The proud British automobile industry has taken a beating the past 25 years: Jaguar and Land Rover are now owned by Tata Motors, an Indian company. Bentley is owned by Volkswagen. Rolls-Royce and Mini Cooper are controlled by BMW. And in 1996, Lotus, a uniquely British sports car manufacturer, was acquired by Proton, a Malaysian company.
Of all those acquisitions, Proton's purchase of Lotus might have caused British sports car loyalists the most angst: Would production be moved toMalaysia? Would the company continue to reflect the vision of its late founder, Colin Chapman?
Fortunately, Lotus has remained in England and Proton has followed the template created by Chapman, which is that you don't need huge V-8 and V-12 engines in a sport car if you build it light enough.
The new 2011 Lotus Evora S has plenty of horsepower. The regular Evora, introduced a couple of years ago, uses a 3.5-liter V-6 with 276 horsepower, certainly enough for a car that weighs slightly more than 3,000 pounds. The Evora S takes that same engine and adds a supercharger, boosting horsepower to 345. Overall weight is increased slightly, to a still-light 3,168 pounds.
As with the smaller, cheaper and lighter Lotus Elise, the Evora uses a Toyota engine. The Elise has a four-cylinder, the Evora a V-6 similar to the one used in several Toyota products. Some say this dilutes the personality of the Lotus products, but I'm not one of them. Toyota builds excellent, reliable engines, and it guarantees a ready parts source. Lotus modifies the engine slightly to improve performance.
Lotus also uses a six-speed manual transmission sourced through Toyota, and it's adequate but can be notchy and stiffshifting. I expect the transmission loosens up over time, but brand new, it doesn't match the rest of the Evora's spirit. An optional six-speed automatic is coming.
The Evora S has a slightly stiffer suspension than the regular Evora, and that extra 69 horsepower makes a difference. Fuel mileage drops only slightly, to anEnvironmental Protection Agency-rated 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway. From the outside, it's hard to tell an Evora from an Evora S, except the S has black mirrors and the Evora has body-colored mirrors.
The Evora is midengined, meaning the only trunk space is at the rear, behind the engine. There isn't much room there. Also, there is no luggage space at the front of the car -- that's where the radiator is.
The Evora comes with a "parcel shelf" behind the front seats, or for an extra $1,500 you can get a rear seat. It is inconceivable that people might want to sit back there, but it does add luggage space. Lotus claims that having four seats could give Evora owners a break on insurance rates. Typically, four-seaters are cheaper to insure than two-seaters, because of the sportier reputation for two-seaters.
Inside, the Evora is much nicer than the smaller Elise. It takes some acrobatics to get in and out, but once there, it's very comfortable. With one exception: The driver's-side foot well is so narrow that there is no place to put your left foot. It will be interesting to see if the upcoming automatic transmission will add some room.
As with every Lotus, the car excels on winding roads. Handling is superb, the ride surprisingly good. Few cars are more fun to drive. The Evora S starts at $76,000, and with most every option, the test model listed for $88,100. I like the supercharged engine, but I'd be as happy with the regular Evora, which starts at $64,000.
Either way, the Evora is a specialized car for a niche market, more exclusive than, say, a Porsche Cayman or a Chevrolet Corvette, and at least as satisfying -- if you don't mind driving in bare feet.