It had been thirteen years since Lotus developed a truly new car on a totally new chassis, so in early 2009 I was skeptical when the time finally arrived to try the Evora. But after five minutes around the famous test circuit in the Lotus backyard, I was in love.
It was all very civilized. I was one of just two car writers present and there was also a rather cheeky commemorative edition Evora on hand to celebrate Lotus' 50 years in film, this one done up like the Esprit Turbo from the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only, in ugly metallic brown with gold wheels and a ski rack on back. (I laughed hard the next day, too, when they told me that they'd put the brown Bond car through an automated car wash and the ski rack had gotten torn off the back.)
The sat-nav system offered for the Evora Lotus is an aftermarket Alpine EQ Imprint pop-up unit, and it's crap compared to most any other factory system. Not only did she get me lost three times, sending me directly into mountain passes that had been closed for weeks due to snow, but she refused to change her intended path whenever I had to change mine.
Regardless, the driving experience was just as cool and fantastic as I remember from last year. I had a right-hand-drive car, but that was okay because I wanted this Laser Blue color more than anything. In the snow and ice, the color is intense.
Even though this was mostly for winter excitement, it was no joke out there. Just getting to the ice driving circuit driving south and east from Geneva was an adventure since all of Europe had a real winter this year. Every curve could prove fatal.
The standard Yokohama Advan Sport tires-18s front and 19s rear-were winter versions mounted on the optional lightweight forged wheels. On these tires the Evora was superb, honestly. I was amazed how sure-footed it was even on the slipperiest snow-caked mountain road in the cold, cold shade.
Part of the amazing-ness is natural to smaller mid-engine-style cars like the Evora or Cayman; the physical orientation of everything is completely tuned in to my inner ear and everything the car does under any condition is exactly what it's supposed to do. No surprises, even though you could look at the Evora's weight distribution of 39 percent front and 61 percent rear as risky, especially in ice and snow like this, but it's totally secure.
Driving on the dynamic side roads up and down mountain passes in the Alps in winter is a pain. There's never-ending traffic and it always moves slowly, in direct contrast to how fast I and the Evora should be going.
But when we finally did break loose from the maddening crowds, once again the Lotus Evora's simple Bilstein/Eibach suspension setup with well-tuned antiroll bars and double wishbone architecture surprises. The solution is not that sophisticated in itself, but dynamics boss at Lotus, Matt Becker, told me he and his team worked obsessively with every supplier on this chassis strategy to make the solution work as well as it does. Several bits and pieces of the various parts have been invented especially for this car. The hard work pays off.
Whenever I had to gun it to overtake minivans filled with skiers and their boots, the Evora is like a bullet, even out here. No body sway, no lurching forward or back, no unexpected ugly surprises. Only good ones.
Lotus doesn't even offer mechanical LSDs on its cars. And is it a coincidence that Porsche only offers one as an option on the Cayman? I asked Becker myself why Lotus doesn't make one at least available, he being my constant companion as I drove.
"We tested a higher performance Toyota TRD differential," Becker tells me. "But it corrupted the steering and so we decided to go without." A brilliant decision.
On a small mid-engine car, a traditional LSD is completely unnecessary because it can really hurt steering dynamics if you're a driver who knows what he's doing. But even someone less expert will feel the natural ease of driving cars configured like an Evora. Only a gentle ESP system or "electronic differential" is generally necessary.
Finally set loose on the ice at Circuit de Serre Chevalier, this became abundantly clearer still. My Evora had the full-on Sport package with shorter-shifting third through sixth gears on the Aisin manual and the Sport button for making the throttle exciting. I would have had the forged factory wheels, too, but Lotus gifted me with a set of WRC-regulation spiked Pirelli P Sottozeros.
Lotus, the circuit bosses, and I worked out a good deal. Seeing as I'd been driven to near insanity by the sat-nav woman telling what to do for three hours of lost mountain skier traffic, I was set free on the circuit for nearly two hours. I cannot express how therapeutic this was.
The spiked Pirelli Sottozeros deserve a lot of credit. Since they were spiked and the Evora has minimal wheel well clearance, all four corners were given 18-inch tires-235/40 R18 S Extra Load WRC-spec with hundreds of 2mm spikes. The only risk here is that you may start to feel like an invincible Nordic god-and that's exactly when I screw up totally.
But after a few laps of the half-mile circuit, I settled down and the car and I became one performing unit. There were others in training around the course in whiney AWD Subarus and asthmatic Fiat baby SUVs. Then there was me in my British rocket car with WRC tires. I have healthy testosterone, but this just doubled it. I became a Finnish rally legend out there, only one who was smiling all the time.
The trick, as all Finns know, is to switch off the ESP, leave the Sport button off, and keep the throttle gentle and steady. Only gas it a bit once you feel you've come all the way around. Finding my ease out there in second gear, I started creating oversteer on each approach to the several tight curves.
It was beautiful. There's a perfect feeling when you set up a curve just right, because it's a delicate balance you learn only after lots of experience. When I started hitting it curve after curve, forcing oversteer drifts with the spikey Sottozeros, I was in heaven.
Next, I want to get a Ferrari 430 Scuderia out here on 6mm spikes... then I'll switch on the Sport button and probably just explode.
3.5-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve
Peak Power: 276 hp @ 6400 rpm
Peak Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
0-62 mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 162 mph