Hardcore Lotus Evora takes some getting used to, but keen drivers are rewarded with a fun and involving experience

What is it?

It’s newer than it appears. It’s the Lotus Evora 400 and, although it might look like it has just had a nip and a tuck at either end, apparently more than two thirds of its parts are new or revised.

Most notable among those are the addition of a charge cooler for the Toyota-sourced 3.5-litre V6 engine, allowing the motor a power peak of 400bhp – up 50bhp on the model it replaces. There’s a weight reduction of 42kg, too (which is actually about 60kg given that the new cooling adds 20kg), rendering the kerb weight a gnat’s under 1400kg.

Less obvious but more significant is what has gone on elsewhere. Lotus has revised the extruded and bonded aluminium tub, lowering the sills by 56mm and reducing their width by 43mm in order to make getting in and out of the car easier without affecting the 27,000Nm/deg torsional rigidity. There’s a touch more space in the footwell, too, while the cabin has been revised to make it not just easier to use but also more attractive to look at.

Then there are the even grubbier, even more detailed changes which, this being a motoring piece about a Lotus, I’ll assume you’re interested in.

Mechanically, the AP Racing brakes are similar to those on the old Evora S but are now larger in diameter (370mm at the front, 350mm at the rear), while the steering rack, which is the same 2.8-turn one that gave such exquisite feel before, is mounted lower to reduce bump-steer at the expense of some steering feel. Apparently that's an important change because the Evora 400 has been given more toe-in in order to make it feel more agile, and if you didn’t also reduce the bump-steer it would tramline too much.

Springs and dampers are firmer because the performance has increased and Lotus would like to make the Evora a little harder-edged, so along with the power increase comes a Quaife-sourced mechanical limited-slip differential, which should prevent excess power being wafted away by a spinning inside wheel.

Tyres are now from Michelin and they’re Pilot Supersports, and although they have the same dimensions at the front as before (235/35 ZR19s), they’re wider by 10mm at the rear (now 285/30 ZR20s) in order to increase traction.

Around Lotus’s Hethel test track (once pockmarked like the bits of road your local council have ignored the longest but, post-Bahar, a worktop-smooth handling circuit, the Evora 400 is seven whole seconds faster than the previous supercharged Evora and as fast as a Lotus Exige S - albeit, Lotus reckons, rather less tiring than the latter. It also now costs about £73,000 (£72k plus on the-road costs).

What's it like?

Easier to get in and out of, certainly. As well as the sill being lower and narrower, the Evora’s door cards are thinner too, so you’ve a lower, wider gap to slide into. The lower sills make the new seats - each 3kg lighter than before - feel higher even though they’re not. They sit in the same position as before, in fact, skewing your legs towards the centre of the car despite an apparent increase in foot room.

Ergonomically the Evora is improved, then, but still not perfect. The diddy wheel can be set high and close, though, with a pleasingly-topped gearlever sprouting from a narrow centre console that, likewise, feels sturdier and more nicely finished than before, if less solid than one comprising part of a steel monocoque.

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You can now easily read the clear, white-on-black dials, though, while buttons have been moved from obscurity behind the steering wheel to somewhere more sensible and are considerably better finished. There’s some decent stitching around, too, and – praise be – a more adjustable new heating and ventilation system that isn’t irritatingly loud even on its lowest blower setting.

Still, enough familiarisation. Thumb the new starter button and – oh, hello – in comes a remarkably burbly exhaust, with switchable bypass valve. The Evora has never made an unpleasant noise, but the new exhaust, with the right button pushed, finally makes this car as raucous as it always should have been.

Throttle response is still keen and, thanks to forced induction by supercharger rather than turbocharger, there’s no lag. The Evora 400 likes revs, though. It spins to 7000rpm and does its best work beyond 4500rpm, despite peak torque of 302lb ft arriving 1000rpm earlier than that and hanging around until 6500rpm.

The 400bhp power peak is made right up by the redline, by which time the Evora’s engine is making a fair old howl and feeling every bit as quick as the 0-60mph time of 4.1sec would suggest. I guess you’d call that junior supercar pace these days. With a 186mph top speed this is the fastest production Lotus ever made, and even though these days there are hot hatchbacks that approach the power output of this, 400bhp didn’t make me feel short-changed.

In fact, I suspect the acceleration time would be more impressive were the Evora 400 not stymied by the perennial Lotus problem: the obtrusiveness of the gearshift that comes hooked to the engine.

Take your time and be patient with shifts and it’ll slot home fine, but try to pull through changes as quickly as you would in, say, a manual Porsche Cayman, and sometimes it’ll mildly baulk at the idea, or, on occasion, say, if you’re braking and/or have some lateral loading on, be more stubborn still. The brake pedal’s travel is long, too, which even though the brakes are superb, it makes heel-and-toeing difficult.

To avoid both of those niggles there’s an automatic option – a six-speed torque converter unit – which is okay on the road and has well-spaced pedals for left-foot braking. But while it’s relatively quick and responsive to shift, it lacks the sophistication of a great dual-clutch automatic unit. It does without a limited-slip differential, too.

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Which is a pity, because these things can get in the way of you enjoying the chassis and, if the Evora 400 has anything, it’s a chassis. True, by stiffening the springs and dampers some of the ride quality has gone left, but the Evora always had some to spare. This is a car that still rides remarkably well. Sure, on the road, if you brake and introduce another chassis input – pockmarked blacktop or speed ripples on the approach to a roundabout, fpr example – there’s some steering column vibration, but it’s still remarkable. I think it rides better than the keener versions of the Porsche Cayman and probably has a more alert turn-in, on a steering system that remains slick, well-weighted and positive.

On a circuit the Evora’s limits are fairly mighty. Lotus claims a bit of downforce but this isn’t an aero car, it’s just a very well set-up road car that makes the most of its tyres. There’s some pitch and roll, as you’d expect of a car with a compliant ride, but movements are well controlled. Drive it smoothly and it’s slick and rewarding, nudging into understeer at the limit, which you can counter by trailing the brakes or lifting off.

Be brutal with it below its limits and, because it ‘only’ has 400bhp and lots of mid-engined traction, it’ll just wonder why you’re trying to unsettle it. Drive it up to its limits, though, and then be assertive with the steering and throttle, and it’ll do what you want: become neutral, or slip just a little, or hook up the diff and pitch itself a long way sideways.

Because the steering is power assisted, the wheelbase relatively long and the people who set the car up are talented, the Evora is a doddle to play around with, you’re whether nicely neutral at its limit, or if you want the rear tyres on fire. For a mid-engined car it’s - that word again - remarkable.

Should I buy one?

Last time Autocar road tested an Evora, our cover line was: ‘World’s best handling car, but…’. Quite a lot has happened since then, and not just to the Lotus.

Porsche has launched the latest Cayman (including the GT4) and the 911 GTS, for a start. So although the Evora has received some wholesale and remarkably significant changes – while having its price increased to the best part of £75,000 – the competition hasn’t exactly been doing nowt either.

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The Evora 400 is, though, hugely improved. World’s best handling car, then? Well, it’s not a million miles away. And while there is a ‘but…’, at least this time the ‘but’ is smaller, and has more to do with what comes out of Stuttgart than something inherently flawed about what emerges from Hethel. Which, indeed, is progress.

2015 Lotus Evora 400

Location Norfolk; On sale August; Price £73,000 (approx); Engine V6, 3456cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 400bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 302lb ft at 3500-6500rpm; Gearbox Six-speed manual; Kerb weight 1395kg; Top speed 186mph; 0-60mph 4.1sec; Economy 29.4mpg (est); CO2/tax band 225g/km, 37%

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
russ13b 26 July 2015

same comments every time

the esprit v8 was only 15kg lighter, nobody said that was heavy. it also had less power (50bhp), less torque (7lb/ft), less top speed (11 mph), less build quality, less acceleration, less fuel economy. in 2001 the esprit cost £50,000 - £58,000 today - while the evora's £73,000 would've been £63,000 back then. it's only really £5000 more than an esprit which it's much better than!

in the last year or so lotus have made awesome progress in every area, both with the cars and as a business, and yet whenever there's an article about something people just complain, same things every time, even if the only thing they can think of is the colour of the press car! if they sold them £20,000 cheaper they probably would sell more of them, but as a company it'd be financial suicide. you all appear to think that somehow - just because it's a lotus - it should have porsche build quality, all the interior toys, and have the weight of a caterham, for around £50,000. not realistic at all! given twice the budget, most other companies would struggle to do half of what lotus are currently doing.

michael knight 24 July 2015

Want to love it

Fix the gearbox for a DSG option, belatedly sort out the after-market touchscreen affair so it looks properly £70K integrated (fit an Apple CarPlay system from Pioneer, surely Lotus?)and, in a gun-metal grey, I'd be smitten.
Otherwise it's looking a tad pricey for a Toyota-powered sun-supercar.
Cobnapint 24 July 2015

When I think about the Evora....

...I get the same that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I'd get if I found out someone else was sleeping with my missus, that is to say - having a bloody Toyota engine in something with so much British motoring heritage is just WRONG. And that reason alone would put me right off buying one.