By on September 23, 2014

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Back in 2013, Jack Baruth conducted a road test of the Lotus Evora IPS (that’s Lotus speak for automatic), comparing it to the standard bearer of 2+2 sports cars, the Porsche 911. Much to the consternation of the Porsche PR department, Baruth’s verdict was in favor of the Evora:

Even with a less-than-perfect automatic, the Lotus still wins. The 911 PDK is a great two-pedal car, but the Evora IPS is simply a great car, with or without a third pedal.

The Evora died an ignominious death at the hands of regulatory and market forces. Sports cars have never been quicker, more efficient, more reliable or easier to own and operate. The Lotus Evora is a casualty of such progress.

Last year, I had the opportunity to drive an Evora with the supercharged V6 engine and a proper manual gearbox. As a teenage devotee of Tom Wolfe, my still forming brain was captivated by his image of a “Lotus Racing Car” painted “orange Day-Glo…skidding around the corners of the California suburbs in four-wheel drifts.

The Evora I drove was painted a disappointingly anonymous shade of German Luxo-lease grey, and as I set out for Mullholland Drive, I realized that snaking, pitch black switchbacks were not the kind of place where somebody of my driving skill could truly unwind a 345-horsepower mid-engined sports car. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy myself.

Modern sports cars, from the Porsche Cayman to the Audi R8 to the Jaguar F-Type do their utmost to coddle you. Not in the electronic safety net and automatic transmission sort of way that Chris Harris wannabes like to complain about, but they generally try and make the driving experience easier and more comfortable. This isn’t a bad thing; for the target market that can actually afford to buy these cars, driving is mostly sitting in terrible traffic. Rarely are they ever driven in anger on a twisty back road or closed course.

The Lotus, on the other hand, is a throwback to the days when operating a sports car was more of a commitment than simply getting in and driving a very fast luxury car would be.  You need to step over the tall side sills and twist your body into the rigid bucket seats, taking care not to hit your head on the roof while getting in. The wheel is small, the exhaust booms and the supercharger wails right behind your head. It’s an experience that is intoxicating on a lonely night time drive, but surely obnoxious when you’re 20 minutes late for a meeting and spilling coffee all over the console as the granite-stiff suspension bounces you mercilessly around the road.

The payoff is a purity of driving unavailable anywhere else short of a track-only vehicle like a Radical SR3 or, you guessed it, one of Lotus’ Exige or Elise trackday specials. The view out the front is supercar-esque, with its short hood and broad windscreen. The steering, though power assisted, is wonderfully precise, and the tiny, thick rimmed steering wheel is a welcome relief from the enormous, button-laden tillers of most German exotic machines. Directional changes are accomplished with micrometer precision. The feel makes every other benchmark vehicle (Mitsubishi Evo, various Porsches, the BMW E90) feel like digitally compressed files, while this is the rare master recording, pressed on vinyl. The hard backed buckets do a great job of holding you in place, while the gearchange is quick, direct and snappy. The supercharged V6, despite its plebian roots in the Toyota Camry, moves the featherweight exotic down the road with ease.

The Evora S was the kind of car that we want, a lightweight, unfiltered, incredibly direct, exotic looking sports car from a manufacturer full of heritage and history, reasonably priced compared to its competition and yet not so accessible that its intangible greatness wouldn’t be degraded by the great unwashed with more money than savoir faire. Simply put, it was an NSX with a much better badge. and far poorer build quality

Guess what? It was a miserable failure. Sports cars are supposed to be easy these days. You’re supposed to get the beautiful shape and the rocketship ride without the panel gaps that can be measured in inches. Exhaust noise and engine sounds should be artificially amplified or turned off with the flick of a switch, wind noise cancelled out and you should never under any circumstances catch of a whiff of curing epoxy or anything emanating from the engine bay.

In conclusion: 5 stars.

Photo Credit: Blake Z. Rong/Autoweek

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35 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2013 Lotus Evora S...”


  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Such a beautiful beast. I’ve wanted one since the first time I ever saw a picture of it. I still want one!

    But not in gray, for crying out loud. That to-die-for aquamarine they sell it in, oh hell yes!

    La la la, time to buy another lottery ticket…

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    It’s a real shame, but at the end of the day I can’t knock anybody for how things have gone. If I am paying $80K or however much this thing costs, I want a car that can do it all. Something like a Cayman GTS strikes a much better balance between driving engagement and usability/refinement.

