If there’s one thing Lotus has always been renowned for since the day Colin Chapman first rolled up his sleeves and started removing as much weight as possible from every vehicle bearing his initials on its bonnet, it is great handling cars. Unfortunately, it was also always known as rather a quirky, niche manufacturer, one which built the sort of cars best used only for weekends and track days. Oh sure, you could use an Elise or Exige as your daily commuter, but only if your journey was alongside a runway or around a racetrack, and you were never too fussy about comfort or convenience. You know, the little things, like being able to get in and out of the car without folding your body like an origami table lamp, or expecting the interior switches to all be visible and close to hand.
Lotus was the archetypal old school British sportscar builder, hugely admired by enthusiastic drivers but not exactly what you’d call mainstream. The 2+2 Evora, launched in 2009, was the closest it came in recent times to building a car for the masses, and whilst it was a step in the right direction, the interior fit and finish disappointed, while its narrow foot wells and wide sills became quite literally, a defensive sales barrier. Naturally, it was an absolute blast to drive, but if the Evora were to ever sell in significant numbers, it needed to be improved; hence the Evora 400 you see before you. Don’t let the modest external restyling fool you, it’s the engineering hidden behind the façade that makes the 400 an all-round better sportscar. One of the biggest hurdles to Evora ownership was the one at the front door — the size of the sills. If you were still young and flexible enough to comfortably stretch across them, you probably couldn’t afford an Evora, whilst ladies would have to wear a skirt of Victorian proportions to preserve their modesty upon entering or leaving the car. An all-new chassis does away with this issue completely, since the new, smaller sills are braced internally. Consequently, they are much lower and narrower, making ingress and egress easier, and once sat in the car, design changes mean the footwell is wider and the driver sits more comfortably. Lotus claims that the Evora 400 will now accommodate occupants up to 1.94-metres tall and since I’m 1.84m and there was a good 40mm or so clearance between the race helmet on my head and the roof, I’ve no reason to doubt it.
Nor would I question the effort that has gone into improving the car’s interior. The previous car’s switch gear layout in particular came in for a good deal of criticism and whilst the new dashboard is pretty utilitarian, it’s also logical, accessible and trimmed to a considerably higher standard. It’s not going to worry the guys in Stuttgart or Ingolstadt, but neither will it disappoint a prospective owner. Perhaps of arguably greater importance in this market is the work Lotus has done to improve the air conditioning. The new HVAC system is of a larger capacity than the old one, whilst the larger front air intakes and improved cooling mean the system is far more efficient, and thus better suited to the UAE. Lotus engineers conducted long-term environmental testing of the Evora 400 in Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Death Valley, and are confident the AC will cope with the worst our summers can throw at it.
Having upgraded the ergonomic and tactile elements of the car, Lotus’s engineers turned their attention to the driving experience. At 1,425kg the Evora 400 is more than 40kg lighter than the already featherweight Evora S, yet delectably, its Toyota-sourced 3.5-litre V6 benefits from an additional 55hp thanks to the implementation of charge cooling for the Edelbrock supercharger and a revised ECU. A total of 400 horses (hence the name) and 410Nm propel this Hethel hot-rod to 100kph from standstill in an impressive 4.1 seconds, whilst the top speed is 300kph with the six-speed manual gearbox, or 280kph with the six-speed automatic. Further improvements include the addition of a Torsen type limited slip differential (manual only) and a new tuned IPS paddle shift system in the auto, which adapts to the car’s performance. So, for example, if you are braking above 0.7g it changes gear as quickly as possible, but if you’re braking at below 0.4g it identifies that as regular driving, and changes more smoothly.
It was an automatic that I took out on to the Dubai Autodrome’s short Hill Circuit, and with the Bosch ESP set to Track (Touring, Sport and Off are also available) the Evora 400 allows plenty of fun, with minimal nannying. Gear-change times have improved discernibly, from a lethargic 240us on the Evora S to a much more efficient 100us, whilst down on the tarmac, Lotus switched from Pirelli tyres to Michelin Pilot Super Sports, (235/35 R19s on the front, 285/30 R20s on the rear) citing better grip, a quicker response and thus greater driver confidence as reasons for doing so. I for one wouldn’t question that decision — the only thing I lost my confidence in was the ability to correctly count the number of laps I’d driven — I sneakily snuck in an extra one.
The Evora’s ability to perform wonderfully controllable powered drifts out of the circuit’s two right-hand hairpins is a delight, the car’s lightweight, surplus power and all-round independent double wishbone suspension ingredients blending to deliver a delicious mix of straight-line sprints and neck-wrenching corners. If your goal is purely the fastest possible lap times, there’s no compulsion to break traction, just turn the car in with the lightest of touches and you’ll find the hydraulic power steering gives plenty of feedback from the road — just the way I like it.
Brakes are AP Racing four-pot callipers, biting into 370mm and 350mm cross-drilled steel discs front and rear, respectively; these are larger than on the outgoing S and, not surprisingly given the car’s lower weight, are capable of practically standing the car on its nose when applied with gusto. Be in no doubt, the Evora 400 is most definitely at home on a track, capable of challenging and rewarding an enthusiastic driver with plenty of high-speed thrills, but it’s now a much more complete package, no longer destined to be confined to the garage throughout the week. Creature comforts such as a reversing camera and rear-parking sensor, sat-nav system and a tyre pressure monitoring system are all standard equipment, and whilst cruise control is only an option, I’d say, “who needs it?” — stay off the boring straight highways and use the side roads less travelled!
There are, ostensibly, two rear seats in the 2+2 version, though the presence of Isofix clips suggests to me they’re best used by the smaller, rusk-munching variety of human being. According to the data sheet, alternatively you can specify the car in a 2+0 format as a no-cost option and if you fancy carrying any luggage, that’s probably a wise choice. Otherwise, the list of options is pretty limited, a conscious decision made by Lotus to minimise administration, stock-holding and build-time issues on the production line, thus maximise the quality of the finished cars.
I am a man of simple tastes, so it doesn’t take a lot to make me like a car. There are some basic prerequisites; I should be able to sit in it comfortably, see ahead of me clearly, it should sound good, and it helps if it looks good, too. But most important of all, it should handle well and as a result, be fun to drive. So it will come as no surprise to learn that I really enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the Evora 400. Potential buyers in the past who might have been put off from purchasing a Lotus through fear that the choice was too ‘left field’ and thus the car might be hard to re-sell, need worry no more. Lotus has wisely addressed the Evora’s most important shortcomings, focused on improving the car’s usability, put it on a diet and even thrown in 16 per cent more power for good measure. It’s the car it should have been building for years, and I for one am very glad it is building now.