Blog: What Is The Lotus Evora?

By Tom Martin

June 14, 2010

As I stepped into the Lotus Evora, it occurred to me, as it might to you, that I knew the car had received its share of plaudits, but I wasn’t exactly sure what character was really being delivered. “Well”, thought I, “let’s see.”

My first thoughts, as an Elise owner, involved the similarities and differences compared to that now iconic Lotus. In the similarities department, we have a firm ride that isn’t harsh. We have heavy-ish steering, delivered by a small wheel with good feedback. The suspension has some initial roll, but then it takes a set and is beautifully balanced.

The telepathic connection to the road that the Elise offers isn’t quite as clearly established here, though. You notice the weight more and the data transfer rate from the tarmac is reduced by 20 percent or so. But these are areas where the Elise is top-of-the-charts good, so the Evora is still pretty special.

Functionally, the Evora carries some Elise DNA, too. Ingress and egress are much better than on the Elise, but not in Porsche territory. The instruments are simple, though more complete than the minimalist system that the Elise has. But the Evora is worlds apart from the graphs and dials of a car like the Nissan GT-R.

Most of you don’t drive an Elise, though, and it isn’t really in the competitive set for the Evora. Because the Evora technically has a back seat (child only) it is often compared to the Porsche 911. Price-wise, the 911 Carrera (3.6 liter) is an apt comparison, but dynamically the Cayman or Cayman S is more appropriate.

Against the superb Cayman S, the Evora offers up some surprises. These come in two areas. First the Evora simply feels more luxurious. The Evora is quieter and the ride is smoother. The extra six inches in wheelbase that the Evora sits on may help, but I think most of this reflects different tuning philosophies. The seats in the Evora are also more comfortably shaped (not that the Cayman is bad).

Dynamically, the Cayman feels a little more agile because of its great willingness to turn. The Evora isn’t bad here, the Lotus set-up means that on typical winding roads it actually feels like the more planted carver. I would take the Evora for a run on bad surfaces. The Cayman sends the message that it wants something closer to full-time attention; that may be a positive or a negative.

Both cars are extremely well balanced, so there is little to choose from there, other than as a matter of taste. I did sense that the Evora is the more progessive car, which I would view as a virtue.
When it comes to the respective drivetrains, I’d say the Cayman S feels faster and punchier. The tradeoff is that the Evora’s Toyota-sourced V-6 has a more varied character as you explore the rev range. I found the Evora slightly more involving on this score.

By way of summary, the Cayman S hews to the sports car mold, whereas I’d say the Evora is more aligned with the Grand Touring idea. By the latter I don’t mean the soft and mushy, isolationist pretty boy concept of GT. I mean old-school 275 GTB/4 grand touring. The Evora responds basically as well as the Cayman, but feels more fluid and more relaxed. It will work well on more real surfaces and yet it has a bit more character. In this sense of being a good car in a variety of sporting situations on the street, I think the Evora actually eclipses the base 911. And interestingly, as you spend more money in 911-land, you move in a more hard-core sporting direction.

I might prefer the Cayman on a track, where its extra power and edgier setup might be useful, but since we didn’t do any track time I can’t say for sure. And I would choose the Cayman (or the 911) as a daily driver. The Porsches have (much) better rearward visibility and are easier to climb in and out of. I’d be more inclined to bet on their electronics features as well.

As a final counter, the Evora simply looks more exotic and feels more exotic inside than the Cayman. The one area that would complete this thought would be if the Evora had an exotic soundtrack. I’m told that an optional sport exhaust addresses this issue.

Overall, you could think of the Evora as a grown-up Elise —a charming thought if the execution is right, which it is. Though in this case “grown-up” is metaphorically in the context of the skinny girl you knew as a freshman in high school who is now on the runway in the fashion district. That’s a lot of growing up.

More aptly, perhaps, the Evora strikes me as the spiritual successor to the fondly remembered Acura NSX. The NSX was pretty rare and slightly exotic looking. It was fun to drive and comfortable over long distances. It wasn’t super-powerful, but it was fun to explore. Successors must progress, though, and so the Evora’s handling is miles ahead of the NSX in terms of feel and I think the Evora looks much closer to state of the art. The Evora’s price, in 2010 dollars is more reasonable, and the Lotus brand is sexier.

The Evora is a winner to be sure.