The Ferrari factory dominates the Italian town of Maranello. Via Abetone Inferiore, the main road, is littered with exotic car rentals, souvenir shops, a Ferrari store, a Ferrari restaurant dubbed Il Cavallino, and Il Montana, a restaurant that has so much F1 memorabilia inside you'd think the stuff was a structural component of the building. Driving or walking near the factory means actively dodging tourists stumbling into the road to get a photo of the gates or of the various Ferraris passing by.
On England's east coast, in a small village called Hethel, is the home of Lotus Cars. Unlike with Ferrari, a casual tourist would have no idea Lotus was there. Other than a few small signs, there is no indication that the end of Potash Lane holds one of the all-time great sports-car makers, a company that has persevered against all odds for nearly 70 years and beaten Ferrari at its own game more times than the Italian company would like to admit.
Like Ferrari, Lotus is dedicated to the principles of its founder, Colin Chapman. His office may not be preserved, museum-like, like Enzo Ferrari's, but Chapman-isms are literally hung from the walls around Lotus, like zen mantras, to remind employees that light weight is king and unnecessary parts are the devil.
Jean-Marc Gales, the current CEO of Lotus, is a true Chapman disciple. One of the first things Gales did when he took over the company in 2014 was to commission a lightweighting study. He had engineers break each car down to the raw components and spread them out in a room. They went through, piece by piece, to determine parts that were unneeded or that could be redesigned to be lighter and do more. It's a very Chapman-ian thing to do, and it has tangible results in the cars that the company produces. Like the Evora.
Introduced in 2009, the Evora was the first all-new car from Lotus since the Elise, which debuted in 1995. A 2+2 GT, it uses the same pioneering aluminum chassis tech as the Elise, widened and lengthened. The Evora has always been sublime to drive and we've loved every one, but the refresh that created the Evora 400 was transformational. It also made the car once again compliant with US regulations, allowing it to be sold in this country after a brief exit for the 2015 model year.
With 400 horsepower from its supercharged, 3.5-liter Toyota V6 pushing 3,153 pounds, the Evora was a diminutive, lightweight, analog sports car in a crowd that has become generally larger, fatter, and more digital. Then Lotus revealed the Evora Sport 410, a slightly more powerful version of the car that weighed 132 pounds less. It was our car of choice for a week at tracks from Spa to the Nurburgring, and we were hard pressed to think of anything that could make the Evora better. Little did we know, Lotus was working on the ultimate iteration of the model.
That would be the Evora GT430, a car that looks like an Evora but feels totally different. Think Mustang GT350 to GT. Corvette Grand Sport to Stingray. Mercedes-AMG GT R to GT S. It is the most powerful, lightest, and most focused version of the Evora ever built. Can a 10-year-old car with a Toyota Camry engine compete against cars with a far bigger development budget, more power, and newer platforms?
Absolutely. And not just that, I think it's better.
"We went after the [Porsche 911] GT3 with this car," Gales tells me. Not like he needed to say it. One look at the GT430, and you understand its intent. There is carbon fiber, both exposed and painted, all over. The wing is big enough to use as a makeshift pub. The tires are Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, 245s up front, 295s out back. The rear seats are gone and the shift mechanism has been made lighter. It has AP Racing brakes, lightweight adjustable suspension, a titanium exhaust that turns a brilliant blue when exposed to heat, and the supercharged V6 has been boosted to 430 horsepower. Now it makes the run to 60 in 3.6 seconds, gets to 100 in less than eight, and has a top speed of 190 mph thanks to the massive wing. A version without the wing, the GT430 Sport, will hit 196 mph.
But it's more than the stuff you can determine at a cursory glance. Lotus did what Lotus does best: Take weight out of places you didn't think there was weight to lose. The Evora’s aluminum undertray is thinner, and its rear window is polycarbonate instead of glass. Even the washer bottle has been made smaller; great for weight savings, bad for dirty windshields. The carbon bumpers have taken weight off the ends of the car, shifting the balance more toward the center, to lower the polar moment of inertia. The center of gravity is slightly lower. The entire package weighs just 2,773 pounds, nearly 400 less than the already light Evora 400. Even though the car is not currently for sale in the US, Lotus is finishing homologation of the GT430 now. It will be available in this country in limited numbers at the end of summer 2018.
Everything is honed, focused. And. It. Works.
On the road you'll immediately notice one thing: This car talks to you. I don't mean that it literally says words. I also don't mean that the steering is communicative by modern standards. I mean it talks. The hydraulic rack is inch-precise and relays information quickly and accurately. It's not darty or nervous. An action by your hands produces an immediate, expected reaction from the front end.
That might not sound like a monumental achievement or even something worth celebrating, but consider the moment: There are currently so few new cars on the road that are both immediate and communicative, this deserves applause. And it's not only the steering. The brakes, the gearbox, the clutch, they all have the same desire to tell you what they're up to, like a platoon giving key information to a lieutenant.
