TRES PINOS, CA – 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.

In fact, the ride in the Evora S may even be characterized as, dare we say, “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 of Mazda Raceway 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, deliveries of the base Evora to European customers from its 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 model begins trickling into dealers stateside. So far, the Evora line has accounted for 1,300 sales across 28 countries – right on plan, company officials say.

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 against its competitors.

The Evora S fixes the situation. It uses the same Toyota-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 at Mazda Raceway. 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 behind the wheel of an 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 high in the rpm band, 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.

’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 (SAE net) 345 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Torque 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) @ 4,500 rpm
Compression ratio 10:1
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, Porsche Cayman S
Pros Cons
Ride, handling other-worldly Subpar interior
Daily driver potential Muddy manual shifter
Joy of forced induction Cost of forced induction

Credit also a stiff, lightweight chassis, some 26,600 Nm per degree and just 440 lbs. (200 kg), respectively, employing aluminum almost exclusively.

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.

The subframe idea follows the auto maker’s engine strategy, where it uses Toyota’s volume mill because it keeps maintenance costs down.

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 to make it an even better daily driver.

The Toyota-sourced 6-speed manual gearboxes in the naturally aspirated and supercharged Evora models we tested are underwhelming given the rest of the package. The stick simply lacks the “click-click” expected between gears and leads to more than one missed shift under hard driving.

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 appealing exterior styling.

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 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. The outboard armrests do double duty as cup holders, and the hinge under the center arm rest is polished to imitate the hooks on the lid to the engine compartment – proof designers indeed were let inside the vehicle.

Overall, we like the Evora S a great deal, but remain mixed over the $12,000 premium for forced induction, even though it includes a sport-ratio gearbox and sport-option package worth a combined $2,775.

But considering how well the base model handled whatever we threw at it, maybe the extra money could be spent more wisely.

Either way, the punched-up performance of the Evora S is undeniable, and our hind ends are none the worse for wear.

jamend@wardsauto.com