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First Drive review: Lotus Evora 400 (2015)

A rocketship? No, this is much more subtle than that

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2015 lotus Evora 400 review by John Simister for The Sunday Times

Lotus Evora 400 at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★★
  • Performance: ★★★★☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★★☆☆
  • Practicality: ★★★☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★★☆

Lotus Evora 400 (2015), from £72,000

THE LOTUS Evora, looking like an upscaled Elise, arrived in 2009. Now it has been reworked into the Evora 400, a car that pulls off the same trick as the Lotus Esprit: a supercar, but at half the price.

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The road between the first Evora and this new version has been rocky, with multiple staff departures and financial pressures. But in May last year Jean-Marc Gales moved from Peugeot-Citroën to take  over Lotus as chief executive. He had masterminded the introduction of Citroën’s DS range and has a more realistic take on Lotus’s future.

The Evora 400 is the first result of the new thinking. It’s intended to address the Evora’s previous failings and make it the achingly desirable machine it always should have been, a British alternative to an Audi R8 V8, a high-end Porsche Cayman or a low-end Porsche 911.

Its near-magical ability to flow round bends and absorb bumps was not enough to tempt significant numbers of sports-car drivers to place an order in Lotus showrooms. The original Evora’s cabin was badly thought out and felt cheap. The idea of transporting children in the tiny rear seats was near-laughable. Getting in and out was a struggle across the broad, high sills. And the CO2 emissions of the S version put it in the highest tax band.

John Simister driving the Lotus Evora 400 review The Sunday Times Driving

Now the unsupercharged Evora has gone, and the 400 becomes the sole model with, yes, 400bhp from its 3.5-litre, Toyota-based, V6 engine instead of the 350bhp offered in the outgoing Evora S. Recalibration of intake and exhaust systems, plus a more deeply-breathing supercharger now with a chargecooler, give the power rise; these and a 42kg weight reduction give the CO2 drop.

The body gets a deeper, more angular, more aggressive-looking front section able to pass more air, and the tail is similarly edgier to the benefit of airflow. Total downforce is twice that of the Evora S.

Stiffer rear springs, wider rear tyres, a Torsen limited-slip differential and changes to the front suspension geometry combine with this extra power and downforce to shave a hefty seven seconds from the Evora S’s time around Lotus’s fast but twisty test track.

That’s a huge improvement over a car already delightful on both track and road. Two-thirds of the old car’s components have changed in the making of the new one. What’s vital is that the essence of Lotus – agility, flow and engagement with the driver – has not. Lotus’s founder, Colin Chapman, would never have wanted a brutal car.

Climbing into the cabin proves quite easy over the newly  slender sills. There’s more space for feet, and junior rear passengers have nearly a foot more shoulder room and can now squeeze their feet under the front seats.

The heavily revised dashboard has crisp-looking dials and an information display showing white characters on a black background. It’s much better than the old car’s red-on-pink, all but unreadable in some light conditions. The switches are easier to find and snappier to operate, the air-con is more effective and there’s a convincing air of high quality about the place. Enough, at least, that sports car buyers shouldn’t climb out, mumble something about having left the dog at home and then rush to the nearest Porsche dealership.

Lotus Evora 400 review The Sunday Times Driving

There’s a start button now, a concession to fashion. Press it and the engine comes to life with a deep burble and a chattering of the transmission, all very racing car. Some may think the chattering unseemly, but it isn’t loud and tells of the mechanical action you’re about to enjoy. The clutch is lighter and smoother now, and the gear linkage has been improved, so one of the Evora S’s few dynamic wrongs has been righted.

In Drive mode (the others are Sport, Race and Off, the last with all electronic aids deactivated bar the antilock braking) the Evora proves surprisingly quiet, with just the harmony of the supercharger whine in acceleration, but when the exhaust system’s back pressure exceeds a certain point, a bypass valve opens and a guttural blare breaks loose. Lots of revs and lots of thrust together generate this soundtrack – or you can press a button and have it all the time.

Sport and Race mode sharpen the already crisp throttle response and allow more drifting if you’re hell-bent on a fast lap of a track. On the road, Drive mode’s interventions are barely detectable. You simply feel as if you’re a particularly tidy driver.

And here is the nub. The Evora 400 can do 186mph, given its head, and reach 62mph in 4.2 seconds, but it almost doesn’t matter. As the Ferraris, McLarens and Lamborghinis get ever faster, ever more overspecified and ever more frustrating to use on the road, what many drivers crave is a car whose road behaviour is more about how much fun you can have when you’re nowhere near the car’s limits. This is where the Evora 400 hits the jackpot.

Lotus Evora 400 review The Sunday Times Driving

It overtakes with ease, but in a progressive whoosh rather than an explosion of energy. Its manual gearbox is a joy to interact with (though the optional automatic isn’t a patch on any dual-clutch system), the steering communicates every tiny change in force acting on the front wheels and the handling balance reacts to how much power you’re applying without ever threatening to spin you off the road.

In short, this Lotus matches a driver’s intuition exactly. It feels alive, toned and firm, but never jagged or nervous. It’s not so fast as to feel intimidating; you don’t need to recalibrate your brain to come to terms with it.

You find yourself driving the Evora 400 briskly but not dangerously. Instead it encourages smooth, thoughtful driving and discreet progress. The Lotus Evora finally comes of age, and it’s a driver’s delight.

2015 Lotus Evora 400 specifications
  • Engine: 3456cc, V6, supercharged
  • Power: 400bhp @ 7000rpm
  • Torque: 302 lb ft @ 3500rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 4.2sec
  • Top speed: 186mph
  • Fuel: 29.4mpg
  • CO2: 225g/km
  • Road tax band:K (£640 for the first year; £280 thereafter)
  • Price: £72,000
  • Release date: On sale now

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Lotus Evora 400 rivals

Jaguar F-type coupé V6 S, £60,250 (view cars to buy)

  • For Looks good enough to eat; cool interior; crackerjack engine
  • Against Can feel too full-on and frantic with edgy handling

Porsche 911 Carrera, £82,864 (view cars to buy)

  • For Cheapest 911 is perhaps the purest, and as engaging as ever
  • Against Upstaged by brilliant Cayman GTS at £56,092