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Automotive Affairs: The 2019 Lotus Evora 400

Credit: NAUMAN FAROOQ

The 2019 Lotus Evora 400 is an ideal sports car to look into, even if the price isn't the greatest.


Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | April 12th, 2019




Lotus has a long history of making great sports cars that are a thrill to drive on the road and the track. However, this Hethel, U.K. based manufacturer has gone through a few ownership changes since its founder, Colin Chapman, died in 1982, and has seen most of its financial years end up being marked with red ink, rather than black.

Part of the problem has been its inability to offer products continuously in North America, which is seen as the most important market in the world for sports cars.

Since 2017, Lotus has been back in North America, with a model that fully complies with all safety and emission requirements. It’s called the Evora 400, and while it looks nearly identical to the Evora and Evora S models that were sold previously, it is 60 per cent new.

The main difference between the old Evora S and the new Evora 400 model is muscle. So out goes the Australian supercharger that was fitted to the old car, and in comes an American supercharger. This new Edelbrock supercharger is fitted to a Toyota Camry sourced 3.5 litre V6 motor (mid-mounted), but thanks to a water-to-air charge-cooler, helps this humble motor to develop 400 horsepower (at 7,000 revolutions per minute), and 302 pounds per foot of torque (at 3,500 revolutions per minute), that’s plenty to move its 1,430 kilograms of mass (you can save an additional 35 kilograms by opting for some lightweight options, such as a titanium exhaust, lithium-ion battery, rear seat, air con delete, and a carbon package).

Compared to the old Evora S model, the Evora 400 offers 55 more horsepower, and an extra seven pounds per foot of torque. Labelled as the fastest road car ever made by Lotus, it sprints from 0 to 100 kilometres per hour in 4.2 seconds, while its top speed is rated at the magical 300 kilometres per hour mark (for the manual version; the automatic version is limited to 280 kilometres per hour).

Styling: Before a car wins you over with its technical specifications, it needs to attract potential buyers. Approaching the car, it doesn’t look much different from its predecessor, but that is largely because this is an evolution of the Evora, not a revolution. So, the silhouette and many details remain the same, but there are differences, too. The front bumper is all new, housing much larger air intakes than before. The rear end got an even bigger modification thanks to a restyled, three-piece, rear spoiler, and the re-positioning of the reversing lights from near the taillights to a new housing in the lower part of the bumper. Its derriere is finished off with parking sensors nicely camouflaged in its apron, along with a reversing camera.

The head of Lotus design, Russell Carr, wanted to give the car a more aggressive, yet functional look. So, while the new nose has lead its aerodynamic drag to increase from a Cd. of 0.33 to 0.35, it was needed to allow the fitment of larger radiators to aid cooling. The Evora 400 also has more downforce than before, about twice as much. At 242 kilometres per hour, the Evora 400 generates 12 kilograms of downforce at the front axle, and 20 kilograms of downforce at the rear axle – for a total of 32 kilograms. While these numbers won’t impress a Dodge Viper ACR owner, they are enough to give the Evora 400 a planted stance at speed.

Interior: The aesthetic appeal continues as you open the door. The Evora has always had one of the nicest looking - and smelling - interiors of any car I’ve tested in the last 22 years, and it not only continues with that, but they’ve improved many things along the way. The lower and slimmer sills make it easier to get in and out - which is a big plus - but once you’ve climbed aboard, you’ll notice that the dials are easier to read in its completely redesigned dashboard. The centre cockpit has also received plenty of changes. The climate control switches are easier to come to grips with, and the Alpine- sourced touchscreen infotainment system has also been revised. However, it’s the row of switches above the screen that house some vital features. For comfort, especially in a Canadian winter, that’s where you’ll find the heated seat switches, but then beside it are buttons for driving modes, I’ll get to those a little later. On the left-hand side of the steering wheel, you’ll notice the power mirror switch, this used to be at a very inconvenient location on the driver’s door, is now at a much easier spot to get to and play with on the dashboard. The only other switches on the left-hand side are for the headlamps, instrument dimmer, and up by the dials, an “Engine Start” button, press that to start having some fun.

Tech: I”ll get to the fun bit in a moment, but its worth mentioning a few more things. First of all, the North American-spec Evora 400 comes standard with side-impact airbags. This required some clever re-engineering of the car, and the solution was found by coming up with a new seat, that houses the airbag in it side bolster. This is the main reason that the Evora 400 you’ll buy in Canada weighs 13 kilograms more than its European counterpart.

The results are spectacular, as the Evora 400 passes all safety tests, and needs no exemptions to be granted in order for it to be sold in North America. In fact, Lotus is the smallest car manufacturer in the world to have passed homologation requirements to sell its vehicles in North America.

