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If you could find Colin Chapman’s consciousness floating in a jar today, the Lotus founder would be horrified at what I am about to say: Lotus has made a sports car that weighs nearly one and half tonnes and with an automatic gearbox. And it’s bloody good.
That’s right, the 2017 Lotus Evora 400 is the best of the modern Lotuses and it doesn’t matter if you have it with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, it’s the first Lotus you can actually drive every single day and enjoy doing so.
The 400 in the name represents the horsepower rating, which measures at 298kW, 41kW more than the Evora S. It also gains an extra 10Nm of torque to bump it up to 410Nm.
All this, from the rather familiar 3.5-litre Toyota-sourced supercharged six-cylinder engine. Some context here, this is the same 3.5-litre power plant – sans supercharging – found at the upper end of Toyota's 'high-performance' Aurion and Tarago ranges.
The extra power comes courtesy of a new Edelbrock supercharger and it makes a hell of a lot of difference behind the wheel. But the most noticeable change is to the retuned six-speed automatic transmission which – unlike the previous Evora automatic that was, well, average at best – is rather good. But is it $194,990 (plus on-roads) good?
At that price point there is a lot of choice in the sports car world: Everything from the Jaguar F-Type, to the Porsche Cayman and even a base-spec Aston Martin V8 Vantage. So why would you pick a Lotus instead?
From the outside the Evora is the most accomplished model from the British brand in terms of modern cohesive design.
It stands out wherever it goes, but not in that kit-car kind of way that one might view the Elise and Exige, but more in a baby-supercar manner. You can safely bet that the average person would think it’s worth far more than it is.
The interior – ours came optioned with the $7499 leather trim pack – is a pleasant place to be but still some way from the standard of finish of the already mentioned rivals.
It’s easier to get in and out of than its smaller Lotus brothers and certainly much easier than any other Evora or Lotus currently on sale, but it still takes some practice and agility to not look like a complete imbecile trying to fold your body into the low-slung seats.
On the multimedia side, Lotus’ small scale production and lack of tie-up with a major technologically-advanced manufacturer does hinder it in this respect, with the Evora 400 housing a rather aftermarket looking infotainment system and a general fit and finish that is not up to the standards that one might expect from a $200K car.
Frankly, though, if you’re interested in an Evora 400, you need to understand where the effort has gone and that requires it to be taken for a drive because once the engine is rumbling and your hands have gripped the hyper-responsive steering wheel and your ears have sampled the Formula One-inspired orchestra that sits just behind your ears, you will view things rather differently.
This is the type of car you look forward to driving at all times. Even if it’s just down to the shops. Turn on sports mode or engage the exhaust system and every touch of the accelerator is met with a tone that is deafening beyond any legal decibel limit, yet in such a glorious manner that it just doesn’t matter.
It is simply symphonic.
In any given tunnel, you simply must drop back a gear or even two and give the Evora a bootful to redline, inducing the Lotus into a predatory high-pitch growl that makes a modern Formula One car sound like a detuned go-kart. Best still, as you go down through the gears, the rev match on the downshift alongside the crackles is louder and more aggressive than even the V8 F-Type at full swing.
This is truly not a car for a faint-hearted. Of course, you can drive it simply with the exhaust turned off (even in Sport mode) and it’s as quiet as a V6 Aurion, but where is the fun in that?
Given its weight, the Evora 400 isn’t exactly what one might call nimble. It surely has nothing on the Elise or the Exige for outright race pace or cornering ability, however as a compromise to be a daily, the Evora is still a very quick car (0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds for the auto) and at no point did we ever think it needed more grunt.
Around the twisty stuff the Evora tightens up with one of the best steering feedback systems one can experience in this segment. The super sticky Michelin tyres don’t budge under pressure and it’s a confidence-inspiring drive the harder one pushes it. Is it a track car? Probably not if you intend to do it regularly, but it can certainly hold its own a few times a year.
To the uninitiated it can initially feel nervous at times at speed, with so much communication happening between the front wheels and the driver’s hands, but that’s a Lotus trademark that we hope never dies.
Its most impressive feature, however, is the ride quality which is so beyond what you’d expect from a Lotus it’s actually somewhat humorous.
The Evora 400 is comfortable, and that almost feels wrong. But it’s not, because punt it hard into a corner and it sits flat without much body movement. It’s Porsche-like in how it manages to maintain both an acceptable level of ride comfort while still being a serious sports car.
This is the first Lotus that we have driven that we would genuinely say is worth owning as a daily driver. With the auto gearbox now so much better than before, it’s also a viable option.
If you’re coming from a Porsche, don’t expect PDK levels of sophistication, but you can expect that raw sense of connection and character that is missing from oh-so-many cars today.
Lotus is a brand that is certainly growing up. It has had some tough times of late but with a new and very passionate distributor in Australia – which appears to be in it almost as much for the love of the brand as for any financial reason – and a range of expected new models in the coming years, it’s obvious to us that the Evora 400 is the first of a range of new models that will demand to be taken seriously, not just by enthusiast buyers, but by a far more mainstream audience.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.