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DAN NEIL

Ecstasy-to-drive Lotus Evora leaves one question: Take a check?

It's not easy to make a veteran auto writer weep with need. But the Evora does it, taking the modern Lotus design and making it elegant and a bit roomier. It's a slice of heaven that slides.

January 22, 2010|Dan Neil
  • The 2010 Lotus Evora combines the lightness that's typical of Lotus models and an exquisite cockpit layout. It also goes zero to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.
The 2010 Lotus Evora combines the lightness that's typical of Lotus… (Jeff Amlotte / Los Angeles…)

Every time I write about a high-performance sports car, I'm guaranteed to get letters from readers to this effect: "How can you possibly glorify the Badminton Dual-Cowl 87B? No one needs a car that goes 200 mph, costs $300,000 and gets five miles per gallon. With all that's going on in the world [climate change, war in the Middle East, balance of trade etc.]. For shame. For shame!"

All right, then. I present to you perhaps the most fun available on four wheels: The 2010 Lotus Evora. No, not fun. Joy. Inexpressible, diamond-showering, running-naked-through-a-field-of-virgins ecstasy. Handling perfection. This is transit gloria, and it is sick.

In my career as an automotive journalist, I've never written these words: I am going to buy one.

Oh, and it gets about 30 mpg.

A ruptured fire hydrant of pleasurable endorphins, the Evora is the first all-new car from Lotus -- a small sports-car company in Hethel, England -- since it was reborn with the Lotus Elise in 1995. The company goes back to the 1950s and founder Colin Chapman, whose guiding principle in fast cars was extreme lightness. Lightness cures what ails sports cars like Lourdes cures scabies. All other things being equal, lighter cars change direction more quickly (less mass, therefore a lower moment of inertia). Likewise, lighter cars have better cornering grip (the vehicle's weight doesn't overwhelm the tires). A lighter car accelerates harder and stops more quickly. Meanwhile, all the stresses on the components are reduced -- the tires, brakes, suspension and gearbox. It's one big, beautiful, positive spiral.

Lotus' feathery, carbide-clawed sports cars (all under 1 ton) are superb driving machines, famous for their easy compromise between road holding and what is actually a pretty survivable -- if not exactly supple -- ride quality. It's not surprising that when electric carmaker Tesla went looking for a platform upon which to build its Roadster, it came to Hethel. On board an EV, where every amp counts, lightness is nonpareil.

And yet I've never been tempted to own a Lotus. Why? Because even my masochism has its limits. The mid-engine Elise and its many variants are absurdly tiny and impractical cars (9 inches shorter than a Mazda MX-5 Miata) that one enters much the way dressing enters the backside of a Thanksgiving turkey. The doors are small and low to the ground, and there's this prodigiously tall and wide door sill -- part of the car's aluminum structure -- that you have to shimmy over before you land, gratefully if gracelessly, in the car's Recaro racing buckets. As for storage space, there is exactly none.

Meanwhile, Lotuses offer cockpits with sailplane-like amenities -- bare aluminum, runty carpets, cheesy aftermarket sound systems and an overall malign indifference to sound-deadening and passenger sanity. You want to make those Al Qaeda low-lifes talk? Make them commute in a Lotus Exige S for a week. They will sing like Pavarotti.

The Evora takes all the guiding design principles of modern Lotus cars and writes them bigger and in more elegant script: the bonded/riveted aluminum monocoque chassis (weighing a mere 441 pounds in the Evora and providing torsional stiffness 1.5 times that of the Ferrari F430); transverse mid-engine layout, here hosting a reprogrammed 3.5-liter, 276-hp V-6 sourced from Toyota; and a supreme commitment to light weight (3,046 pounds).

The Evora is, first of all, a 2 plus 2, which is to say there are back seats, of a sort. Call them Romulans, for these tiny squares of upholstery reject all human life. Like the seats in the Porsche 911, they're good for parcel storage and, of course, improved insurance rates. In any event, the Evora is vastly easier to get into and out of -- the doors are larger and the threshold is lower and narrower -- and the cockpit practically echoes with spaciousness compared with the Elise.

And yet, this is still, comparatively, a small stunt plane of a car. The Evora (170.9 inches) is 4.3 inches shorter than a 911 on a wheelbase (101.4) that is 9 inches longer.

Second, the Evora has a properly designed, great-looking cockpit fully skinned with French-stitched Muirhead leather.

Here's the biggest surprise. The cockpit is exquisite, full of honest materials -- real metal as opposed to aluminized plastic -- and a terrific layout. The instrument cluster features flanking LCD info screens, and in the center stack is an optional (and proper) touch-screen navi. I particularly appreciate the brushed-aluminum switchgear, which Lotus makes for itself. It would have been easy for Lotus to borrow some switchgear from, say, Ford of Europe and call it good. Lotus didn't, and it's a testament to the company's commitment to character and authenticity.

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