The new 2011 Lotus Evora packs 276 horses into a small package for a thrilling ride like nothing else
City of Malibu, may I introduce the Lotus Evora. Evora, meet Malibu, which, among its many charms, has miles of magnificent mountain roads curling above the Pacific. The kind of roads you were designed for. Kismet!
The result of this automotive harmony? I'm hurling the sprightly, two-door sports car up a windy section of tight asphalt, the steering wheel dancing in my hands like a living thing. Third gear bounces off the engine's rev limiter as I rage through an L-shaped corner.
I love the smell of burning rubber in the morning.
Lotus does sports cars. Tiny ones. If BMW has veered into heavyweight territory with oddball fast rides like the X6 M crossover, Lotus has stayed true to making two-door welterweights.
The scrappy British company got its start racing in the 1950s and has seen its share of business ebbs and flows. There are storied models like the 1960s Elan and the 1970s Esprit, which made a guest appearance as a submarine in James Bond's "The Spy Who Loved Me."
As of late, the only two model choices were the two-seat Exige and Elise. To say they are driver's cars is not simply a euphemism: Passengers larger than Kate Moss will be constricted. Additional storage space is best suited to postage stamps. Two more fun cars you will not find, however.
The $64,000 Evora is the first of many promised new models, each with more room. These include the return of the Esprit in 2013, the Elite, and eventually a four-door called the Eterne.
In the meantime you can purchase the Evora, which has room for four -- sort of. There is a space behind the driver that can be optioned with seatbelts and what one might call sub-seats, which might accommodate Keebler elves. Otherwise, you can opt for a shelf that fits a backpack nicely.
The reason for this scrunching is both a function of the car's dimensions and overall engineering. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine is situated behind the cockpit rather than inside the hood. This leaves the car perfectly balanced, like a well-made chef's knife. It changes directions effortlessly, dicing and mincing pavement.
The downside is that the mechanical components take up the space where you'd normally fit a backseat. The Evora also has what might be charitably called a small trunk. So you can bring your whole stamp collection.
No question that it's a first cousin to the Exige and Elise, with the same quirky nose and stance. The rear windshield folds into an up-raked spoiler and a deep fold in the bottom rocker gives the side view drama. Random air intakes and outlets along the body make it even more toylike.
I wouldn't call it classy; just fun.
My test car is an eye-searing yellow and doesn't include the optional back seats. The roof is only as high as the door handle of the average SUV, and motoring around heavy traffic can be intimidating. You're a hummingbird darting among flocks of geese. (No wonder the paint job is so bright -- it's a safety feature.)
It feels like you're almost sitting on the ground, and any hard jounces travel straight through the lightly cushioned seats and into your spinal column. Comfort and practicality are not key in Lotus's world. Performance is.
The engine is actually sourced from Toyota, with 276 horsepower and 258 pound feet of torque. Modest by today's standards. Top speed: Only 162 mph. Zero to 60 in 4.9 seconds. (A more powerful "S" version will be available with 345 hp.)
But get on those narrow Malibu roads (which lead to not- inexpensive mansions with killer ocean views) and the Lotus will spank an expensive, high-horsepower sports car. It's light and easy to maneuver.
Occasionally I sweep around a corner to find a large rock has tumbled into the road from a cliff above. A quick twitch of the wheel is all that's needed to sidestep such obstacles. Throw on the brakes and the front and rear rotors pull you from 60 mph to a stop in a mere 100 feet.
After driving up from West Hollywood and gunning around for a full day, I still only burned through half a tank of gas. That modest engine gets 18 city, 27 highway.
My test car has the optional sport, technology and premium packages. It has heated seats, a leather interior, cross-drilled brakes, a titanium tailpipe, and an Alpine touch-screen navigation system. Total cost, including $1,175 delivery charge, is $75,920.
At first glance it looks pretty snazzy, but by the end of the day I found that sun glare often obscured the dials, the buttons could be finicky, and the navigation system had frozen - - insisting that I was still on the Pacific Coast Highway even as I pulled into my hotel.
None of which bothers me a whit. As dusk falls I pull onto a narrow lookout point high above bustling Highway 1. The sea seems to be swallowing the sun and a full moon stands in stark relief above.
My roadside seat sure isn't big, but it's the best perch I can imagine.
The 2011 Lotus Evora at a Glance
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 with 276 horsepower and 258 pound-
feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 18 city; 27 highway.
Price as tested: $75,920.
Best feature: The brilliant handling.
Worst feature: Let's be honest: Those back seats won't fit anybody happily.
Target buyer: The driver who prefers the long and winding road.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column:
Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.