Norfolk takes aim at Stuttgart - First drive: Lotus Evora S

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Evora gets a supercharger - and in doing so gets fit to take on the Porsche 911.

What the Lotus Evora lacked when it was launched in August 2009 was sufficient power really to exploit its obviously perfect poise. And now it’s got it, thanks to a Harrop-developed Eaton twin-vortex supercharger that brings the Evora’s 3.5-liter Toyota V6 up to 345bhp and 295lb ft for headline figures of 0-60mph in 4.6sec and a top speed of 172mph. Those are figures not far short of a base Porsche 911’s for around £5000 less, at £58,995 (with vestigial rear seats).

Sounds ambitious? Anybody who saw the line-up of five (hypothetical) new Lotus sports cars at the Paris motor show will know ambition is not something the company lacks. And while even the first of those cars isn’t even slated for launch until 2013, the Evora S is very real, and happening now. And it’s good. Very, very good.

It’s refined, for a start. Lotus has tweaked the Evora’s damping and geometry but left spring rates unaltered, so while there is an immediate improvement in body control and the amount of heft and feedback in the steering around the dead-ahead, the ride remains sublime. Sure, it’s a teensy bit firmer than before, and you’ll feel a few ripples through the seat at low speeds but, as speeds rise, the Evora seems to rise above the surface, hovercraft-like, removing you from the harshness of the road while keeping you utterly in touch with every nuance of direction change. In this regard, it beats the 911 hollow. On some of the bumpy surfaces of Lotus’s test route outside Seville, the Porsche would have been on its bump-stops – you just wouldn’t have been able to try as hard for fear of coming unstuck.

The Evora’s supercharged V6 doesn’t really sound force-fed, and lacks some aural chutzpah compared with a Stuttgart flat-six at lower engine speeds, yet it remains smooth as you cane it towards the red paint, and becomes purposefully sonorous as the revs edge closer to the 7200rpm cut-off, while its power delivery is as perfectly metered as the steering response. And even the 911 doesn’t steer this sweetly. Every nugget of road surface info is fed directly into your palms. The slim leather wheel gently writhes, the steering effort building with perfect linearity as you load up into a bend, its weighting never feeling artificial despite power assistance. Lotus still has steering all wrapped up.

Gradients and sweeping bends come and go; the Lotus Evora S simply maintains its spanking progress, yet the cabin is calm – barely any wind or road noise, and that beautifully damped yet supple ride. Then more magic is performed as the going becomes even twistier and a whole lot rougher. Turn-in is pin-sharp – something you really appreciate with this many sheer drops around – and it’s so agile, unsticking with natural progression at the back while the nose follows your command exactly, every inch a grown-up Elise.

Sounds brilliant. Is brilliant. Throughout, in fact, bar one or two niggles. Worst offender is the gearshift. It’s vague, long of throw, and clonky across the gate. I wrong-slotted into fourth, instead of second, from third on more than one occasion on the Circuito Monteblanco test track, and was greeted with a crunch a couple of times while blasting along the spectacular mountain roads that Lotus laid-on as a test route. Yep, you get used to it, but it’s enough to tarnish the Evora S’s dynamic shine just a smidge. Especially as the steering, handling balance and ride are so, so good.

And inside, while the finish looks good, the dashboard neatly styled, and the seats a perfect combination of clamping and comfort, the driving position never feels quite right (especially on left-hand drive versions, which leave no space to rest your clutch foot) in spite of the multi-adjustable seat and steering column, and the dashboard’s push-button switchgear takes some acclimatisation. There’s a pad of six switches on both sides of the wheel, and no obvious way of telling (without taking your eyes off the road) whether you’re enabling sport mode or heating the passenger seat.

But, really, those are details. Fix the gearshift, Lotus, and you’ve got easily the most sublime combination of entertainment and refinement available in a new car for roughly £60,000. Does it beat the 911? Hard to say without comparing them back-to-back. The Porsche has more obvious character, but the Evora S is subtly beguiling and ends up getting right under your skin. If either one of them is on your shopping list, don’t sign until you’ve tried the other. And that’s a big compliment to Lotus.


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