2011 Lotus Evora S Review

A sports car with the soul, and the looks, of a true exotic

2011 Lotus Evora S Review
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The single most important fact about the new Lotus Evora S isn’t its supercharged V6 engine or its improved suspension. No, it’s the price.

Starting at $76,000 the Evora S may seem like an unreasonable price hike of $12,000 over the standard Evora, but that’s only because Lotus has dropped the MSRP of the base car by $8,000 since it first hit our shores.

FAST FACTS

1. Thanks to a supercharged version of the Evora’s 3.5L V6, the S model makes 345-hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and increase of 69-hp and 37 lb-ft.

2. With a 0-60 mph time of 4.3 seconds it’s a half second faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera.

3. If you’re interested in practicality, the Evora does have 6 cu-ft of trunk space and gets 17/26-mpg.

4. At $76,000 it’s $12,000 more than a non-supercharged Evora.

For comparison’s sake, take the cost of the car’s most direct competitor, the Porsche 911 Carrera. It starts at $79,000. Both cars make an identical 345-hp, and if stop-light drag racing sits high on your list of qualities a sports car should have then the Evora S edges out the 911 with its lower curb weight, translating to a 4.3 second 0-60 mph time – roughly half a second faster than the 911. The Carrera S will deliver similar straight-line performance, but that model edges north of the 90K mark.

“JUST” 69 MORE HORSEPOWER, UNTIL YOU DRIVE IT

While the standard Evora lacks some of the real thrust you’d expect for a car that looks so exotic, the S won’t leave you wanting in the acceleration department – even if it looks that way on paper. Strapping a supercharger to the Toyota-sourced V6 engine adds just 69-hp and 37 lb-ft of torque, but that small increase is much more noticeable on a car that weighs just 3,168 lbs. (A 120-lb increase over the Evora). Peak numbers don’t tell the whole story either, with the S model making as much torque at just 2000 rpm as the naturally aspirated engine delivers at its peak 4700 rpm, meaning there’s plenty of added power to blast you our of the corners and onto the straights.

Also helping is an electronic differential as well as a sports ratio transmission. Optional on the Evora, S models get it standard. The same can be said of a Sport mode button; but more on that soon.

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BALANCED, RESPONSIVE AND EASY TO DRIVE HARD

Out on the track at Laguna Seca during our first drive of the Evora S the car continues a Lotus tradition of perfectly matching power with the chassis – thanks to numerous small changes. In particular, revised suspension geometry makes for a 12 percent reduction in front and a 19 percent reduction in rear camber loss during cornering. Pair that with the optional 235/35/19 and 275/30/20 Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires on light weight forged aluminum wheels and there’s more grip going into, through and out of the corners.

Dive-bomb a corner and understeer can be saved by adding throttle without tracking too wide. Oversteer can be mitigated and then re-induced with mild, but not overly sensitive, throttle modulation.

To get to this level of vehicle control you’ll need to press the standard sport mode button on the dash. It firms up throttle response, increases max rpm from 6800 to 7200, opens up an exhaust bypass valve and allows for greater slip angles, eliminating the ECU’s understeer recognition, putting you in greater control of the vehicle. Traction and stability control systems can be shut completely off as well.

Additional changes make for improved steering response with increased build-up in feel as your turn the wheel. As a result, the Evora isn’t just a capable sports car, it communicates as much to the driver, helping you get the most out of this improved setup. As for the brakes, they continue to impress, with Lotus claiming a 60-0 stopping distance in around 100 feet.

The one flaw in this package isn’t hard to find, however, as its sitting in your right hand. It’s the shifter. Noticeably improved over the original Evora with much smoother shifts, grinding a gear or missing a gate entirely isn’t as uncommon as it should be – something that might also be the result of a rather long clutch pedal.

CAPABILITIES MULTIPLIED ON THE STREET

While not nearly as stripped-down or hard-core as Lotus models like the Elise or Exige, the Evora S is still a perfect car for those core buyers interested in occasional or even regular track days. Built to appeal to a much wider audience, especially now with its 911-matching horsepower, it’s just as impressive, if not more so, on the street.

Designed for a far higher performance threshold with fewer consequences if things go wrong, race tracks have a way of diminishing a car’s capabilities. As a result, on the twisty roads of Carmel Valley Road just outside Monterey, CA, the Evora S is even more amazing, with its grip and acceleration seemingly multiplied.

