evidence Lotus is well on its way to rediscovering its old magic
HETHEL, NORFOLK, England—I've just spent a couple hours lapping the new Lotus Evora Sport 410 around the legendary Norfolk sports-car maker's 2.2-mile test track. As you might suspect, it is more than a mildly pleasant diversion on a gray English afternoon. I should mention this was only after three sunny days and more than 500 blissful miles spent getting to know the most powerful Evora yet by hammering it down a variety of pastoral English country lanes of the narrow and sacredly curvy sort that gave birth to this Lotus and its many esteemed predecessors. The Sport 410 is also, undoubtedly, the car Lotus wishes it built when it launched the Evora line of mid-engine sports cars in 2008.
Think of this car as an upscale, upsized retake on the more miniscule mid-engine Elise that returned Lotus to volume production in 1995. The Elise boasted a groundbreaking chassis of bonded aluminum extrusions and the new Evora was a great car at the time of its U.S. introduction in 2010—an Elise with a V-6, just shy of 11 inches more wheelbase, and a tiny but still useful backseat. It was, however, still possessed of a few more rough edges than a firm with a longstanding reputation for rough edges might want their self-proclaimed Porsche competitor to contain. It steered and rode wonderfully, and while a marked step up from previous Lotuses in terms of build quality, its ergonomics were still more challenging than any modern Porsche's.
Plus it continued to have that unresolved air about its secondary controls that small-volume makers often suffer. That went double for the all-important infotainment interface. Such things strike terror in the hearts of a majority of well-heeled enthusiasts. They expect reliable transport and lack of idiosyncracy on those days when they want to start an occasional Sunday drive, and by gum, they're going to get it—even if it means buying the less exciting car. History records that's what they mostly did, as annual U.S. Evora sales infrequently broke into the low triple digits.
The Evora also weighed close to 3,100 pounds at launch, more than a thousand pounds heavier than a federal Elise (2005-2012,) and a surprising lot we thought at the time for a car from a company that long reigned supreme in its commitment to lightness. "To add speed, add lightness," company founder Colin Chapman famously said, and with the aluminum Elise chassis, Lotus seemed to have finally found a way to adhere to its traditional lightweight values while making a car that was strong enough to meet 21st-century crash standards, if you will, head on.
But the perennially strapped specialist maker did the best it could with what it had. Building sports cars is, sadly, an even smaller niche than it used to be. So although the Evora was quite special out of the box, the development that would have smoothed out some rough edges and eliminated some of the avoirdupois had not occurred. It rode and handled wonderfully, it didn't rattle, but it was hard to shake the idea that the thing weighed as much as a Jeep. And it cost in the high five figures, which though easily justifiable still took many traditional Lotus fans out of the running.
Happily, the Evora 400 came along in 2015, lighter and more powerful, and now the still lighter Sport 410, a new 2+0 limited edition (only 150 to be built) addresses these shortcomings again — except the price (more on that in a moment) — and not a moment too soon.
Aside from that stiff and safe chassis, the 410 benefits from a curb weight that's been heading down since 2008. More than 200 pounds have been excised since those early cars, thanks in part to extensive use of carbon fiber and ultra lightweight alloy wheels. All the while the power figures (and aerodynamic downforce) keep moving up.
At the center of the Sport 410 self-betterment equation is once again an engine something like what you might see in a Camry — Toyota's 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6 — but as massaged by Lotus (cams, ECU, lightweight flywheel), and here in supercharged form. With 400 horsepower now at a heady 7,000 rpm, and 301 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm, it is markedly quicker than the 246 horsepower the Evora was born with. As motivational assets go, the blown motor goes great — 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds with a top speed of 190 mph.
Power is accessed easily through the nice-shifting six-speed manual this test car sported, allied to a Torsen limited-slip differential. Sure, something else might change cogs quicker and more smoothly than the self-shifter (a six-speed paddle-shifted automatic is an option), but this gearbox and a pleasantly weighted clutch pedal only enhance a driver's enjoyment of the car. We don't always find this to be the case anymore.
The Sport 410 sounds better, too. The whine of the supercharger spooling up — efficient and modern yet still hinting at a climbing WWII fighter plane — is gravy on a substantial auditory main course, the addictively throaty bellow of a DOHC V-6 breathing hard, with a raw and authentically fruity (no synthetic noise here) exhaust note in Comfort ESP mode that's only accentuated when running in Sport or Race modes. An optional, high-flow titanium exhaust system further rounds out the fab sound while sparing the car another potential 22 pounds.
Most important in a Lotus, grip, balance, and steering feel are phenomenal in the 410 and the ride is better than ever, still pinch-yourself surprising in a car so flingable and performance focused, and with a relatively short wheelbase. Credit serious smarts in the chassis department. Optional lightweight carbon seats covered in leather are handsome, lighter, and perfectly comfortable over the course of a couple long days behind the wheel, despite being entirely manually adjustable. Power windows would go without mention in most cars, but in this Lotus, since you may feel you have to ask, they're as good and robust as any, which is more than you can say about many Lotii past.
The Evora Sport 410 is priced within a hair's breadth of $100,000, and many will think that's too high. Yet when you acknowledge you are talking about a machine with performance squarely in supercar territory and a chassis that could teach many supercars a thing or two, the number comes into focus. It may still be unaffordable—it sure is for me—but it can compete with cars twice its price and more, making it in many ways a bargain.
Last week, Lotus announced another new Evora, the more track-focused, more powerful, lighter, and more expensive Evora 430. A new Elise is one thing to look forward to now, too—think 2020—and highly probable as a controlling interest in Lotus primary shareholder, Malaysia's Proton, is being acquired by China's Geely. When you think of all the good this on-the-march outfit appears by all measures to have done for Volvo — or, for that matter, when you reflect on the things India's Tata has done for Jaguar and Land Rover — there does seem reason for optimism. You have some of the best, most focused engineers in the business on the ball. Now that the money is here, let them get on with it.
Sometimes all it takes to lighten the car is somebody at the executive level who can afford to lighten the corporate wallet in the name of future advantage. Which is kind of what you might say as a buyer about the Evora Sport 410. It is costly, but quite possibly worth it in the long run.
2017 Lotus Evora Sport 410 Specifications
|ENGINE||3.5L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/400 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 301 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||16/24 (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||173.1 x 80.6 x 48.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.9 sec|
|TOP SPEED||190 mph|