Lotus has sharpened the spec and the price of its Evora to create the track-friendly yet road-oriented GT410 Sport. Does it improve the breed?
“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,” was our conclusion on that variant back in 2016, the last time we tested any Evora in isolation.
Here was the best, the most practical and most accomplished model for cohesive design from the Brit marque, we surmised, and we could only guess at how the model range would likely expand.
Here it is, the 2019 Lotus Evora GT410 Sport, though its arrival hasn’t come about without evolutionary steps in the interim.
After the 400, the mighty, hardcore and lightweight GT430 would lob in mid-2017. The most powerful road-going Lotus to date at the time, its 320kW blown V6 good for 3.8sec 0–100km/h acceleration through to a 305km/h top speed, where its aggressive, track-developed aero drills 250kg of downforce into Mother Earth.
A more sedate-looking GT430 Sport followed in 2018, the same ballistic package if wrapped in slipperier bodywork, which lowered the downforce (to 100kg) yet raised the v-max to 315km/h, handing it the claimed mantle of fastest Lotus production car ever.
Basically, the GT410 Sport wedges itself between the effective entry 400 ($189,990 list) and current flagship GT430 Sport ($239,990 list), at least in the nomenclature hierarchy where the numeral in namesake indicates horsepower. However, begin to dissect spec and positioning and the new boy isn’t merely some middleman variant, particularly given its $179,990 (before on-roads) makes it the most affordable version of the current flock.
So with its cut price, what does the GT410 Sport lose to the 400 in spec?
Well, you miss out on the Sparco seats (they’re a $5999 option) and the second row of seating (a no-cost option in the 400), but instead you get carbon-fibre race buckets as standard – hardly a loss in some buyers' eyes.
What you gain is Alcantara trim ($6499 in the 400), the more elaborate GT front and rear styling, an aluminum (rather than the 400’s glass-reinforced plastic) rear diffuser, forged wheels ($5999 on the 400), stickier Michelin Cup 2 rubber (against Super Sports), a full carbon-fibre tailgate, a carbon-fibre front access panel ($2299 on the 400) and firmer Bilstein Sport (400 gets softer Touring) suspension.
Our version as tested creeps a bit higher to $194,586 before on-roads thanks to a paint upgrade ($2799), premium infotainment ($4999), cruise control ($799), and the aforementioned Sparco seating ($5999) allowing the two-plus-two configuration.
Add the fact that the supercharged 3.5-litre is up 10kW (to 306kW) and 10Nm (to 420Nm) over the 400-spec engine and, frankly, you’re looking a fair bit ahead in the value stakes in what looks the quicker, more purposeful variant, whether you option for the paddle shift six-speed auto or conventional six-speed manual powertrain as tested here.
Perhaps the Evora’s, ahem, advancing maturity is at the centre of the value pitch, given the current car’s origins are nearing a decade old.
Clearly there’s racetrack-centricity in its DNA: an extruded and epoxy-bonded aluminum chassis, carbon-fibre roof panel, forged aluminum double-wishbone suspension, huge two-piece (370mm/350mm) AP Racing four-piston brakes, staggered (19-inch/20-inch) wheel dimensions, hydraulically assisted steering, and a Torsen limited-slip differential (manual version only).
And, given the firmer suspension and sticker rubber as standard, clearly the GT410 Sport is more match fit for the drive-in, drive-out weekend off-street club sprints than the more road-oriented 400 is…
Inside it’s no spartan racecar fit-out for auto-masochists, but instead the conspicuous driver-centric purpose is tempered somewhat with lashings of Alcantara and real carbon-fibre, with plenty of neat twin stitching along the seats and instrument panel. Plus, a good smattering of aluminium conspicuously present in the face vents, the gear knob and the pedals.
There’s more carpet and sound deadening around the place than a great many Elises or Exiges I’ve driven in the past – a generally nicer ambience – though this certainly is Lotus at its fittest, and some of the plastics and switchgear won’t have Porsche’s interior design and integration teams losing much sleep.
Unlike some stablemates, climbing in and out can be done with dignity, the cabin is airy to the point of feeling spacious, and the excellent seating position is married to driver ergonomics that are friendly and useful, particularly the degree of the Sparco’s elbow clearance.
It’s not quite perfectly formed for my 180cm frame – the wheel is a touch low, the column-mounted stalk placement is awkwardly skewed – but it’s measurably friendlier, comfier and more relaxed accommodation than the harder-core Exige Sport 410 little brother that colleague Rob Margeit was running around with at the same time...
We’re told the Evora breed is often cross-shopped with Porsche’s higher-end Caymans. Perhaps so, but you don’t have to be anywhere near such a German coupe to sense, even before a wheel is set in motion, that the big brother Lotus isn’t even on the same experiential planet.
Light up that supercharged V6 – its throttle body swiping away visibly behind the rear cabin glass in the rear-view mirror with every twitch of the right foot – and set wheels in motion and the Brit has a wholly different, dare I say ‘naughtier’, vibe going on. A bit more mini-supercar about its character and a helluva lot more potency by the seat of the pants.