After two hours at Laguna Seca we were ready to describe the acceleration as just “ok”, but a full throttle blast up through the gears from a stop light (Lotus claims a ¼ mile time of 12.8 seconds) and you’re left in awe.

The grip is even more astounding. Dive into a corner giving a proverbial middle finger to the laws of physics and just when you’re expecting that understeer to start pushing, you feel it… grip! Instinctively you power on the throttle as the tight confines of a canyon road emphasize the car’s exhaust note, a sound that’s overwhelmed in your ears by the supercharger’s whine.

COMFORTABLE, LUXURIOUS AND WELL-EQUIPPED – FOR A LOTUS

With all this performance comes a surprising level of comfort. Lotus credits its solid chassis, allowing for softer spring rates than you’d expect in a sports car of this caliber. Also helping are rather comfy, yet nicely bolstered seats.

Still, this isn’t a Porsche, and while easily overlooked from the driver’s seat, our brief time spent sitting shotgun in a cream colored Recaro fit for a trophy wife revealed even less appreciation for its daily driving characteristics. From a performance perspective, however, the car remains composed even when the road surface begins to degrade.

Lotus says the car is easier to get into and out of than the Elise, but that’s like Dick Cheney telling you how much more pleasant waterboarding is than other forms torture. Is it easier? Yes. Is it easy? No!

To give Lotus credit it’s a quiet ride when you want it to be and the interior is a bespoke work of art. The solid metal buttons and controls are like jewelry, their old world feel juxtaposed with the laser red displays on the side of the gauges. There’s also plenty of room inside once you get there. But don’t be fooled about that 2+2 badge, the only children you’ll be fitting in the back two seats are ones that haven’t been conceived yet.

Still, the gauges themselves look to be lifted directly from the Elise (from 1996), the ergonomics are brutal (the side mirror adjustment in particular) and the view out the rear is so minimal you might as well rip off the rear view mirror to improve the lines of sight out the front.

To help draw in buyers accustomed to higher levels of luxury than a Lotus is known to afford, there is a Premium Package ($2,500) with added leather, heated seats and an armrest. A Tech Package ($2,995) is also available with a 7-inch touch screen with Navigation, as well as iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, an upgraded audio system and rear parking sensors.

Despite all this, it’s hard to see the Evora expand beyond the enthusiast group of customers for one major reason – no automatic transmission. Lotus assures us it’s coming, next year.

That’s all well and good for the slushbox I-bought-it-because-its-shiny-and-expensive crowd, but sadly the stick and pedal group are being forced to put up with a lack of a dead pedal. A drawback on the track, with nowhere to brace yourself, getting caught in a traffic jam might have you considering amputation at the ankle as you’re forced to hover over the clutch pedal.

As a whole, the car has a quirky crudeness that can both be appreciated and, at times, despised.

EXOTIC LOOKS, BUT ‘S’ BRINGS LITTLE ADDED STYLE

Beyond those issues, the Evora S’s appearance is less than thrilling. True, it’s a stunning piece of machinery and will be confused for a Ferrari costing three times as much every time you drive it, but it’s nearly indistinguishable from the base car. We do appreciate the massive rear diffuser and new exhaust pipe, but the black mirror housings are hardly a style upgrade. For the added cost we’d really like a more aggressive front end design. True, the larger 19/20-inch wheels help set the car apart, but you’ll pay extra for that too, with the set adding a $2,950 premium to the sticker.

THE VERDICT

It’s impossible not to love the Lotus Evora S, even if you don’t always like it. And there will be times.

More power and an even more unique look would be nice, if even just to please the vanity of the owner. The reality, however, is that it’s already got more than enough of both.

It’s wickedly fast, incredibly capable, and easy to drive at the limit – and that last one isn’t very true of the Porsche. Above all that, it looks like nothing else on the road and with limited production it’s guaranteed to stay that way.

Usually you have to pay a serious premium for performance of this caliber, delivered in a unique and exclusive package (take Aston Martin for example). Lotus, however, offers it up for $3,000 less than Porsche does; yet another item on the list of qualities that make the Evora such a rare breed.

LOVE IT
  • Exclusivity
  • Added power over Evora
  • Stunning interior
  • True Lotus handling
LEAVE IT
  • Improved gearbox still far from perfect
  • No dead pedal
  • Poor rear visibility
  • No automatic transmission
  • Not nearly as refined as a Porsche 911

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