Cars: 2020 Evora GT the best Lotus in decades

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 10, 2019.

The US$96,950 2020 Lotus Evora GT is on sale now. Photos by Bloomberg

The interior is spartan, with optional carbon fibre components.

The car comes with a 416hp V-6 supercharged engine.

Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres and Bilstein sports dampers come standard.

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Everybody wants to love Lotus. The 71-year-old British automaker has been a favourite of real-life daredevil Ayrton Senna and fictional superspy James Bond alike. Its perfectly cool, wedge-shaped Lotus Esprit and chic Evora designs have set style standards for generations.

But Lotus does not make loving it easy. The marque has spent years offering only intermittent sales in the US. And for many enthusiasts, the mechanical reliability of its older cars, as well as the fit and finish of its newer ones, have simply not kept up their end of the bargain. Perhaps the just-announced US$2.1 million (RM8.78 million) all-electric Evija will redeem them, with looks as beautiful as its counterparts from Italy.

Until then, let us talk about the 2020 Lotus Evora GT. I was more than eager to get my hands on the newest (and only) modern Lotus you can buy in America today. I test-drove the US$96,950 whip from Carmel, California, to Los Angeles, skirting the two-lane roads along the Pacific Ocean as well as the broad, open highways that cut through the Sonoran Desert. There were high points (the driving) and low points (the interior). It was a roller coaster of emotions — but it was always fun.

While electric motors seem to be taking over everything from sport wagons to sport utility vehicles, and while even sport coupes are starting to feel like interchangeable appliances, the Evora GT stoked my innate driver’s spirit more than anything has in a long time. It is a true daily driving, street-loving sports car I will not soon forget.

Let us be frank: It looks like what I would imagine a nine-year-old would want in a toy car — rear spoiler; hood vents; rear wheels pushed out; a short, slanted roofline; Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres (19 inches [48.26cm] in the front, 20 inches in the rear); and big LED bi-xenon headlights angled nearly halfway across the hood to look threateningly quick. It comes in bright colours such as painting-tape blue and safety orange. (The one I drove was blue, which photographed surprisingly well.)

This is not your classically elegant sports car. But in this case, that works; while most everything else on the road these days feels so boring, the Lotus Evora is compact, lightweight, and athletic in its styling. Its look matches its driving nature — sporty as heck — which is all I can really ask of any car.

The 416-horsepower (hp) V-6 supercharged engine wheezes and hums as you shift and accelerate, rather than growls or gargles like other cars. It is a cool, though unexpected, effect. Every good car should have a distinctly identifiable sound that precedes it coming down the street — one more reason why electric vehicles are going to have to work harder to earn my affection.

Equally as cool, through a clear window that separates the cockpit from the engine, you can see a lever connected to the throttle move up and down as you press the gas. It reminded me of watching the gears work in old steam-powered cars — a fond reminder that, yes, we are still dealing with mechanical power here.

At just 3,175 pounds (1,440kg), the Evora GT pairs its lighter weight with all that horsepower to hit 60 mph (96.56kph) in 3.8 seconds. Top speed is 188 mph, making it the fastest-ever road-legal Lotus to be made available in North America. The tiny carbon fibre body and aluminium components make the car feel tangible and alive, like you are actually working as a team to conquer the road ahead. It is a feeling I love but increasingly fail to feel from behind the wheel.

Driving the Evora GT was so fun, that I took the long way home from Carmel, a full 400 miles (643.74km) door to door; the 26mpg (11.05kpl) highway efficiency meant a stop for refuelling. A big part of the thrill comes from the six-speed manual gearbox, which may be the best one you can buy for the price. It is super short-shifting and glides effortlessly into third, fourth, and fifth gear as quick as the snap of a whip. Lotus offers an automatic transmission option for US$2,700, but I strongly suggest avoiding that. This car shines when it is driven hard, and the engagement of a shifter only enhances that goal.

The low point of the car, of course, if you know Lotus at all, is the interior, especially the “technology and infotainment system,” if I can even call it that — which is why I am using quotes. The entire console and dashboard are far behind what you would find in an entry-level Porsche 911, which costs less.

Is it possible for a car to come with an integrated seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, satellite navigation, and reversing camera all standard and still seem woefully outdated? Lotus somehow made it happen. Just imagine what your CD player looked like in high school, and you will get a sense of what to expect in the Evora GT. If 1997 was a good year for you, you will feel right at home.

It is also true that the visibility is abysmal. Sightlines straight back through the rear-view mirror are seriously compromised by the engine and the shell-like cage that covers the back of the car, and the sloped side pillars on the shoulder act like brick walls. There is no way you are seeing anything behind either of your shoulders unless you turn your head and crank your neck.

Surprisingly, though, the luggage space in the Evora GT is adequate. That this surpassed my expectations to beat out even more expensive, crazy cars like the Lamborghini Huracan Evo and the Jaguar F-Type should tell you how rare it is. You will be able to fit two roller carry-ons behind the two seats inside the cabin, with room for a couple of backpacks or duffel bags in the trunk. If you opt for the 2+2 seat configuration, you will lose that rear storage space, though you can probably throw the bags on that second set of seats, because a human being over the age of five would never fit back there. You know, like how it is in a Porsche 911.

The footwells and headroom were refreshingly spacious, too — big enough to fit lanky me, my 6ft and two inches boyfriend, and our favourite straw hats all at the same time. And a grand old time we had indeed. — Bloomberg