Even before we set off for the hills, I'm reminded that Lotus tends to do things a bit differently than most other automakers. Combing over the details of the GT—the latest iteration of the Evora, and the sole model currently on sale in the U.S.—a sticker on the underside of the rear hatch caught my attention. While it's common practice for car companies to place decals in the engine bay with various vehicle specifications, they usually don't include the name and phone number of the head of engineering. Tim Holland must have the patience of a saint.
That hatch, by the way, feels like it weighs about ten pounds. It would appear that company founder, Colin Chapman's "Simplify, and add lightness," design philosophy still means something in Norfolk.
Yet in an era where exotic hardware and big horsepower numbers grab far more headlines than power-to-weight ratios, Lotus exists on the fringes. But rather than slapping their badge on a cross over and calling it a day, they've chosen to cater to enthusiasts who not only appreciate the history but understand the mission. You can count the number of manually-shifted mid-engine sports cars on sale in the U.S. today on one hand, and the Evora GT is one of them.
"Right from the start, Lotus has been all about the driving experience," explains Lotus's Alastair Florance. "And that comes primarily from the fact that our cars are light, agile, and dynamic."
Appealing to the diehards is undoubtedly an uphill battle, though. The few that are still out there tend to be a finicky bunch, and the availability of a paddle-shifted six-speed automatic in the Evora GT is proof that even the company that gave us road cars like the Elan and Europa must make a few concessions to modern convenience in this day and age. Still, after spending a day caning the latest Evora on Route 33 in Ojai, California, it's clear that Lotus still hasn't lost sight of what makes their sports cars special.
QUICKER AND SHARPER
Supplanting the Evora 400 and Evora Sport 410 in the model lineup, the Evora GT is now the fastest Lotus ever sold in North America. Available in two-seater or 2+2 configuration, the GT is underpinned by an extruded and bonded aluminum chassis and dressed in composite bodywork, while the rear bumper, curved A-panels, rear wheel ducts and sill covers are made from carbon fiber. An optional carbon fiber package adds the front access panel, roof, tailgate, and diffuser surround to the list, shedding 49 pounds over the standard components. All in, the GT sports a curb weight of 3,175 pounds.
Motivation comes from a 3.5-liter V6 sourced from Toyota. While the all-aluminum mill is internally more or less what you'd find in a well-optioned Camry, Lotus adds an Edelbrock-designed supercharger to the mix, along with bespoke engine management software. The result is 416 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque when optioned with the six-speed manual transmission, while the optional six-speed automatic bumps the torque figure up to 332 lb-ft.
Despite the torque advantage, Lotus says the manual transmission cars are a bit faster, with a top speed of 188 miles per hour, while the auto tops out at 176. Both cars sprint from 0-60mph in 3.8sec.
While that's plenty of straight-line speed in either powertrain configuration, Lotus cars have always been more about carving corners. Eibach springs, Bilstein dampers, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are standard on every Evora GT, while four-piston calipers from AP Racing clamp down on two-piece cross-drilled and vented rotors measuring 14.57 inches up front and 13.8 inches in the rear to provide the stopping power. Manual-equipped Evora GTs are fitted with a Torsen limited-slip differential, the automatic version is not.
Though significantly toned down versus the limited-production Evora 430 (which was never sold in the US), the Evora GT's aero kit provides up to 140 pounds of downforce at speed, or roughly double that of the Evora 400.
Inside there's a pair of Sparco sport seats with adjustable carbon seatbacks along with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality as well as satellite navigation and a backup camera. The back seats of our 2+2-configured test cars are clearly better suited for stowing cargo than transporting people, but if you've got willing participants to put back there, popping the rear hatch reveals an unexpectedly spacious storage area in front of the engine.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
After settling in at the helm, what's immediately striking is the odd mixture of quality and austerity. Some of the latter can certainly be attributed to simplicity—this is a sports car, after all—but elements like the aftermarket head unit and low-rent switchgear are hard to ignore. But that's not to say that the Evora is an unpleasant place to be. The seats are supportive without punishing occupants for the privilege, providing nearly as much lateral support as a race bucket with far more comfort. Alcantara, carbon fiber, and contrast stitching abounds. But ultimately, it's all secondary to the Evora's primary function—delivering a thrilling driving experience.
The GT's lack of bloat is evident even just plodding along in commuter traffic. Though it lacks adjustable dampers, the Evora GT really doesn't need them. Engineers leveraged the car's light weight to find spring and damper tuning that's compliant enough to be used for everyday tasks, but the suspension is taut when pushed.
And push we did. Route 33 carves a technical path through the San Joaquin Valley as it makes its way up the state. Although it's a reasonably well-maintained stretch of road, there's plenty of evidence of the unusually wet winter and spring Southern California experienced this year, and the pockmarked pavement gave the GT's suspension a proper workout. Out here the Evora's mid-engine placement, Cup 2 tires, and overall lack of mass almost feel like cheating—even when a decreasing radius corner caught me off guard, the car was recollected in an instant and unfazed throughout. With the front end loaded up the back end will step out if there's steering angle dialed in, but only as much as you allow it to. Stopping power is predictably excellent, though some track time would be a better test of what these brakes can truly handle.
While the powerplant doesn't exactly sing, it provides a distinctive growl through the optional titanium exhaust system that's surprisingly pleasant. The sweet spot sits between 3,500 and 5,500 RPM or so, and the Evora GT does indeed pull hard in a straight line when it's in the meaty sections of the power band. Low end torque can feel a bit lacking at times, making the car less apt to rocket out of a slower corner if you're in the wrong gear, and I wouldn't mind another thousand RPM on the top end, but both are fairly small prices to pay for legitimate reliability in a sports car that's this fast. Florance says that at a recent track event they logged more than 150 laps on the first day, and all the servicing the GT needed was a left front tire. I believe him.
The Evora GT's six-speed manual gearbox is sourced from Toyota, as is the optional automatic. The standard three-pedal setup really is the way to go. While the slushbox is competent and generally receptive to commands, it's not as sharp as something like ZF's 8-speed, and it's well short of a dual-clutch unit in terms of response.
The manual, on the other hand, is less apt to remind you of its origins, with a well-weighted clutch and precise feel from the shifter. But while the pedal placement is well suited to heel-toe downshifts—and I know it goes against the ethos in general—I still wouldn't mind seeing a rev-matching feature available here.
HEART OVER HEAD
So here's the tough part. The Evora GT has a base MSRP of $96,950. Dressed to the nines, like our test cars were, that figure ventures in $130,000 territory. That puts the Porsche Cayman GT4 buyer squarely in the Evora GT's sights. If the 718-era GT4 proves to be anything like its predecessor, Lotus will have their work cut out for them.
But there's a sense that Lotus isn't trying to court the buyer who's especially concerned with the performance-per-dollar value proposition. This is a sports car for the driver who cares about dynamic capability but is equally interested in breaking away from the norm.
There's also an underlying feeling that the march of time is going to catch up with the decade-old Evora pretty soon, and where that takes things is still unknown. A few years ago, a controlling stake in Lotus was bought by Chinese automaker Geely, who recently told Automotive News that their "ambition for Lotus is huge." New investment is certainly a good thing, but with it often comes significant change, and new philosophies about design.
But how that will all shake out remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Evora GT is here, and while imperfect, it is definitely very good. For the diehards who are watching their options dwindle by the day, that's likely to be more than enough.