Most sports cars are engine-centric, their personalities defined by what's under the hood. A Ferrari 458 Italia is a multitalented machine, but its dominant note is delivered by the yowling V-8 behind the seats. The Porsche 911 has its grumbling, keening boxer-6. A Corvette wouldn't be the same without the bellow of a big Chevy V-8.
And the Lotus Evora, well, that has an engine of some sort. It must be in there somewhere, right?
The British-built Evora uses a Japanese-engineered 3.5-liter V-6, a workmanlike device that powers millions of Toyota Camry sedans, Highlander crossovers and Sienna minivans. The S version of the Evora upgrades the base 276-horsepower V-6 with a Harrop HTV 1320 supercharger, raising its output to 345 horsepower.
The exhaust system of the S gets a bypass valve that can be activated by the Sport button on the dashboard, letting the full voice of the engine's combustion process express itself in decidedly visceral -- and un-Camrylike -- terms. Acceleration is strong (zero to 60 in 4.3 seconds, according to Lotus), and the sprint is accompanied by a faint whistle of exertion from the supercharger. For the soundtrack alone, the Evora S is a worthy upgrade over the nonsupercharged car.
2012 Lotus Evora S
- What is it? A midengine four-seat Lotus, fortified with a supercharger
- How much? $78,895 base, $89,745 as tested, including the sport premium package ($3,250), Technology package ($3,100) and forged wheels ($2,750)
- What's under the hood? A Toyota-based 3.5-liter V-6 (345 horsepower, 295 pound feet of torque) and a 6-speed manual transmission; a 6-speed automatic arrives in the Evora S for 2013
- Is it thirsty? Not for a car that does 178 mph. The Evora S is rated at 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway by the Environmental Protection Agency
Still, the engine is a mere supporting actor in the Evora script. You get the idea that the V-6 is there in service of the chassis, to get it rolling fast enough for you to realize what a Lotus is all about. Lotus is such a handling-first company that its engineers would happily design gravity-powered Soap Box Derby racers if they could turn a profit.
There's a road near my house that I've driven hundreds of times, but I never noticed its texture until I drove it in the Evora S. Suddenly the grain of the pavement boiled up through the seat, the steering wheel and even the pedals.
It isn't an unpleasant sensation, which is the genius of Lotus chassis tuning -- the Evora manages to deliver a comfortable ride while providing ridiculous levels of feedback and some big-league performance numbers (like more than 1 G of grip on the skid pad).
How deep is Lotus's obsession with handling? Well, the Evora S media materials note that relative to the nonsupercharged Evora, this car uses a larger-diameter rear antiroll bar -- a whole half-millimeter larger. That's the kind of difference that used to be ascribed to manufacturing tolerances.
When you're parsing half-millimeters on your antiroll bars, off-the-shelf tires won't do. The optional Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tires (235/35R19 front, 275/30R20 rear) were produced just for this car. It might be prudent to hoard an extra set.
The Evora S is fast, gorgeous inside and out, and it's competitively priced with its obvious rival, the Porsche 911. The car has the presence of a true exotic. But with that small-batch flavor and exclusivity come a few foibles; it turns out that the Acura NSX, the first supercar to offer every-day levels of comfort, did not convince every other maker of high-end sports cars that ergonomic sensibility was achievable.
The Evora makes it clear why midengine cars with 2+2 seating are so rare these days. With the V-6 and vestigial back seats claiming their share of the Evora's pert 101-inch wheelbase, the front seats are pushed forward toward the front wheels. You have a panoramic view through the windshield, but you're seated so far forward that the housing for the front wheel balloons into the space to the left of the clutch pedal.
Normally, this spot is where you'd have a dead pedal, the fixed perch where you rest your left foot. And the Evora S does have a dead pedal, technically. But it's such a meager tranche of real estate that even Nik Wallenda's foot would slip off after a minute or two. You end up driving with your foot on the floor beneath the clutch pedal, slowly losing the battle to obdormition.
The car I drove also had a nonfunctioning cruise control system, meaning that my right foot was always busy, too. When I needed to do a four-hour highway slog, I left the Lotus at home. It's the wrong tool for that job.
On a great road, there are few cars that are more rewarding than an Evora S. But we're in the era of the no-compromises sports car, when machines more extreme than this are expected to deliver both scorching performance and everyday usability. While the Evora is a veritable day spa compared with the Elise and Exige -- as of the 2012 model year, these Lotus models are no longer imported to the United States -- it's still a car built around the idea that you're always driving just for the fun of it.
It's a beautiful worldview. If only it were true.