Stats-wise, the manual GT410 Sport is, at 4.2 seconds, one-tenth shy of the paddle-shifter version to 100km/h, yet boasts a 30km/h higher top speed of 305... Which is unlikely to pay dividends anywhere other than Conrod Straight at Mount Panorama, or the Nullarbor, when nobody is watching. But at 1320kg standard – or as low as 1256kg ‘dry’ in its lightest optioned form – the conventional cog-swapper is fractionally more lightweight (if by a mere 11kg) and has that Torsen LSD that’s very handy once you depart corners with gusto.
If you were unaware of the Aurion connection with this V6 family, you’d never pick it by how it drives. Perched behind your ears, this blown version is a silky smooth if purposeful thrum during even eager around-town driving as the torque swells in the lower-RPM band, thrusting the waify Lotus wherever it's pointed with immediate, lag-free response and impressively little effort around the 3500rpm mark where all 420Nm is on tap.
This characteristic alone goes some way to selling the dignified and upmarket feel the ‘big Lotus’ tries to pitch. Not only is it highly driven with the heat turned well down to a simmer, combined fuel consumption, at 10.6L/100km claimed and barely more in actual, is bloody impressive for the level of performance you can unearth once you crank up the burner.
Pin the right foot hard, send the tacho needle north towards the 7000rpm power peak, and there’s a light-switch moment that unleashes a thunderous bark of the likes I guarantee you’ll never hear in a showroom Toyota passenger car. Mini-supercar vibe indeed.
The clutch is meaty if not overly heavy, with a progressive and easy to judge bite point. The brake pedal demands a firm squeeze, which is ideal for high-velocity, big-stop modulation. The gearshift is positive and satisfyingly mechanical and assertive in action.
If its creators rounded the edges somewhat for daily driven friendliness, they ensured the connection to its sports car soul and the driving experience remain emphatic and inescapable.
This is most apparent in the steering. It’s intimately direct and very sharp, with detail in feedback that’ll transmit a ripple through the rim from a ten-cent piece on the hot mix.
But it’s completely foreign compared with, say, the Elise or Exige because of generous powered assistance that makes it easy to live with. It’s good old-school hydraulic in application, but the way it transitions from around-town light to meaty and weighty once you throw cornering load across the front axle, it seems more like a well-sorted modern electric-type system.
With such light weight, such stiff construction and the low centre of gravity, the suspension doesn’t need to be overly damped for what is patently, at any speed, supercar-like body control and response.
Sure, this Sport tune is stiffer than the 400’s Touring calibrations, yet it’s perfectly compliant for most road surfaces, though the jarring thump you get on poorer road acne will have you swerving around those potholes. There’s not a lot of rubberised isolation in this seemingly hard-wired experience.
Find some curves – some properly tight and heroic corners – and, as we found in our twin test against the Porsche GT3 Touring, it’s not only easily capable of rapid point-to-point transit as quickly as the legal limits allow, but it clearly has enough capabilities in reserve to go much quicker. But perhaps the best bit is that it remains engaging and alive enough even when ultimate pace is pegged back a notch or four, piling on the driver enjoyment legally and safely in the public forum.
Here’s perhaps why. Those sticky Cup 2 tyres are tenaciously grippy in the zone with a bit of heat on board, but thankfully the frisky chassis isn’t over-tyred with mechanical adhesion.
The front plies just 235mm of width, blending assertive point with a sense of lightness, while the 285mm rears plant the rear nicely, yet allow a nice amount of ‘shimmy’ that enables the tail to shift predictably to the driver’s whim on or off the throttle.
Dynamically, it’s lively yet impressively balanced and playful, even pushing along at eight-tenths or so. But, on the move, the blown V6 will pile on added pace very quickly, so you tend to roll into throttle with a squeeze exiting one corner, while easing out of it diving into the entry of the next. On-road, it rewards most to progressive inputs rather than a ham-footed and ham-fisted approach, such is the stonk available on tap mixed with how alert its dynamic responses are to driver inputs.
It really is a completely different experience to what Porsche plies with its ‘718’ stock, which tend to demand you pedal flat stick to that road speed and inertia plays a huge part in overcoming lateral grip.
If you’re familiar with the Cayman/Boxster breed, you don’t need one around for comparison purposes to know that. That the Evora, in this motorsport-tinged if road-leaning GT410 Sport form, is an entirely different experience is certainly a strength rather than a weakness.
Ownership-wise, the Evora gets Lotus’s ‘333’ coverage: a three-year warranty with three years of roadside assistance and three years or up to 45,000km of cost-free servicing. At the time of writing, Lotus Australia is also offering an extra incentive of $7500 manufacturer’s bonus (through to 31st March, 2019).
Sure, the Evora is now quite the mature presence in the sports car arena, but this new variant compensates somewhat by really upping the value stakes. It does so in a not-too-polite, not-too-visceral, just-right spec that's surely appealing to those chasing a deft balance of driving thrills with daily driven friendliness.