After a debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2015, the Lotus 3-Eleven has been with us for less than three years. Now, with the 311-car production run coming to an end, Lotus has saved what should be the very best until last: the 3-Eleven 430.
If you’re familiar with Lotus nomenclature – it would be understandable if you weren’t, given the proliferation of recent models – then you will recognise the ‘430’ tag from the Exige and Evora. It denotes a maximum power output of 430bhp, making all three models with this version of the supercharged 3.5-litre Toyota V6 the fastest of their respective ranges.
For the 3-Eleven, it makes for the quickest Lotus produced yet. Its 1min 24sec lap time around the Hethel test track is nearly a second faster than the equivalent Exige, which held the record not so long ago. That power gain – plus a torque increase from 302lb ft to 325lb ft – tells only part of the story, though. The weight reduction for this 3-Eleven 430 is just a bit-part player, because it only loses 5kg (thanks to new brakes and wheels).
The key advantage that this 3-Eleven holds, over both the ‘standard’ car and many others, is in aerodynamics. With the rear wing now mounted 50mm higher than before and including reprofiled end plates, plus the addition of a more aggressive front splitter, maximum downforce at the 180mph top speed is up 44kg to 265kg. Given that the vast majority of road cars actually generate lift at high speed rather than meaningful downforce, having more than a quarter of a tonne of it is some achievement.
So there would be no better place to test Lotus’s claims, including a peak cornering force of 1.5g, than its own Hethel test track. There are fast corners, slow corners, safe corners and really damn scary corners. Really, it’s where the 3-Eleven 430 should shine. Because the whole point of forgoing a heater, a roof and even a windscreen is for circuit superiority, right?
Absolutely, but on the day we tested the 3-Eleven 430, Norfolk turned Nordic. Cold, wet and with a bitter breeze, it offered no opportunity to test the car’s dry handling limits. Frankly, it felt more like a survival course than a test drive and was about as far from ideal 3-Eleven conditions as it’s possible to find. But who doesn’t enjoy a challenge now and then?
Putting the Lotus 3-Eleven's power down
The first hurdle is just getting in. Because the 3-Eleven 430 lacks doors, you need to vault over the wings to gain entry (avoiding the precarious mirrors), get your feet on the treacherously slippery floor (without carpet but with a lot of rain, it soon feels like ice) and drop yourself in without standing on the seat because, well, it’s someone else’s and it’s worth £102,000.