Lotus is not Ferrari. It’s not McLaren. And it’s not Porsche. What it has in common with those companies is that it manufactures cars. Barely. Despite the well-faded glory of seven Formula 1 Constructor’s World Championships, Lotus’s struggles with solvency today are real. In the last decade it has seen three CEOs, the creation and collapse of a plan for five redesigned models, and the full-year delay of the most promising car it offers to the biggest sports-car market on earth, the United States. But we’ve finally driven that car—the new-to-the-U.S. Evora 400—and it was good.
The Evora 400—the 400 is for the horsepower produced by its Toyota-sourced supercharged and intercooled 3.5-liter V-6—is a genuinely refreshing machine. Wispy, strikingly well made, and communicative, it’s a car for people who want to be engaged deeply by what they drive—and that’s not something we say about all British sports cars.
The Evora 400 builds on the brand’s signature attribute: efficiency. And by that we don’t mean good fuel economy. We mean the same thing Tony Rudd, former Lotus engineering director, meant when he wrote his infamous 1975 memo that was glowingly approved by founder Colin Chapman. To paraphrase Rudd: The most elegantly effective solution is the one with the least number of parts, effectively deployed. They’re words that still bear fruit at Lotus today.
Lotus, the smallest company selling cars in this country, manages to squeeze masterful machines for discerning drivers from a tiny factory in Hethel, England, where each one is assembled by hand. Its Lotus Cars arm employs a team of 10 people in the U.S. while the entire company, including the Lotus Engineering consultancy, is about 850 strong worldwide. Lotus is to sports cars what Libertarian Gary Johnson is to presidential candidates: an offbeat alternative to the choices made by the masses. That the new Evora is here at all is a testament to the raw fortitude of a few. That it works as well as it does is almost alarming.
What matters about the Evora is not Lotus’s financial stability or its cashflow or even its lighter-is-better ethos. What matters is the same thing that matters about any sports car: how it drives. If it’s personality you want, the Evora will indulge. Built without the economies of scale, it offers instead the obstinacy of raw ingenuity and resourcefulness.
Relatively light steering effort delivers immediate response. The Evora understeers and won’t spin without manipulation of the throttle and steering in search of such behavior. As long as you don’t operate it with impunity, it offers ample warning about its next move. It rotates about the center of the cabin in a way that makes the sensation of turning less obvious than in, say, a Corvette, where you sit farther from the midpoint. That’s not a bad thing.
Like many mid-engine cars, pitch changes are evident in the Evora. Its nose jumps with every jab at the throttle and dives slightly under heavy braking—personality traits that contribute to its Lotusness. It’s alive in the same way as all other mid-engine Lotus road cars going back to the 1966 Europa, but it lacks the hyper-chipmunk nervousness of an Exige or Elise. It’s as honest about its intentions as it is quick. Even 400 horsepower is not enough to overwhelm the balanced demeanor of the chassis.
But its acceleration doesn’t feel as strong as a 400-hp, 3200-pound sports car should. And until we’re able to test one, we’ll stick with saying it’s only as quick as the last Evora S we tested, which hit 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and crossed the quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds at 110 mph.
Braking is stunning. Four-piston calipers all around and larger two-piece rotors than were on the Evora S seem to be utterly indifferent to abuse. They work as if they were sized for a car 1000 pounds heavier. In fact, the car we drove endured more than 100 laps of a challenging road course without a pad change or significant reduction in performance. Carbon-ceramic brakes aren’t available and weren’t considered for several reasons: They’re costly, unnecessary, and customers don’t demand them.