900 Miles, Two Racetracks, 28 Hours: The Lotus Evora 400 Shrugs Off Our Torture Test

We lapped a Lotus Evora 400 at two of America's greatest race tracks, back-to-back. The British sports car gobbled it up without protest.

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DW Burnett / PUPPYKNUCKLES

Those of us who write for Road & Track say the name of this publication so often that we usually wind up either shortening it to "R&T" or ignoring it entirely, preferring to speak in terms of "the magazine" or "the site." Yet it’s worth remembering that the magazine got its name because the sports-car enthusiast fraternity of the postwar era considered road and track to be complementary and often interchangeable concepts. Take Watkins Glen, for example. The original race was on the roads that wove through New York’s Finger Lakes. Only later did Watkins Glen become a track as well as a road.

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The cars of the era, too, were expected to perform in both environments. The Mercedes-Benz factory team might have hauled the 300SLR racer by transporter back in the '50s, but that sort of thing was the exception. Average SCCA club racers drove their cars to and from events, as did their professional counterparts, and woe betide the driver whose MG or Jag was too ruthlessly optimized for the road course; it might not make it there without breaking something.

Those days are largely gone for all but the most casual club competitor. My World Challenge Accord Coupe can’t make it over a speedbump without the use of two specialized dense-foam ramps, and it’s no longer possible to enter a car in anything above a time trial without a full rollcage and a variety of equipment that's often flat-out illegal for road use. Yet that spirit lives on in the form of the modern “track rat” who attempts to balance the needs of daily driving and lap time in a single vehicle.

If your idea of that ideal balance leans more towards road course than road, you’ll love the Lotus Evora Sport 410 or Evora GT430, both of which display purebred racetrack demeanor at the cost of the proverbial noise, vibration, and harshness. But if you’re just as concerned with freeway composure and long-haul comfort, then the standard Evora 400 might be your best bet.

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We borrowed a brand-new Evora 400 from Lotus and came up with an absolutely unreasonable program of events intended to replicate the combination road and track usage of this magazine’s earliest readers. We started at the historic Lime Rock Park racetrack, which just celebrated its 60th birthday last year. After a five-hour track day consisting of several dozen laps in both dry and wet conditions, I packed up the Evora and drove it 677 miles to Mid-Ohio, which is just four years younger than Lime Rock. There, I put another 90 miles of lapping on the odometer. The total time budgeted for this, start to finish, was 28 hours.

To make things more challenging, the Evora received zero maintenance during the trip. No alignment, no brake burnishing or bleeding. Last but not least, the transit portion of the drive was done in a night full of rainstorms and thick fog, stopping only for fuel.

Does this sound miserable? It shouldn’t, because it was great. At Lime Rock, the Evora charmed every R&T staffer who climbed behind its dinner-plate-sized, deeply contoured steering wheel. Secure and rapid during the heavy rain that plagued the first half of our session, the Lotus picked up speed as the track dried beneath its Michelin Pilot Sport tires. “It sounds counterintuitive,” one of our writers enthused, “but when there’s very little grip out there, it’s reassuring to be this low and this closely connected to the track surface.”

Lime Rock’s famous (and treacherous) West Bend stayed damp for our entire day, but even with the absurdly competent stability control turned completely off, the Evora never did more than briefly spin its wheels at the top of the hill. The brakes, with oversized AP Racing calipers, refused to fade or weaken even in the long, self-indulgent sessions that grew even longer as the day drew to a close.

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DW Burnett / PUPPYKNUCKLES

It was well and truly raining by the time I got to Interstate 84 on my way to Ohio. Over the course of what proved to be an eight-hour and 42-minute drive, I rarely saw anything that looked like a dry road or a clear sky. Yet the Evora’s single wiper did a solid job of clearing the bubble windshield. You have to switch it on and off yourself, the same way you do with the headlights. This is not a luxury car. Yet the seats were more than adequately comfortable despite the fact that I’m 6'2", 240 pounds, and chock-full of titanium hardware in my lower extremities.