    What needs to happen in the US is auto regs need to allow the selling of cars like the Ariel Atom, etc. For people who just want raw driving purity, safety regs and all that horse crap is irrelevant added cost, weight and isolation. If I could, I would trade my motorcycle in for something like an Ariel Atom tomorrow.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. There should be a way for low volume car companies like Lotus to sell cars in the US. I know you can get around a lot of the regulations by selling “kit” cars like the Caterham or three wheeled Morgans. But what’s the harm in selling fully assembled Atoms or the Evora, if they sell less than 1000 units a year?

      • 0 avatar
        udman

        The big problem with letting low volume manufacturers skirt the safety regulations is a double whammy… First, when your average Joe Schmo purchases one of these specialty vehicles, and then is involved in a serious crash, you can almost bet that the very next call (after the Ambulance, of course) will be to his or her Lawyer to set in place a multi-million dollar lawsuit to recover things like lost wages, depreciation, pain and suffering, and maybe something to settle stupidity…

        If this (or many many other) legal eagles don’t drive the company out of North America, then the numerous legal briefs filed by the larger car companies against the NHTSA would cost the taxpayers quite a bit for letting “little boutique” car makers the ability to sell vehicles without the necessary safety gear…

        It’s not worth it. Let the Ariel Atom come into the country as a track day car only, not allowed to travel the highways or city streets. And if Lotus can’t get their crap together to make a car with the next generation of airbags, then they shouldn’t be allowed to sell them.

        • 0 avatar
          chuckrs

          I was under the impression that you can import a roller, mate it up with an engine, and avoid having to comply with at least some of the safety requirements. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.
          While I’m not in the market for a streetable Ariel Atom, I think it should be my choice to determine whether it is worth it. How could an Atom be less safe than a motorcycle that does comply with safety requirements for cycles?
          ps – I know Atoms are manufactured here but couldn’t they use the same ‘kit car’ dodge?

          • 0 avatar
            mnm4ever

            This raises an interesting idea: perhaps Lotus could sell their cars as engineless kits, even skipping a lot of the luxuries and making them more affordable for those who want track performance. No different from a Noble.

          • 0 avatar
            hgrunt

            You can, as “parts” and importers sometimes bring in whole cars this way from Japan. The difficulty is registering it for street use, which can vary from state to state. Then there’s insurance, etc.

            If it’s off-road use only, then the registration requirements are far less stringent.

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      Yeah, but there’s a whole slew of vehicles in that $60-80k range that are compromises between raw engagement and performance versus every day drivability and practicality. You can get them in all forms, from 2+2 coupes, convertibles, 5-door hatchbacks and wagons to bog standard 4 door sedans.

      You’re not dropping the money on an Evora if this is going to be your daily driver/only car in the household. If you’re single professional male, this is your second car. If you’ve got a family, this is your third car.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      Typical review of a Lotus drives great, ergonomics suck. I guess they could throw a thousand pounds of insulation, computers and infotainment and make all the naysayers happy.

  • avatar
    tedward

    What’s with this counter snark towards driving enthusiasts? “Chris Harris wannabes” and sports cars being bought primarily to sit in traffic? My experience is that this isn’t the case at all, at least with cars in this class. Sure I see Ferrari’s and other flash exotica broadway posing, but the vast majority of people that I know who own a Corvette, Porsche, Lotus etc…only drive it when it makes sense to do so, even if they own an automatic targa. I mean, if you live in California you have the luxury of being able to daily these things, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t bought for canyon run thrills, just that the owner stretched to make their only car capable of enthusiast fun. That deserves a huge round of applause in my book, even if the compromise reached involves two pedals instead of three.

    • 0 avatar
      BMWnut

      It seems to me that nobody wants to rack up serious miles on a Ferrari, because that would destroy its value. About 20 000 miles seem to be the limit. I may be wrong but how many 100 000 mile prancing horses are on sale right now?

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      Because ‘driving enthusiasts’ tend to spend more time on forums debating what cars should be like than dollars at a dealership actually buying them. Especially in this segment – the biggest black eye on the Evora is that it isn’t as good at 2/10ths as it is at 9/10ths, while cars like the Cayman are generally nice places to be if you are stuck in traffic.

    • 0 avatar

      Fact is the majority of cars like Porsches and Vettes are bought as automatic status symbols that hardly see more than a fast freeway onramp. Same for SUVs with low range that can two 10k lbs.

      The capability’s there, but the vast majority of buyers aren’t using it the vast majority of the time.

