Driven (In The Freakin’ Snow And Ice!): 2010 Lotus Evora

By Matt Davis

February 25, 2010

Proof that the new mid-engine V-6 Lotus can do it all in good hands.

Photos by Matthias Knödler

—Serre Chevalier, France

In early 2009, we were skeptical when the time finally arrived to try the Lotus Evora. We got to try an early prototype before the actual production version came out, and we fell in love with the car after about five minutes around the famous test circuit in the Lotus backyard. We like the car exactly as much we like its chief rival, the Porsche Cayman S. And love of the Evora just got bigger, too, because they called us to go racing their car on an ice circuit in southeastern France.

It was all very civilized. In fact, we were one of just two pubs present. This was intended to be an oddball fluffy experience, and it was a tad so to be sure. First off, the sat-nav and stereo touch-screen system offered for the Evora by Lotus is an aftermarket Alpine EQ Imprint pop-up unit, and it suffers when compared to most any other factory system. Not only did she get us lost three times, sending us directly into mountain passes that had been closed for weeks due to snow, but she refused to change her intended path whenever we had to change ours. Then the naming of all the buttons is completely without sense until you take a university class to learn the new language. Visions of early BMW iDrive systems came to mind.

Regardless, the driving side of things was just as cool and fantastic as we remember from last year. We had a right-hand-drive car, but that was okay because we just wanted this optional Laser Blue color more than anything.

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 is having a real winter this year. There was tons of snow everywhere, and every curve could be your last.

The standard Yokohama Advan Sport tires–eighteen-inch front and nineteen-inch rear–were winter versions, here mounted on the lighter, optional forged wheels. The Evora on these tires was superb, honestly. We were amazed how sure-footed the Evora was even on the slipperiest, snow-caked French mountain road in the cold, cold shade. So, while Yokohama retains its standing as the Lotus standard and winter tire–they basically give Lotus the tires for free in exchange for the good advertising anyway–the Pirelli P Zero is saved as a soft-compound summer/track tire, and is actually the standard tire for North America.

Part of the amazing-ness is natural to these smaller mid-engine style cars like the Evora or Cayman; the physical orientation of everything is completely in sync with our 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 weight distribution of 39 percent front and 61 percent rear as super-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 is never-ending traffic and it is always moving slowly, in direct contrast to how fast 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 has told us that he and his team worked obsessively with every supplier on this chassis strategy to make this solution work as well as it does. Several bits and pieces of the various parts have been invented especially for the Evora. The hard work really pays off.

Lotus doesn’t even offer mechanical LSDs on its cars. Is it a coincidence that Porsche only offers one as an option on the Cayman or Cayman S? We asked Matt Becker why Lotus doesn’t make one at least available.

“Limited-slip diffs,” expert Becker tells us, ”corrupted the steering too much. We tested a higher performance Toyota TRD differential on the Evora, but it played funny games with our steering, and so we decided to go without.” A brilliant decision. We personally get so tired of so many people announcing how necessary a mechanical LSD is on any performance car. It’s like a gearhead believing that only a V-8 is a real engine.

On these smaller mid-engine cars, a traditional LSD is completely unnecessary because it can really hurt steering dynamics when you’re a driver who knows what he’s doing. (We like to think that we’re one of those guys.) But even someone less expert will feel the natural ease of driving cars configured like Evora and Cayman. Only the gentle ESP system and Bosch electronic differential lock is necessary at most.

Finally set loose on the ice at Circuit de Serre Chevalier, this became abundantly clearer still. We had our Evora with 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. We would have had the forged factory wheels, too, but Lotus gifted us with a set of WRC-regulation spiked Pirelli P Sottozeros.

Lotus and the circuit bosses and we worked out a good deal. Seeing as we had been driven to near insanity by the terrible Alpine sat-nav woman telling us what to do for three hours of lost mountain skier traffic, they just set us free on the circuit to play for nearly two hours. Words 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. The only risk here is that we start to feel like an invincible Nordic god! Because that’s exactly when we screw up.

But after a few laps of the half-mile circuit, we settled down, and then the Evora and we became one performing unit. There were others in training around the course in four-wheel-drive Subarus and Fiat baby SUVs… and then there was this British rocket car with WRC tires.

Trick is to switch off the ESP, leave the Sport button off, and keep the throttle gentle and steady. Then once we found our ease out there in second gear, we started creating oversteer coming into 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 that you learn only after lots of tries. When we started hitting it curve after curve in the Evora with the spikey Sottozeros, we were in heaven. The 276-horsepower, 258-pound-foot Toyota 3.5-liter V-6, combined with all of the Lotus magic at the chassis and very responsive throttle setup, really did make us damned near invincible.

2010 Lotus Evora
Engine                              V-6, 3.5 liters, 24v
Output                              276 hp / 258 lb-ft
Top Speed                       162 mph
Weight                             2976 lb
0-60 MPH (est.)               4.9 sec
Base Price (est.)              $73,500
Price as Tested (est.)       $85,000