On the long, foggy freeway, the Evora’s steering was reassuringly twitch-free. There’s just enough weight in the controls to keep a tired driver from giving the car a bad input. The defroster is world-class, and the stereo is more than adequate to deal with the relatively low amount of road noise. It would benefit greatly from a volume knob rather than VOL UP and VOL DOWN buttons, but it’s not hard to use. The smell of hot fiberglass that accompanies every modern Lotus in operation is oddly reassuring when you have Peterbilts on all sides and an inch of standing water on the roads. Visibility to the rear is best accomplished via the side mirrors, however; the louvered, 410-Sport-style carbon-fiber rear engine cover fitted to our car looked like a million dollars but offered just a few nickels' worth of view from the center mirror. Good luck distinguishing between a civilian Ford Explorer and the deep-brown ones operated by the New York State Police. The situation is easier through the windshield, where the newest generation of headlights provides good visibility on low beam and a stellar view on high.

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I remain surprised by just how much throttle the Evora can take in bad weather without resorting to wheelspin, both on and off the track. This is particularly useful when dealing with the caravans of trucks on I-80 that frequently block both lanes for miles at a time. When a spot opens up, it doesn’t stay open long.

The unique packaging of the Evora allowed me to do something that really made the drive easier: I moved the seat all the back back and let my feet stretch under and behind the pedals. In this position, the Lotus was as comfortable as an Escalade—more so, because there’s no pressure on my knees the way there is in an upright SUV. And thus I made it through the drive without the slightest bit of joint or back pain. It was a true miracle, and one I’ve been unable to accomplish in far more luxurious vehicles.

After a four-hour nap, I headed towards Mid-Ohio. Fuel consumption over the trip had been just over 22 mpg—not brilliant by Corvette standards, but miles ahead of what any “exotic” mid-engine car from Europe can manage. Around Mid-Ohio, this would drop to 8.2, but that is outstanding for a vehicle with this much pace. It means that you can do 50 laps without a refuel, something that can’t be done in, say, a Corvette Z06 or Ferrari 488GTB.

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Weather at Mid-O was a perfect 60-and-sunny, so I decided to really lean on the brakes, sending them into ABS at least twice a lap. The Evora can hit 134 mph on the long back straight, even with a relatively indifferent exit from the “Keyhole” before it; Pilot Sports are great for a rainy commute but once you’re on the track you’d really rather have the Pilot Sport Cup 2. The optional forged wheels to which they were mounted, however, make a tangible difference in the Evora and they survived several 70-mph slams into potholes on the overnight commute without so much as a single paint chip.

Try as I might, though, I couldn’t fade the stoppers. Half of the Evora's magic is in the unparalleled feedback you get from the controls; the other half is the perfected balance of the thing. It’s pretty quick, clocking off a quarter-mile in the high 12s, but it’s not so fast that it overwhelms the brakes. The same is true of the balance between overall grip and tossability in the chassis. The front end slides first, but the back will cheerfully come unstuck under throttle manipulation, either up or down.

During the third session, the tires got hot enough for the Evora to start exhibiting some mild four-wheel drifts on the entrance to "Thunder Valley." Yet when I examined them afterwards there was no cupping and no obvious damage. This Lotus is spectacularly gentle on its Michelins; you can run enough laps to require a new set of tires on most supercars, and you won't even feather the tread blocks on an Evora. It’s also very easy to get the tires back under the car once they've gotten too hot; half a lap of reduced pace is enough. If your trackday life has been spent driving a traditional big-and-fast coupe, you’ll be amazed at the delicacy with which the Lotus treats its consumables.

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DW Burnett / PUPPYKNUCKLES

After more than 100 laps of the two tracks, the brake pads were less than half worn and the tires looked ready for a cross-country drive. This isn’t a cheap car to buy—you'll need to bring close to $120,000 if you want all the good stuff—but it is frugal to operate over the long haul. It’s also a sensual and aesthetic pleasure, the likes of which we haven’t really seen in the sports-car game since Porsche took the aircooled 911 out behind the shed at Weissach and shot it. Everything you touch feels first-rate; there’s little to improve in the way it goes down the road. Or the track.

Given the choice, I’d personally take a 410 Sport for my own Evora, secure in the knowledge that the extra pace on track doesn’t exact too much of a penalty in noise or comfort. Most potential customers, however, will find the Evora 400 to be closer to their perfect balance. In a world where everybody had a chance to drive one of these before they bought a new car, the waiting list would be in the hundreds of thousands. Graceful and communicative around Lime Rock or Mid-Ohio, the Evora 400 is equally at home slinking down a back road or hammering along the inhuman superslab. We’ll have a lot more to show and tell you about this Evora in the weeks to come, but you can start with this: Few cars have ever captured the idea of "road and track" the way this little Lotus does.

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