Lotus, the niche exotic sports car brand from England, has always been known for its narrow focus on performance. The company's most recent models — the Elise and Exige — are so concentrated on performance that comfort and convenience are merely secondary concerns. The 2010 Lotus Evora attempts to appeal to a broader audience by offering similar performance with fewer sacrifices to daily drivability.
Lotus started with an all-new extruded aluminum chassis for the Evora that is bonded, rather than welded or bolted together. The result (like the Elise/Exige) is an exceptionally light and rigid chassis. But according to Lotus, the Evora's structure is 60 percent more rigid than the Elise. This improved chassis stiffness allowed engineers to bolt on a more compliant suspension without compromising cornering prowess. The seat-of-the-pants feel of the Elise has been dialed back considerably, but the vehicle still communicates better than almost any non-Lotus sports car.
A brief spell behind the wheel of the latest Lotus confirms that the company has succeeded in creating a more polished version of its go-kartlike Elise. The 2010 Lotus Evora features a more refined ride quality, additional creature comforts and two rear seats — though these seats are ill-suited for all but the smallest humans.
If a true four-seat sports car is what you're in the market for, we heartily suggest the Porsche Panamera, though it is significantly bigger and more expensive than the Evora. Other Porsche models like the Cayman S and base 911 offer a similar driving experience with comparable levels of comfort and convenience. Ultimately, though, when it comes to a focus on performance and niche appeal, it's hard to beat the 2010 Lotus Evora.
Mounted just behind the rear bulkhead is a transversely mounted 3.5-liter V6 engine that is based on the Toyota Camry power plant. In order to squeeze this engine into such a small space, Lotus engineers rotated the V6 almost 30 degrees rearward. With some components developed by Lotus (ECU, intake, exhaust), output is increased slightly to 276 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is currently the only transmission available, but a paddle-shift automatic is expected by the next model year.
Our test car featured the optional Sports Ratio gearbox, which utilizes shorter 3rd, 4th and 5th gears for improved acceleration and response in those gears. Even with this option, we never felt overburdened by the amount of shifting required — most likely because we enjoyed running through the gears with the notchy short-throw shifter. Heel-toe downshifts were a breeze thanks to the close placement of the throttle and brake pedals and free-revving engine blips.
Despite the engine's rather humble origins, performance is just as lively as we expected from a modern Lotus. Throttle response was immediate and power was spread evenly from idle to the 6,600-rpm redline. Selecting Sport mode raises the sustained maximum revs to 7,000 rpm (7,200 rpm for brief instances) and allows for a bit more slip angle and wheel slippage before the stability control intervenes — it also sharpens throttle response, but not to a noticeable degree.
The engine emits a rich baritone at low revs, giving way to an operatic tenor when pushing harder. Our 2010 Lotus Evora test car was still in European-spec form and thus was quieter than the model that will be finalized for the U.S. As it was, we still found the soundtrack to be grin-inducing and addictive.
Lotus claims a 4.9-second 0-60-mph time, a top speed of 162 mph and a skid-pad number approaching 1.0g. We were unable to run this Evora through our usual instrumented test regimen, but we're inclined to believe the company's numbers from our seat-of-the-pants impressions. Fuel economy is also impressive, estimated at more than 30 mpg on the highway — a figure unheard of for an exotic car with such performance.
Despite a softer ride quality than the Elise's, the Evora sacrifices little in the way of handling. Cornering grip seems ever-present, and the Evora knifes through sharp hairpins with physics-defying urgency. The front tires tend to surrender first, with an easily managed amount of understeer when pushing closer to the car's very high limits. With the standard stability control disengaged, stepping past those limits gets tricky as the rear tires are more likely to snap free from adhesion rather than slide gracefully.
While the 2010 Lotus Evora is vastly more accommodating than its Elise stablemate, it still trails the competition in some areas. Compared to the Elise, access to the cabin is helped by a narrower and shorter side sill and a wider door opening, but the Evora still requires a bit more gymnastic aptitude than other vehicles. Once seated, the front occupants are treated to well-shaped seats with plenty of lateral support. Seat padding is adequate enough for several hours of touring as well as long-distance road trips.
From the driver seat, there are a few faults that taint an otherwise excellent experience, most notably the intrusion of the front wheels into the footwell. Because of this, the clutch pedal is situated a bit too far to the right. The biggest complaint in this area, however, is the awkward placement of the tiny dead pedal, which is mounted too far off the floor and close to the driver. This results in an uncomfortable ankle twist that becomes downright painful after a short period.
The rear seat offers even less in terms of comfort, as it's essentially a thinly padded bench that butts up against the front seatbacks. Even smaller passengers will likely struggle to describe these quarters as anything less than torturous. Headroom is nearly nonexistent for anyone taller than 5 feet and legroom is even more restricting.
On the road, the 2010 Lotus Evora does an admirable job of quelling road and wind noise to levels consistent with other high-end sports cars. Smaller road imperfections are also adequately absorbed with little drama — more impressive when you consider how well the Evora handles and relays information to the driver.
The Evora's expansive windscreen and narrow A-pillars produce an impressive and nearly unobstructed forward view. Rear visibility is less noteworthy, with little more than a tunnel-visionlike view of the nose of a following car. Reversing the car is further hampered by the miniscule rear window flanked by the fastback bodywork. For these reasons, we highly recommend the optional rearview camera.
The Evora's control knobs and buttons are all within easy reach of the driver, but the labeling is hard to read under daylight conditions. At night, these buttons glow red and are significantly easier to decipher. Unfortunately, we doubt we could ever get used to the tiny buttons on the Alpine-sourced stereo and navigation unit. The virtual touchscreen buttons were easier to use, but their size and close proximity to each other left much to be desired. The stereo's sound quality was decent, but not praiseworthy.
The Evora is also lacking when it comes to internal storage. A shallow pocket next to the steering column is the only space to stash personal effects, besides the fairly small glovebox. Cupholders are nowhere to be found, so we suggest traveling with a sealable bottle. Trunk storage is equally restrictive, with only a 5.7-cubic-foot capacity. The trunk itself is narrow and can barely fit a small golf bag. It is also ventilated to prevent the roasting of its contents, but we still found it to be on the warm side.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2010 Lotus Evora's styling is just what one would expect from an exotic sports car — low-slung, sleek, aggressive and purposeful. Superfluous doodads and wings are thankfully absent, letting the evocative base shape define the design direction. Nearly every element of the Evora's exterior serves a purpose, with every vent engineered to feed or extract engine compartment air as efficiently as possible.
Inside, the Evora's cabin continues the exterior's purposeful design direction. The gauges are thoroughly modern, yet legible, and the flush-mounted metallic buttons are beautiful in their simple elegance. Our test vehicle featured a very businesslike all-black interior along with the optional Premium package that covers much of the cabin in leather. Those looking to spice things up can select a handful of two-tone leather treatments. We are leery, however, of how the leather-covered side sill will fare after years of having dirty driving shoes brush over the surface.
All the cabin surfaces have an upscale feel to them, befitting a car of this price and exclusivity. Fitment of the individual panels and elements is tight and consistent and leaps and bounds better than other contemporary Lotuses. However, our test car had an occasional interior squeak and rattle, and the lightweight fiberglass-and-aluminum door emitted a rather toylike clunk when closed.
Who should consider this vehicle
This kinder, gentler 2010 Lotus Evora is perfectly suited to drivers who seek excitement in all-out cornering performance but were previously turned off by the many sacrifices demanded by its Elise and Exige stablemates. The Evora's relative rarity sets it apart from Porsche's offerings, making it feel all the more special.