Apart from the safety tech, as mentioned before, the Evora 400 comes with an Alpine infotainment unit that features navigation, and also projects the image from the reversing camera. Stereo sound is pumped through four speakers, which do an OK job, but this is no automotive concert hall on wheels. For some real music, turn the stereo off and stomp on the throttle.

Driving: The number one reason for buying a Lotus, is for driving entertainment. At a press event, Lotus had set up two exercises for the journalists to test how the car behaves. You could take a car out on a road drive, and take one out on the track at Gingerman Raceway.

I was tasked with hitting the track first. One lap of Gingerman is 3.0 kilometres long, and has 11 corners. What makes this track especially challenging is that many of its corners are off-camber and have blind entry points – in short, it would be far too easy to throw a car off the track here, if you’re not focused. To help me save from the embarrassment of crashing an expensive sports car, I was taken out on a few exploratory laps by Lotus Cars Chief Engineer of Motorsports, Gavan Kershaw. Kershaw pointed out where to brake and turn, and where to keep the throttle in, even when the road seems to disappear, the straight between turn10 and turn 11 is particularly thrilling due to its blind crest.

I strapped in, and decided to take it easy on the first lap. It took very little time to feel comfortable with the Evora 400, and I soon started building up speed. With 400 horsepower on tap, and just 1,430 kilograms to lug around, speed comes quite easily to the Evora 400. The throttle response is really sharp, and unlike most modern cars, when you put your foot down, it doesn’t feel like the electronics held a committee to discuss if what you asked of it was acceptable, the Evora 400 just gives you what you want, at least in “Sport” or “Race” mode which relaxes its traction and stability control system, allowing more slip angles and wheel spin. The Edelbrock supercharger winds up quickly, and provides lots of bottom-end grunt, just what you need coming out of a tight corner.

Good acceleration is not all you need for tackling a track, you need a good chassis and good steering, too. The Evora 400 has these areas covered also. The underpinnings are an evolution of the bonded aluminum chassis that Lotus first introduced with the original Elise in 1996. They have also stuck with a hydraulic steering rack, rather than an electric power steering system.

All this made great sense as I continued with my track time. The steering talks to you loud and clear, there is no guessing as to what the front wheels are doing. The chassis is stiff, with compliant suspension, so it doesn’t punish you. The more laps I did, the faster I went. It is reassuring then, that the brakes are up for the job as well. The Evora 400 uses four-piston AP Racing brakes that feature two-piece, cross-drilled discs that are ventilated, this ensures that the brakes can take a beating and keep on performing. Lotus had only one Evora 400 for track duty, and this car had done a 100 laps of the circuit the day before I arrived, and had been out with a few journalists before I strapped in, and despite all the abuse, the brakes showed no sign of fading, and the pedal never went further towards the floor, lap after lap. It was unbelievable then that the car was still running on the same set of tires and brake pads for two days.

Nor did the engine lose its temper. Thanks to its charge-cooling system, the engine stays cool under pressure, and you can just continue to have your fun.

After my 25-minute session on the track, it was time to hop out and take another unit out for the road test. The car Lotus had provided for this test had the optional six-speed automatic transmission. The Evora 400 auto loses the limited slip differential that the manual car comes with, and weighs 12 kilograms more. Thanks to Lotus engineers writing code for their TCU (transmission control unit), this Aisin gearbox swaps gears twice as quickly as it would on a Toyota Camry – which uses the same unit.

This became evident as I hit the country roads of South Haven. The auto-box shifts quickly and smoothly, and you can really relax as you take to the road. The roads I was on were not exactly smooth, and also quite narrow, but the Evora 400 shined thanks to its excellent ride quality, and its smallish dimensions (4,385 millimetres long, 1,575.5 millimetres wide). The only issue you’ll have is rearward visibility when you look through its central rear-view mirror, but you’ll get used to it. Just because the auto is easier to live it, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on performance, it’s just as quick as the manual, and its steering- wheel mounted pedal shifters still let’s you have some fun with gear ratios.

Conclusion: The Lotus Evora 400 seems to be a sports car with almost no foibles. It looks good, has a very nice interior, its ride and handling is top notch, and it can take the punishment. It might just be the most perfect sports car currently in production.

If you want one, you’ll have to fork out $140,000 to bring one home. That sort of money gives you lots of choices, and while most of them are very good, none of them will take the abuse on the track like the Lotus can. So, if you’re looking for a track day car that can also be used on the road, the Evora 400 might just be the perfect car for you.

For additional car related content, please look up: Automotive Affairs on YouTube - youtube.com/c/AutomotiveAffairs and on Instagram at @automotive_affairs.
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