Driven: 2012 M/Y Lotus Evora

Anyone else remember 'doors that close with a satisfying thunk'? They came from the same lexicon of motoring clichés as 'controls that fall readily to hand', a tome that helped to feed many a freelance motoring hack paid by the word in the 1980s, and possibly well before.

I'd love to know who coined the phrases, but they were fresh and original a long time ago. So I'd also like to know which dentist's waiting room in Norfolk still has an ancient copy of What Car? buried amongst the yellowing Woman's Weeklies and Readers Digests on the coffee table - and who from Hethel has just been to have their tartar scraped.

Yes, news sometimes travels slowly through the fens, which is why I find myself writing about a 2012 model-year Lotus Evora distinguished - in part at least - by doors modified to 'close with a satisfying thunk'. It's also distinguished by a much improved gearshift action, significantly upgraded interior trim, and (wait for it...) some properly sporty engine noise. Amongst all that good news, it would seem churlish to point out that some of the minor controls still don't 'fall readily to hand', but give it time!

Yes, Lotus has listened to those customers, dealers and reviewers who've lined up since launch day to say "it's brilliant, but..." about the Evora. Sadly, received wisdom about a car that might have sold like hot cakes is that it handles and rides exactly like a Lotus should, but the interior looks crappy for a £50k+ motor, the gearchange is horrid, and the engine sounds like... well, why can't you hear the engine?

They've not only listened, they've acted. And the result is (I think) an entirely credible package of upgrades that bring the Evora much more closely into line with competitors it aspires to rival. (You know, the ones who've had whole departments working on door 'thunk' since 1975.)

It's the new door action you'll appreciate first, unless you're very good. In which case you might spot the new seamless (and much tidier) door-seals through the window glass on your approach. Open the door, and the new weightier, 'quality' sound and feel is immediately obvious, achieved by renewing the entire 1960s-style latch mechanism with an up-to-date system.

Then the interior trim upgrades will hit you. That horrible plastic interior door-handle has not been binned, but it has been trimmed with attractive foam-backed leather, and suddenly it's both good to look at and nice to touch. In fact, all the leather trimmed parts have been worked over - starting with higher grade and more expensive cows, and ending with much finer detailing for stitching and the like. Coupled with a new range of leather colours and textures, the result is to give the Evora cabin the 'bespoke' feel it always deserved.

OK, it's not yet up to the standard of Porsche or Mercedes ergonomically, and some of the details still grate. But the key difference is that those details are now relatively minor ones - the electric window switches and interior door releases could be nice aluminium instead of cheap plastic, for instance - but the Lotus guys promise they'll get around to those too in due course. Meanwhile, they've swapped in a new steering wheel that's anatomically designed to move your hands from ten-to-two to a 'racier' quarter-to-three, and changed the gear knob from an aluminium barrel to something that looks 'designed'.

From a driving perspective, one of the big news items is that the gearshift action has been significantly improved with lower friction cables and some other tweaks - including a lightened flywheel that reduces inertia and helps swift shifting. As a result the change is suddenly more positive, smoother and 'mechanical'. It still requires a firm hand, but finding the right slot is a lot easier and faster - and if a ten minute 'back-to-back' drive with the old car is enough to draw conclusions from, entirely more rewarding.

The Norfolk roads were the slipperiest they've been since Noah and the Flood when I went for the briefest of spins in the 2012 Evora IPS auto and S, alongside a 2011 S earlier this week. But while the drive was a little on the tentative side, the new car still felt rewardingly sporty in ways the old one didn't - and a new exhaust set-up gets the credit for that.

There's some new pipework, and the 'noise' butterfly valve now opens from 1500rpm in Sport mode. The result is a pleasing growl that develops into a proper howl at high revs - it really adds character and colour to the Evora experience, although I reckon the car is still only 70 percent as noisy as it should be. (When I mentioned this to our hosts, I got one of those winks that implies 'watch this space'...)

All in all, it's a great start to an evolution programme that now looks like being carried on until at least 2014 as part of a strategy that - with the help of new model derivatives like the GTE and others in the pipeline - should help bridge the gap until that famous 'Lotus 5 year plan' is fulfilled.

And at the very least, the 2012 changes definitely make the Evora worth another look, especially as although the modifications have added something like 3 percent to the Bill of Materials, Lotus has very decently decided to 'split the difference'. So expect to pay an average of 1.5 percent on top of 2011 model-year prices, if you're newly tempted.

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (122) Join the discussion on the forum

  • F2CSL 25 Sep 2011

    Nice car, but over priced.

    It has to be better than the Porsches in all areas to justify the price, not just in the ride and handling stakes. When you spend over 50k on a car it comes down to the whole package. Lotus haven't nailed this.
    I was very dissatisfied with the quality the Evora when I went to view it, looked and felt low rent and poorly finished item. Didn't even bother test driving the thing, even though the sales man was offering like his life depending on it.

    It doesn't matter to buyers if it was built in small volumes by a keen bunch of lotus engineers on a tight budget, alarm bells start ringing when normal people hear this sort of thing .

  • Thorburn 20 Sep 2011

    900T-R said:
    Indeed. First time I drove away from Hethel's gates it felt akward (and I caught the wrong gear), afterwards I didn't find myself spending much thought on the gearchange. It was far from horrible, just... undistinguished.
    Funnily enough the first thing I did was struggle for 1st - it was just a FRACTION further away than I'd ideally like. But I think that was partly my seating position wasn't quite right and my Elise has a short shifter. After the first time I just changed how I held the stick slightly and no problems.

  • 900T-R 20 Sep 2011

    Indeed. First time I drove away from Hethel's gates it felt akward (and I caught the wrong gear), afterwards I didn't find myself spending much thought on the gearchange. It was far from horrible, just... undistinguished.

  • Thorburn 20 Sep 2011

    Biggest criticism I could level at the Evora S gearbox after driving it was that it wasn't great.

    For me it wasn't difficult or obstructive, it just lacked that truly satisfying mechanical sensation that the best boxes have.

    I think it's more it stands out as not being quite right because dynamically everything else is so well polished.

  • Black S2K 19 Sep 2011

    kambites said:
    That was the question really... I got the impression from what an owner posted ahead that the Cayman had cost options for things like a different headlining?!? And that the dashboard was usually untrimmed plastic?

    Personally, I've never got the "nicer interior" thing myself - interior materials just aren't on my list of priorities so I have no idea which is "better" or even what "better" means, really. Ergonomics matter (the Cayman is dire, I haven't tried the Evora but it's probably just as bad) and the primary control material matters (I can't imagine there's much difference) but I've never cared what my dashboard is made from as long as it doesn't adversely affect the driving experience with nasty reflections, etc.
    I agree, but then I drive a crappy old Honda with fake leather coating, but visible dials.

    The Evora is easier to H&T than a Cayman & a lot easier than a 911 (not sure I understand why!) so in a way the ergonomics are better.

    The Evora gearchange was somewhere between the Porsches when I drove it & I really didn't think it was that crap for a ME car.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment