2021 Lotus Evora GT Review: Farewell to the Perfectly Imperfect Sports Car
With how long it’s been on the market, with how many incrementally different models we’ve gotten over the years, with how remarkably little anything about it has changed since its launch, it’s almost hard to imagine a world without the Lotus Evora. It’d be kind of like a world without the sun. But the car’s days are limited; and so, it is time to bid farewell to one of the greatest of all time, the 2021 Lotus Evora GT.
To briefly make things about me: Over the years and out of the many, many, many cars I drive for this ridiculous job of mine, I’ve only ever wanted to revisit two. Only two have stayed in my thoughts long after I’d given them back to the press fleet. The first was a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. The second was this Lotus. I’ve written about the Evora GT previously, but frankly, it’s a car I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. And now that a successor has finally been named in the form of the Lotus Emira, it’s time for a sendoff. All good things do come to an end.
2021 Lotus Evora GT Specs
- Base price (as tested): $99,150 ($107,000)
- Powertrain: supercharged 3.5-liter V6 | six speed manual | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 416 @ 7,000 rpm
- Torque: 317 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm
- 0-60: 3.8 seconds (est.)
- Top speed: 188 mph
- Curb weight: 3,175 pounds
- Seating capacity: 4 (lol)
- EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city | 26 highway | 20 combined
- Quick take: There’s no such thing as a perfect car. But for me, the Evora GT comes damn close.
When production of the Evora does finally conclude at the end of this year, what will it leave behind? And will we be collectively poorer off without it? Who am I kidding—it’s almost a certainty.
(Back to) Basics
Back in 2009—three presidential administrations ago—and in a bid to offer a more “practical” and “mainstream” alternative to its ferociously impractical Elise and Exige models, Lotus launched the Evora. Rather than some SUV, Lotus went with a mid-engined 2+2. Between then and now, not much has changed, including its hardware. Which, in car years, might as well be a millennium. Its looks—specifically its front grille—have just gotten a little less rounded and a bit more angular.
The Evora GT was launched in 2019 as a 2020 model year, here for the North American market only. Between its axles sits a supercharged, Toyota Camry-sourced 3.5-liter V6 that produces a claimed 416 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. A six-speed manual is the standard transmission, but you can also option the car with an automatic if you so choose. Delightfully retro hydraulic steering makes its presence known as soon as you toggle the magnesium steering wheel that fits snugly in the hand.
The six-speed manual is an Aisin unit, though Lotus has thoroughly overhauled it to include a tall-ass first and second gear. As such, the Evora GT redlines at a lofty 45 mph in first gear and 77 mph in second gear. It’s gearing that makes you feel like the very clouds are within reach.
Inside, it’s about as modern-minimalist as you can get: manually adjustable seats, analog gauges, a physical handbrake, a seven-inch Alpine infotainment screen, a backup camera with less-than-impressive quality, no lane departure warnings of any kind. If you told me this is a car from 2010, I’d believe you. But no, this is the interior of a car that you can buy new in the year of our Lord 2021. Isn’t that fun!
The test car came fitted with the optional rear seats, complete with seatbelts as if someone in Hethel imagines actual people would sit there. These seats, for the record, are just barely hospitable to a five-foot-three person, as I found out when I went out to dinner in the Lotus with The Drive‘s bossman Kyle Cheromcha and his wife. But while the rear seats are suboptimal for humans, they do make for an excellent storage shelf. The suitcase that wouldn’t fit in the minuscule trunk tucked perfectly into that second row, leading me to indisputably conclude that the Evora GT is an ideal weekend car for two.
I’ve heard from certain readers and commenters alike that the Evora GT is too small. They have difficulty fitting into it. It’s too cramped, they say. Too tight. And I get that. You wouldn’t want to wear a suit that wasn’t tailored to you. You’d want it to feel like a second skin, something that moves with you through this world in a way that blends you both into one. That’s what driving the Lotus feels like.
Save for the seat that didn’t scoot up far enough for me to fully depress the clutch without using a cushion, the Evora GT is one of those rare cars that come off as perfectly scaled to someone of my stature. From the driver’s seat of so many modern cars, it too often feels as though I’m dragging around so much extra car that I just don’t need. Extra girth, more doors, long overhangs, protruding bumpers that I have to keep track of all the time. It’s exhausting.
In the Lotus, I knew exactly where it ended and began. It’s exactly as long and wide as it needs to be. True, its wing mirrors really only served to show off its own intakes and its over-the-shoulder visibility is hilarious garbage, but it just means you have to speed up past people in order to merge. A heavy-footed hooligan lives in us all; the Evora GT is merely its dirty little enabler.
To no one’s surprise, it’s easy to drive fast in the Lotus. It hits you on all the senses and demands you keep up. Past about 4,500 rpm, some valves somewhere open up and the trebly, GT-Rish V6 scream thunders off your eardrums so deliciously you can almost taste it on your tongue. You watch the tach needle climb—not so fast that you lose track of it, but enough to know when your feet and right hand should get involved.
Clutch travel is long and wonderfully heavy, the pedals grouped closely together to reward people with smaller feet. Yank the shifter toward you and shove it away to grab gears, the metal linkages snicking and clunking against each other, the sensation spiraling up and down your fingers and wrist in such a way that you can pretend you’ve shoved your entire arm down into the transmission tunnel itself. Pull over for a break and the victorious aroma of hot brakes and tires alight the nose.
The steering is so acute that merely breathing on it will cause the front wheels to twitch correspondingly. Flick the steering wheel and the rest of the car follows its nose more closely than a hound hot on a scent. It’s a system that seems to obey intention over touch, but surprisingly, at high speeds, it does lose a bit of communication. This is not, however, to say that caning the Lotus at speed on the canyon roads north of Los Angeles isn’t transcendent, because it is.
Beautifully balanced, the Evora GT’s power delivery is epically linear and with plenty of supercharged, low-end might. The amount it makes is exactly right. Unless you’re really out to mess around, what the engine puts down will rarely outrun what the chassis and tires can pick up. The suspension doesn’t ride unnaturally hard, but rather serves as connective tissue to the road—relaying all kinds of useful information to your butt, like what all four wheels are up to.
Everything you touch has weight and heft to it, demanding and expecting effort. And all the pieces, all the fundamentals—the engine, the noise, the transmission, the steering, the suspension—put together create a car whose most natural element is whipping through curved back roads like it’s sunk its very claws into the asphalt. This is where it alights. It’s a job as easy as breathing. Think of some of the best, modern mid-engine supercars. McLarens. Ferraris. The Lotus Evora GT are those, only miniaturized. You can go ahead and feel around for its limits. Or you can stay well below them and find your own zen. There is no wrong answer.
Foibles? Oh, yes, those are there.
As soon as you climb into the Lotus, it’s clear that driving is the priority. You sit here because you’re ready to drive, not because you want to be coddled. The climate system, while delightfully easy to use—there’s one dial for temperature and one dial for fan speed—is about it in terms of available creature comforts. There’s laughably little storage space for loose items and the cupholder way behind the handbrake was certainly placed there to keep it away from the main act of shifting gears. Someone sells a car where selecting a gear doesn’t mean your hand or elbow collides with your drink? Unthinkable.
Besides the retro (see also: out of date) cabin, the trunk also gets very hot because it sits right over the car’s exhaust. Your left leg gets tired in stop-and-go traffic with how stiff the clutch is. And, at one point, the key refused to turn in the ignition because of reasons known only to the Lotus itself. (This was remedied by pulling it out, putting it back in, and jiggling it a bit.) Lotus wants $107,000—the Military Grey paint is $5,900 on its own—for a car with essentially half an interior.
If that’s enough to deter you, just get a Porsche—any of the 718 models will do—and be done with it. No one accidentally buys an Evora GT.
Looking at things another way, though, is to see a car that’s resisted the mainstream industry’s calls for perfection. Things are… less than polished here. But what matters is the thrill, big or little, you get from just climbing into the driver’s seat. The perfect car doesn’t exist. The perfect car for you—one that challenges you and in whose flawed armor you can find enough friction to recognize a personality—does.
When It Goes
What will I miss? The looks, for one. The Evora GT looks like nothing else on the road. Even from a quarter of a mile away, when traffic clears, it’s a magnet for attention. I don’t find it to be a particularly elegantly designed or beautiful car, but the combination of the strange shapes cut into its body and how wide in proportion to how low it is automatically draws eyes wherever it goes. Even the outdated interior will be something to yearn for.
Interestingly, at this moment in time, the Evora GT represents a rolling time paradox. It is one of the few cars that’s old and unchanged enough that we can look at it nostalgically even though it’s still being built. For the next few months, at least. It’s a beautifully inexact machine that delivers a matchless day of driving every single time. Its siren song tugs at our collective enthusiast heartstrings. I reject any successor that comes along and messes with what it gets right with every fiber of my being.
On paper, the upcoming Emira promises much of the Evora GT’s same traits. It’ll offer a manual transmission and the supercharged Camry engine (in certain trims). I haven’t driven it yet and I am optimistic, but also cautiously so. Perhaps it’s because it is the first car Lotus will produce under its new Geely ownership. Perhaps it’s because it wears the new Lotus corporate face and it is one that I do not yet recognize. Perhaps I just feel protective.
But I ain’t stupid. I know, intellectually, that it’s unjust to think these things of a car I haven’t even seen in person. But for me, these are all thoughts running hot on emotion and mood. That’s just what Lotuses do to your brain. The Emira’s formula already reads like a winner, but the bar is high. Thankfully, though, Lotus as a company has a reputation of not messing with things that aren’t broken. But it also means that to cast the same spell that the Evora does, the British automaker must replace it with a car that’s also just as flawed off the production line, maybe even intentionally so.
Is that something Lotus is still interested in doing? God, I hope so.
Are you also a sick Lotus nerd? Reach out: [email protected]
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