      The poser/status market supports the “real” enthusiast market. The problem for the Evora is it’s utterly off-putting to the former and thus lacks the business case to continue fed by only the latter.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “The Lotus, on the other hand, is a throwback to the days when operating a sports car was more of a commitment than simply getting in and driving a very fast luxury car would be.”

    The issue is that sports cars don’t have to be like this anymore; the people who want a sports car just buy a comfortable supercar, while the people who really do want a no-compromises hypercar will spend a lot more on a prestige track-day toy.

    Lotus is kind between a couple rocks and hard place: they’re not rarified enough to compete with Koenigsegg, Pagani and such, they’re not workaday-livable to compete with the R8, Gallardo, SLS AMG and whatever Ferrari is selling, and they’re too expensive for the people who would appreciate them, but can barely swing a Miata or a build-your-own-Caterham.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      The price issue is a big one. Plenty of people who appreciates raw, but they tend to be young males, who spend more time driving and wrenching than climbing corporate ladders; and their purchasing power reflect this.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      ““The Lotus, on the other hand, is a throwback to the days when operating a sports car was more of a commitment than simply getting in and driving a very fast luxury car would be.”

      The issue is that sports cars don’t have to be like this anymore; the people who want a sports car just buy a comfortable supercar, while the people who really do want a no-compromises hypercar will spend a lot more on a prestige track-day toy.”

      The bigger issue is that Lotus already has/had SPORTS CARS, the Elise and Exige, which were excellent. And ~50-75% the price of this thing. The Evora was supposed to be Lotus’s GT car. So if I want a hardcore sports car, I buy an Elise/Exige, and if I want a GT car there are better ones for the money. That really doesn’t leave a niche for the Evora, unless you simply hate the idea of a Corvette or Cayman.

  • avatar
    Macca

    There seems to be an analogy here; auto-journos that extoll the virtues of the rawest performance cars position themselves as auto-hipsters. The manual transmission is their fixie bike. Road noise and stiff suspensions (described as ‘granite’, natch) are their Wayfarers and slim-fit flannel.

    What proves to be problematic is when auto journos bite the hand that feeds them – many rough and raw sports cars get panned as, *wait for it*, rough and raw. So automakers increase refinement on subsequent efforts, which is then met with “you’ve neutered our sports car” from the hippest of hipster journalists. It’s tough to have it both ways.

    Worse yet, some brands don’t get a pass on the rawness of their performance cars, but others (Lotus) always do.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “The manual transmission is their fixie bike.”

      I take offense to this analogy. The manual transmission typically functions just as well as an automatic transmission. Some automatics are better than their manual counterpart for performance, while the opposite is true in other cases. Each has a few practical advantages over the other, but in the end they’ll both get the job done with similar speed and efficiency. The fixie, on the other hand, does nothing better than a geared bike, while being considerably slower and less efficient. It has less mechanical complexity, but that’s in comparison to a very simple, inexpensive, and easily-repaired mechanical device, so that benefit is essentially irrelevant.

      Speaking as a former competitive cyclist and someone who still prefers the manual transmission, if it’s truly comparable to a fixie then I’m deeply ashamed of my declining mental acuity.

  • avatar
    319583076

    I am jealous, Derek. I’d love to drive one.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Weren’t we just talking about this in another thread? :)

    Thanks for making my point so much better than I did. Let’s hope Lotus comes back with a more compromise car next time, so they can afford to do the pure cars as well.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    If I was in the market to spend this much on a sports car I would be a Lotus owner. I love the pure driving experience, the rawness, and I will never be that guy who buys a sports car based on its merits on my daily commute and how well it holds cups of coffee. I really like your analogy to the NSX, which is another car I have always loved, for many of the same reasons. I don’t understand the critiques, so many people rave on the Alfa 4C but then complain about the lack of a manual. Lotus builds the same pure sports cars with manuals and all we hear are complaints.

    Maybe resale will drop enough that I can justify picking one up.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      “Maybe resale will drop enough that I can justify picking one up.”

      Me too. I’d love a car like this. Unfortunately due to the limited nature of this car I don’t think the price ever really drops. Same the NSX.

      These cars seems to fit into two categories: garage queens in perfect condition with low mileage thus costing BIG bucks, or completely used up versions that are cheap, but require spending nearly double the purchase price on fixes.

  • avatar

    With other sports car makers it is the other way round: comfie handling in the base models, and you get to pay more for the bare bones on steroid experience, such as in the Porsche GT2 and GT3. Everyone seems to like the Evora’s form-follows-functionality appearance, and there’s where Lotus went wrong. It looks more like a pastiche of a sports car. It is simply not characteristic enough. It could have been any car maker’s sports car.