Then there's the suspension. Lotus went to Ohlins for the dampers and Eibach for the springs. The three companies created a setup 22 pounds lighter than before. The dampers have 20 clicks of adjustment for both rebound and compression and the spring rates are markedly higher than those of the Evora Sport 410.
Shocks are mysterious and fickle. They aren't easy to understand and they are even harder to tune, particularly when you start adding multiple adjustments. Dialing in dampers is far easier to get wrong than it is to get right, which is why engineers spend lifetimes learning how to tune them correctly. Someone who knows how to properly tune a suspension is worth their weight in gold. Lotus's team got the GT430 very right.
At low speeds, the higher spring rates make the ride considerably firmer than before, but not crashy. It's solid and controlled. The dampers make sense over British B-roads full of crags, bumps, puddles, and holes. As speed increases, the ride smooths out and it just feels planted, thanks to a combination of the spring rates working and the aero taking effect.
Yes, the aero. The Evora's wing isn't for looks; a lot of attention has been paid to aero management around the entire car. There are air curtains up front, re-shaped fenders, a honking diffuser, and vents in the fenders to alleviate pressure. At 190 mph, the car is making 550 pounds of downforce—more than the Lotus 72 Formula One car of the 1970s, and handily exceeding the 141 pounds produced by the Evora Sport 410.
You aren't going to get the full effects of all the modifications on the road, though. For that, you need to take the Evora to a track.
Lotus's Hethel test track is set on decommissioned Royal Air Force runways used in World War II. It's a fast course, and the GT430 is the second-fastest production road car that the brand has ever put around it. And, fun fact, if you put slicks on the GT430, it's a second quicker there than the Evora GT4 race car, thanks to less weight and more aero. I won't be setting times like that. Because our test took place in England in November, when it was 40 degrees out, when the track was soaked from recent rain, when small lakes appeared in areas usually reserved for apexes.
That means I didn’t get the chance to try the Evora with its suspension in the track settings, as a stiffer setup would make the car harder to control in the wet. What's more, the Sport Cup 2 is at home in warm, dry weather. I was nervous that things wouldn’t go well.
The GT430 was still magic.
The attributes that make the car so much fun on the road are at play on a track, even in the rain. It's eager to turn in and easy to correct when damp pavement gets the better of the tires. The gearbox is crisp and the brakes urge you to push them. But the killer app is something that you barely even play with on the road: traction control.
The Evora has three drive modes: tour, sport, and race. Each acts as you'd expect, using the brakes to cut power in varying degrees when slip is detected from the rear end. However, holding down the race-mode button for a couple seconds turns off ESP and gets you into the Evora's six-way adjustable traction control. Now, instead of using the brakes, it will cut spark to allow one, three, six, nine, or 12 percent of slip from the rear tires. The sixth mode turns everything off.
This is professional-grade race-car stuff. It's magic. Every serious track car deserves a system like this. Unlike ordinary traction-control systems, which can be abrupt and jarring when they decide to intervene, this works seamlessly in the background to make you faster.
And with the Evora's V6. Supercharged thanks to Edelbrock and with engine management done in-house by Lotus, it feels transformed from the Evora 400, which wasn't by any means slow. The engine is raucous and screams to redline in each gear, howling.
Considering the track was legally a wetland the day I drove, with such prodigious power and summer tires, I figured the traction control would chatter away if the throttle pedal had so much as a shadow on it. Not the case. The system reacted when needed, quickly at low levels of slip, allowing me to slide more and more, with each push of the button giving a more permissive setting. And it never acted disruptive or made me curse it, like so many systems do. It was just there if I needed.
Before I knew it, I was running down Hethel's back straight at 130 mph, roostertails of water shooting off the back of the car, braking hard for the chicane, and then powering out as the rear end danced but never felt out of control. I did this for 45 straight minutes.
Which is, in itself, nuts. Most modern cars in factory trim can't handle more than a handful of laps before cooking tires or brakes, or overheating in general. The Lotus's only limiting factor is the fuel in its tank, which makes it all the more impressive.
Lotus likes to say that the Evora flatters an average driver and challenges an experienced one. That is 100 percent the case here. It's the rare car that's fun and feels special on the road or the track no matter what speed you're doing.
But more than that, there is something about this car that you can't quite put your finger on. It might be because this is the ultimate evolution and refinement of a machine that debuted eight years ago. It might be because you don't expect something so cohesive and effective from a company that has struggled as much as Lotus has. Or maybe because this is a truly modern car that thrives thanks to mechanical involvement, not electronic intervention.
There are very few cars on the road that leave a lasting impression, that are memorable beyond the day you drive them, that have an inherent feeling of specialness. Cars that couldn't be replicated by another automaker. The Evora GT430 is that sort of car.