SOME THREE HOURS INTO A LOOP through the twisty rural roadways of California wine country in the new-for-'11 Lotus Evora S, the thought occurs to us: “Hey, our fillings are still intact.”
Only a car from Lotus, the British maker of stripped down 2-seaters with suspensions sprung tighter than Tom Jones' trousers, could illicit such an observation. The ride in the Evora S may even be characterized as “supple,” compared with its jaw-jarring stablemate, the Elise.
That's quite an achievement, given how just 12 hours earlier the same Evora S snaked through the infamous corkscrew ofRaceway Laguna Seca like an amusement park ride.
If ever there were a race-ready sports car a person could live with every day, this is it. The Evora S starts at $76,000 and achieves up to 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km) on the highway, but still sprints from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.3 seconds and tops out at 172 mph (277 km/h).
It could be said the Evora S finishes what the more economical and more sedate Evora started. After bowing at the London motor show in mid-2008, European deliveries of the base Evora from the Hethel assembly plant in Norfolk, U.K., got under way one year later.
In April 2010, the car arrived in the U.S., and now the Evora S begins trickling in. So far, the Evora line has accounted for 1,300 sales across 28 countries.
But despite a more civilized demeanor than the Elise, as well as an interior striving to fit its luxury price point, the 276 peak hp from the naturally aspirated car's 3.5L V-6 falls short of the magical 300 ponies that turn heads in today's market.
Never mind that at a spry 3,046 lbs. (1,326 kg) it still bolts from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds. Power-to-weight ratios, even at 11 lbs. (4.8 kg) per hp, figure little into most consumers' purchase decisions, so the Evora suffers a disadvantage on paper.
The Evora S uses the same-sourced 3.5L V-6, an engine whose day job is motivating umpteen thousand Camry sedans and Sienna minivans. However, the mad scientists at Lotus bolt on a Harrop supercharger to squeeze out 345 hp and 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque.
The added punch is evident atRaceway. Our naturally aspirated test car struggles to keep up with Lotus team drivers in an Evora S on a pair of get-acquainted laps around the track. With each turn and uphill grade, the boosted car increases its lead.
Slipping into the Evora S makes for a fairer game, as the supercharger pulls us out of the 2.2-mile (3.6-km) track's 11 turns with grin-inducing force. Much of the power comes at high rpm, so we let the car rev freely. With an electronic noise-capping exhaust bypass switched off, the tailpipe barks with approval.
And then there's the ride and handling of the Evora S — so responsive on the track it borders on telepathic, due in no small part to its mid-mounted engine, yet so civilized on the road it won't leave day-trippers itching after a day in the saddle.
Credit also a stiff, aluminum-intensive chassis weighing 440 lbs. (200 kg).
Add in items such as expertly tuned power steering, where every input by the driver produces from the car a seemingly exact linear output, as well as uncompromisingly stiff suspension bushings, plus a beefy rear anti-roll bar and Pirelli P-Zero tires and the result will make track slayers out of workaday accountants and dentists.
Interestingly, the Lotus Evora chassis consists of three parts: a main “tub section,” including the passenger cell; a fuel tank; and front and rear subframes. The subframes are deformable and detachable, which means should boy-racer crash his Evora on Saturday afternoon, he can swap out the subframe at a relatively low cost.
Stretch its legs on the highway and the Evora S impresses again. Encounter some twisties and the track-tuned Evora S displays its wares. Hit some bumpy off-camber roadway and the car's lateral stiffness helps it hold steady, while Eibach springs and Bilstein gas dampers smooth out the rough stuff.
For the '12 model year starting in August, base Evora models will include an optional 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifting. The-sourced 6-speed manual gearboxes in the naturally aspirated and supercharged Evora models we tested are underwhelming given the rest of the package.
The Evora interiors also fail to impress. Although miles ahead of the Elise, the intent appears to be to make the cabin tolerable, rather than enjoyable. It's an odd contrast to such an appealing exterior.
Finger-wide door gaps, exposed insulation, visible exterior panels and a cheap headliner rank as the most egregious offenses. Our tester on the first day also picks up a rattle in the engine compartment, and the pint-size footwells narrowed down to accommodate the steering column angle become a bit uncomfortable until we learn to slip our left foot behind the clutch while cruising.
The leather, however, rates highly and contrast stitching on the seats and dashboard convey a degree of craftsmanship.
Overall, we like the Evora S a great deal and appreciate its engineering enhancements but remain mixed over the $12,000 premium for additional content.
- Ride, handling other-worldly
- Daily driver potential
- Joy of forced induction
- Subpar interior
- Muddy manual shifter
- Cost of forced induction package
'11 Lotus Evora S
Vehicle type: Mid-engine, RWD 2-passenger sports car
Engine: 3.5L DOHC supercharged V-6, with aluminum block/heads
Power: 345 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 101.4 ins. (257.5 cm)
Overall length: 170.9 ins. (434.1 cm)
Overall width: 72.8 ins. (184.9 cm)
Overall height: 48.1 ins. (122.2 cm)
Curb weight: 3,168 lbs. (1,380 kg)
Base price: $76,000
Fuel economy: 17/26 mpg (13.8-9.0 L/100 km) city/hwy
Competition: Porsche Cayman/Cayman S