Car Video: Oversteer
The Lotus Evora Is Better Than You Think
I recently had the chance to drive the single most exciting vehicle ever to share a powertrain with the Toyota Camry. It was a Lotus Evora S, and I drove it down in Florida, where I discovered that Lotus makes pretty good cars for a company that's been going bankrupt for the last decade.
Before I get into my experience with the Evora, let's do a general overview of this thing. While everybody knows the Lotus Elise, fewer people know the Evora, which is also a midengine Lotus that seemingly requires people to come up to you at gas stations and ask "Lotus? Who makes Lotus?"
The major difference is that while the Elise uses the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder from the Toyota Celica GT-S, Corolla XRS and Matrix XRS, the Evora uses the 3.5-liter V6 from the Camry. In the Evora S I drove, it's supercharged for 345 horsepower and zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds. There's also another major difference between the Evora and the Elise: The Evora has back seats. The Elise is so small it barely has front seats.
And, indeed, as you might guess considering Lotus created a vehicle with rear seats, the Evora is intended to be more of a "touring car," as compared to the Elise's mission, which is "frenetic sports car." It isn't a touring car by any other automaker's definition, of course -- but when you're making the Elise, with a trunk that's held up by a manual hood prop, the Evora is the "large, luxurious one."
And, to Lotus's credit, the Evora is actually surprisingly luxurious. I owned a 2006 Elise for nearly a year, so I went into this thinking the Evora would be like that: cramped, compromised, fragile and low on equipment, to the point that some guy on the Lotus Forums fabricates a custom cupholder because Lotus won't offer one. I also assumed trim pieces would fall off on my face while I was driving, which (honestly) happened occasionally in my Elise.
But the Evora isn't like that. It has a navigation system. It has leather seats. It has heated seats. It has a surprisingly roomy trunk. It has one of those rear spoilers you can raise with a button. It has power locks. It has a bunch of surprisingly high-quality silver buttons. It has keyless entry. In fact, it has just about everything you might expect to find in, say, a Porsche Cayman -- though I must admit the Cayman's materials make it feel a lot nicer on the inside.
But this brings us to the obvious question: Is the Lotus Evora an actual rival to the Porsche Cayman?
In terms of pricing, the answer is unequivocally yes. The average asking price for a used Evora on Autotrader is just a shade under $59,500 -- and even if you cap your search at the 2013 model year, the average asking price for an Evora is still over $55,000. These cars are holding their value -- and more importantly, the Evora is worth so much that it's clearly a direct rival to sports cars like the Cayman, if you're simply considering price alone. But what about the driving experience?
Here's where the Evora is really impressive: It drives really, really well. And I don't mean it drives well for a car built by a company that's perpetually weeks away from closing down its factory and getting purchased by an Asian conglomerate. And I don't mean it drives well for a low-volume vehicle, or a car that uses a Toyota Camry engine. I mean it truly drives like an exciting modern sports car.
Around corners, the Evora is a total hoot. The steering is precise and direct, it's not even slightly vague, and it sends the car exactly where you want it to go -- partially a function of the Evora's reasonably light curb weight of around 3,100 pounds. It's rare you ever get the chance to drive a car with a backseat that handles quite like this.
Acceleration, however, is even more impressive than handling: I can't speak for the standard Evora with the 270-hp Camry engine, but the 340-hp Evora S is a rocket ship. The 0-to-60 time of 4.4 seconds barely speaks to the car's amazing midrange power, which is something the Porsche Boxster lacks -- and the engine sounds surprisingly good, considering, well, you know.
And while the Camry engine may not exactly be a purpose-built, go-fast motor, it holds one huge advantage over just about every other sports-car powertrain: We can be sure it'll stay reliable. This is the opposite of, for example, a theoretical Lotus-built engine like in the Esprit -- which is probably one of the most desirable cars that nobody actually wants, simply because of its perceived unreliability.
So my conclusion about the Lotus Evora is that it's better than you think. It's reliable, it's fast, it's sporty, it's fun, and, in my opinion, it's beautiful. Still, I can't tell you to buy an Evora over a Cayman, given the differences in quality of materials and Lotus's penchant for constantly fighting off bankruptcy. But I strongly suggest you should add it to your sports-car shopping list -- if only to grin like I did when I was making this video.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.