Lotus scales the junior supercar ranking with the latest version of Evora GT410
Appealing to both enthusiast and money-spinner, Lotus is a brand possessing a troubled history of more than seven decades, writes Iain Robertson, following Italian Ferrari’s business model in a typically quaint English way that deserves more than ‘hit or miss’ dynamics.
Left in the hands of Colin Chapman, the brand’s founder, Lotus Sports Cars was doomed to failure. My suggestion that its trajectory was Ferrari-like is not entirely pie-in-the-sky. Enzo ‘Il Commendatore’ Ferrari was a racer at heart, just like Chapman. He perceived a winning formula that relied on production car sales to raise the funds to go racing, just like Chapman. As a result, often incomplete, frequently ill-engineered but enthusiastic at best, road-going sportscars emerged during the histories of both carmakers.
Ferrari would never have survived without the patronage of the Fiat Group. Lotus continues to survive, albeit now in the guiding hands (51% stake) of the Chinese Geely organisation that also owns Volvo and London Taxis. I hope sincerely that it sees what I can in this archetypally British brand. Lotus survived during the ‘money no object’ era of over-indulgence, Chapman having outgrown his modest North London premises, relocating his car company to the relative wilds of Norfolk. Perhaps its greatest asset was Mike Kimberley, the former Jaguar engineer, who became the Norfolk firm’s boss and provided its most positive sense of direction during the 1970s, returning in 2005 to manage a somewhat different operation.
Chapman’s self-destruct button had already been pressed by the time his company was engaged by John Z DeLorean to develop a chassis for the outspoken American’s eponymously named and ill-fated stainless steel bodied ‘sportscar’, to be built in Northern Ireland. Chapman passed away of a heart attack in late-1982, aged just 54 years, but not before being embroiled in the DeLorean ‘scandal’. The Lotus Group of companies behaved like the proverbial headless chicken for much of the next 30 years, barrelling from one potential disaster to the next, owned by a succession of, in the case of Romano Artioli, enthusiastic, or totally idiotic CEOs.
While Artioli was in charge, the outstanding Elise, with its revolutionary riveted and glued aluminium substructure, was launched in 1996 and made great headway. The latest Evora 410 sticks rigidly to that rigid platform and extols the long-standing Chapman ethos of ‘adding lightness’. Alfa Romeo has tried to emulate the Evora, with its 4S model, but failed to attain the same level of dynamic competence. Having produced a series of fibreglass kit cars during its existence, the precept of a sturdy chassis, powered by a proprietary power unit, suspended by race-developed coils springs and dampers at each corner has remained central to Lotus. Of course, the company has not produced ‘kits’ (a legal car tax avoidance measure) since the 1960s but the scent of resin is a difficult one to eradicate.
Evora was revealed in 2008 as a 2+2, mid-engined sports coupe. It has been through several refinement exercises since. Toyota provides the 3.5-litre V6 engine and Lotus refines it to produce a dependable 410bhp (hence the model name) and 295lbs ft of torque. It tips the scales in latest GT410 form at 1,361kgs and, apart from the latest Evija electric supercar, is the heaviest version of the model. Possessing aerodynamic detailing to enhance its overall efficacy, the Evora smashes the 0-60mph benchmark in a cool 4.1s, before scorching on to a top speed of around 186mph, hence my ‘junior supercar’ description. Its official combined fuel economy is given as 26.7mpg, with CO2 emissions posted at 239g/km.
The GT410 Sport continues in production and provides owners with improved usability and a revised level of driving comfort to increase legroom for taller Northern Europeans and to make cabin entry and egress easier. Mind you, it is still a nightmare trying to slot an adult in the rear, a space better suited to limbless children, if the front seat occupants are taller than six feet! Several features have moved from the Evora options list to become part of the new model’s standard specification. Costing £3,000 less than the GT410 Sport, at £82,900, the new model is not exactly ‘cheap’.
Yet, Lotus intends to make its Evora GT410 more usable as an ‘everyday’ car. The driver (and front passenger) benefits from an accommodating hide-clad Sparco sport seat and air-con creates a more comfortable environment for occupants, while a reversing camera improves the rearward view during low-speed manoeuvres. An upmarket infotainment system, complete with sat-nav and Apple CarPlay, is fitted and now includes DAB digital audio. Not before time, cabin sound insulation reduces annoying road noise and improves refinement levels, so that occupants (two mostly) can actually hear the stereo system. The GT410’s door cards now feature integrated arm rests and storage bins for greater normality. Paint colour choices have been revised to include several historic shades from Lotus’s past.
While the damper rates have always provided an outstanding compromise between being high-performance capable and overall compliancy, their valving has been altered to create a more comfortable ride quality and using Michelin Pilot Sport all-weather tyres provides assured grip levels. A new rear tailgate features a large glass section that improves rearward visibility significantly. The red AP Racing brake callipers and a choice of either silver, or gloss black, V-spoke alloy wheels (19.0-inch diameter front; 20.0-inch rear) set off the exterior, while cruise control, heated seats and rear parking sensors factor in an additional dose of luxury and convenience.
Lotus has always concentrated on providing a strong driver experience and the Evora GT410 maintains its stance as the most driver-focused and relatively lightweight choice in the line-up. With access to the purposeful layout and zero speed restrictions on the Hethel test facility, Evora remains the fastest choice for consistently safe lappery. The enhanced refinement means that dropping the driver’s window an inch is the best way to hear the bark of its V6 engine, which sings up and down the rev-range with beguiling intent.
Supercars, of most types, are immensely popular in the corporate sector. While it helps, if you have a few quid stashed away to acquire a Lotus Evora, justifying the purchase may prove to introduce some awkward moments. Yet, in driving terms alone, with its superglue traction and fabulous handling adding to the entertainment quotient, it is virtually peerless.