First Drive

2011 Lotus Evora S First Drive

Inconsistent Brilliance

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  • Engine
    SC 3.5L V6
  • Power
    345 HP / 295 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    6-Speed Manual
  • 0-60 Time
    4.6 Seconds
  • Top Speed
    172 MPH
  • Drivetrain
    Rear-Wheel Drive
  • Curb Weight
    3,166 LBS
  • Seating
I have a general rule: Don't turn off traction control in anything over 350 horsepower. Adhering to this self-imposed restriction has kept your humble hack out of the weeds more times than I can count. But on my second-to-last lap around Laguna Seca in the 2011 Lotus Evora S, I just couldn't help myself. After all, it's only making 345 horses...

Just as I was cresting the ton down the front straight, I held down the aluminum button on the left side of the dash, saw the orange light illuminate on the instrument cluster and dove into Turn One with a fair amount of trailbraking. As the front end began to ever-so-slightly wash out, I gave it the boot and performed one of those life-affirming powerslides through One and Two, making the slightest of corrections on the wheel, grazing the curbing with the right rear tire and powering into the slight right hander that leads into Turn Three.

Ego briefly stroked, I reengaged the electro-nannies, barreled through Four and Five, and with Sport Mode set, managed a four-wheel-drift through turn six before making the long trek up to The Corkscrew.

Good cars make you feel like a hero. Great cars compliment and connect with every fiber of your being. The Evora S falls into the latter camp. And it's even better on the open road.

When none other than Dan Neil says of the standard, naturally aspirated Evora, "In my career as an automotive journalist, I've never written these words: I am going to buy one," you know it's good. But as of today, The Esteemed Mr. Neil hasn't called up his local Lotus dealer and cut a check for the $64,000(ish) 2+2(ish). Why? Because he knew something better was around the corner.

That something better is the Evora S.

With the same 3.5-liter V6 mounted amidships as the standard Evora, Lotus has done the predictable, slapping a Harrop HTV 1320 supercharger on top of the Toyota-sourced six-cylinder like an aluminum cherry on top of one incredibly delectable four-wheeled sundae. The result is a boost in output from 276 to 345 hp (peaking at 7,000 rpm) and torque rises from 258 to 295 pound-feet (at 4,500 rpm). The addition of the blower nets a 0-60 mph run of 4.3 seconds (down from 4.9 on the standard Evora), 0-100 mph in 10.2 ticks (improved by nearly a second and a half) and a quarter-mile time of 12.8 seconds at 110 mph.

While those increases don't look like much on paper, the additional motivation down low – particularly up hills and across straight stretches of tarmac – is exactly what the doctor ordered. Base torque in the Evora S is the same as peak torque in the standard coupe, providing authoritative shove across the rev range until around 6,200 rpm when twist begins to bleed off. And the combination of the blower whine, intake noise and engine note – enhanced by a small valve that opens up the exhaust – makes it sound like Chewbacca hurling invectives through a paper towel roll.

But as with any Lotus, this story isn't about outright power or physics-warping acceleration. It's about the driver and the drive.

Knowing not to mess with a good thing, Hethel's engineers have kept the S' suspension tweaks to a minimum. Spring rates remain the same as the standard Evora, while front and rear bushings have been stiffened by 10 percent and the rear anti-roll bar diameter has been increased by a nominal 0.5 millimeters. Base rubber – Pirelli P-Zeros, sized 225/40 R18 in front and 255/25 R19 in the rear – weren't available on our testers, so instead, specially-developed P-Zero Corsas were fitted at all four corners, with the fronts coming in at 235/35 R19 and the rears at 275/30 R20. There's only a 12 percent reduction in camber compliance up front and 19% in the rear, while lateral stiffness at the contact patch is increased by 22 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

Combined with the standard Sport Pack kit (cross-drilled and vented discs, engine oil cooler, TC-freeing Sports mode) and six-speed "Sports-Ratio" manual gearbox, the Evora S is further proof that Lotus understands handling and driver communication better than any automaker currently in existence (you could, maybe, possibly call a tie with Porsche).

The amount of feedback through the wheel simply has to be experienced to be understood. Check the Short Cut video below for a quick illustration.

Every single pockmark, rib and surface irregularity is transmitted directly from the chassis and through your palms and pants. That much we expect. But the way it deals with bumps and heaves makes you think the shocks are filled with unicorn farts and pixie tears. Partnered with the 101.4-inch wheelbase, the Evora S is never upset. NEVER. And the Lotus reps know it, so they put us on some of the most torturous stretches of roads that Northern California has to offer. Over the course of four hours, we experienced nearly every surface known to man, hit the bump stops once and never, ever felt out of sorts. All while – need I remind you – running on 30-series tires. The Evora chassis imparts the kind of knowledge people go to Tibet for: Eat. Pray. Drive.

But what about that "inconsistent" line in our title?

We ran six different Evora and Evora S coupes on the road and track and each was different. One was intent on money shifting coming into The Corkscrew. Another had a clutch I was convinced wasn't attached to anything. Some cars understeered, while others were perfectly neutral. And another had a throttle calibration issue that would only allow me to blip the gas if I did it hard. Quickly. Twice.

Partnered with the six-speed manual pulled from a diesel (yes, diesel) Toyota and stuffed full of Lotus-specific gears (1st and 2nd are standard, 3rd through 6th are shorter and specific to the Sport), the gearbox made a truck-like racket when pulling hard in low revs. Or high revs. Or in the mid-range. All depending on which S we were in. The shifter – the lone negative in the driver interface – was somewhat smoother than the standard Evora, if just by a fraction, but still came across as vague and ill-defined, causing more than a few stutters and missed-shifts no matter the environment. Experienced double-clutchers and those with monk-like patience are the only ones rewarded with a linear, uninterrupted flow of power. And the less said about the Alpine head unit, its archaic interface and its inability to give spoken directions while playing music from an iPod, the better.

That all said, I'm almost with Mr. Neil. Almost.

If a temperamental shifter and an embarrassing stereo are all that stands between me and livable daily-driving nirvana, I'm ready to sign my life away. But at $76,000 for the 2+0 and $77,500 for the 2+2 (the extra $1,500 is sure to save you on insurance) it's simply a bridge too far and 10 Gs too much. For those willing to shell out the extra coin, you can be confident in the fact you're behind the wheel of the purest driving GT available from any automaker in the world. But to be anything less than perfect with the Porsche Cayman R breathing down the Evora's neck – while commanding less and offering more – means you'll always be wondering whether you cut the right check at the right dealer. My advice: Switch off the traction control and hammer through your favorite bend. The answer should be clear.

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