    • 0 avatar

      Lotus tried to, with Dany Bahar’s concepts, a couple of years ago. The Elan concept butt would have made for a nice rear-end on the Evora. The single round taillights are way too much of a Ferrari design feature.

  • avatar

    With other sports car makers it is the other way round: comfie handling in the base models, and you get to pay more for the bare bones on steroid experience, such as in the Porsche GT2 and GT3. Everyone seems to like the Evora’s form-follows-functionality appearance, and there’s where Lotus went wrong. It looks more like a pastiche of a sports car. It is simply not characteristic enough. It could have been any car maker’s sports car. Lotus missed the chance to lay down its own specific styling. It tried to, with Dany Bahar’s concepts, a couple of years ago. The Elan concept butt would have made for a nice rear-end of the Evora. The single round taillights are way too much of a Ferrari design feature.

  • avatar
    superchan7

    The decline of raw sports cars shows the manufacturers trying to attract non-enthusiasts to boost sales. When I showed my in-laws my recently acquired Fezza, this is how the conversation went:

    “Can the mirrors fold themselves?”
    “Nope.”

    “Does it have power seats?”
    “Nope.”

    “How many cc?”
    “3500.”
    “Oh, that’s small.”

    At least they recognised the brand. A V12 model would be more impressive to the non-enthusiasts.

    I’m looking forward to test driving an Alfa 4C, but if I bought that I would have to tell my relatives my new CF-tub “supercar” has 1.7L of displacement and no power steering.

    • 0 avatar
      ...m...

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THgeRlhVs0Y

      …it’s funny reading derek’s critique of the evora’s shortcomings, because from my perspective as an elise driver the evora has always felt profoundly posh, refined, and coddling…

      …of course, a seven driver would likely say the same thing about the elise, just as a sports racer would about the seven…

  • avatar
    koshchei

    What a gorgeous little car. It’s a shame that they’re leaving the North American market 10 years before I’m due for a mid-life crisis.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    Its pretty simple. For the price of aporche you dont get porche quality. For less $$$ you can get a vette that is at least not going to have nay bits fall off.

    The Evora is not enough car for what it costs. Nothing to do with rawness or harness. they actualy drive great are comfy and compared to a proche exotic.

    But for 85K youa re taking arisk on a fiberglass handbuilt british car, with scarce dealership coverage and a performace deficit.

    Now if the evora looked a little more agressive from the front(goofy front end miss like the MP4)and had the 420hp cosworth version of the toyota v6, plus lost 200lbs(CF bodywork and a few other tweaks) it would be a unique offering, hitting the spot vacated by the late lamented 997 Gt3. Then Lotus could charge
    120K per car which is where they need to be.

  • avatar

    Ah! The First World has gone soft and pear-shaped taking objects d’automotive art with them. It’s a pity, really.

  • avatar
    steevkay

    Maybe Lotus needs to do what Porsche did and build crossovers (or SUVs or whatever the hell they’re called now). Cayennes are built so enthusiasts like us can complain about how the 991 came with electric steering, 991 GT3s catch fire, etc. and they can continuously improve their Cayman/Boxster lines as well.

    We’ll hate Lotus for building it, but we’ll love them for it at the same time because they can continue to exist and keep their Exige as their hardcore performance model.

  • avatar
    Trev Limiter

    I’m surprised that Derek describes the manual transmission as “quick, direct and snappy.” Every other Evora review I have read is more in line with this Car and Driver excerpt of a base 2010 model: “The long-throw shift lever wins no prizes, as tech editor Robinson noted: ‘It’s a gearbox in that it is a box full of gears, but, otherwise, any resemblance to a component of a high-performance sports car is purely coincidental.’ This is a gearbox that absolutely refuses to be hurried.” That alone would be a deal breaker for me. Is it possible that Lotus overhauled the transmission sometime in the last four years?

    Besides its harsh ride, poor build quality is another reason why the Evora is not a good daily driver. An old college friend of mine owned an Evora for two or three years before finally trading it in for a Cayman. His reason: reliability. That same Car and Driver article mentions three defects the magazine experienced during its short time the car. “A piece of plastic on the driver-side door suffered from fall-apart, a loose positive battery cable left us troubleshooting a dead electrical system for half an hour, and the navigation portion of the Alpine stereo—already frustrating to use and possessing an appallingly low display resolution—stopped working by our final day.” If this can happen to press car that is meticulously maintained by a team of mechanics, I cringe to think of what time bombs may sitting on the lots of Lotus Dealers.

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