The 2020 Lotus Evora GT feels like the most technologically primitive yet physiologically evolved street-legal performance car you can buy new right now. To understand what that means, you’re going to have to come for a little ride with me.
(Full Disclosure: The PR outfit representing Lotus in the U.S. invited me for a quick blast up California’s Route 33, spending a little time with both the manual and automatic versions of the Evora GT. The company bought me lunch, too.)
“There are 36 Lotus dealers in the United States,” a rep told me and a few other waiting test drivers. I was already impressed. I thought there might have been, like, 10.
Unlike Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini—small-scale performance brands that leverage the scale of their giant corporate overlords to raise the tier of refinement in their products—Lotus cars still very much look and feel like they’re made by man rather than robot. And you almost never see them on the road, even in car-crazy Los Angeles.
The company’s people didn’t really want to say how many Evora GTs that Lotus actually plans to build, but when pressed, we got something to the effect of “if we retail 228, I’ll be happy.”
If you’re lucky enough to see one of these, you’ll be in the presence of one of the last truly full-manual handmade sports cars being built in 2019.
If you’re lucky enough to drive one, you better bring your A-game.
The Evora GT is a track weapon that fits into most overhead storage bins and happens to be street legal. More specifically, it’s a limited-production mid-engine performance car designed to answer the apparent complaints levied against what is considered by some to be one of the greatest driver’s cars of our era: the Evora 400.
This is a vehicle built in the old style; a car that’s cobbled together by somebody whose personal signature gets stamped onto the dashboard at the end of the assembly line.
It’d be a little hyperbolic to say it comes out of a shed, glowing hot, having been beaten by a blacksmith and blessed by a monarch’s royal magician, but, that’s the aura you get running your hands across the stitched surfaces and lightweight body panels.
The real magic of the Evora GT is purely mechanical–which is exactly what makes it special. There is no computer-dictated steering weight, no special power management or torque vectoring system needed to breathe life “back” into a digital driving experience. There’s no mode to make a mediocre driver look heroic. The human-machine interface’s aesthetic could be 20 years old already.
And yet the Evora GT is nothing less than divine to drive.
The vehicle relies entirely on chassis design, weight balance, braking strength, a big ol’ supercharger and tires that are almost sticky enough to catch flies with coming together to create an organically exceptional handler. The car’s a little rough around the edges, unforgiving, and effectively the gold standard of truly extreme driver-focused performance.
Lotus claims a 3,175-pound curb weight ready-to-drive, a 0 to 60 time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 188 mph. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s a little porkier than a manual Porsche 718 Cayman, which comes in at a claimed 2,944 pounds.
This vehicle is made of an aluminum chassis with a composite, carbon fiber body mounted on top, with some aluminim aero trimmings, sculpted for aggressive downforce, with two Sparco seats stuffed approximately into the middle section with a Toyota-sourced 3.5-liter V6 mounted just behind the headrests.
There’s a back seat, too. It’s just... small. Very small.
That engine’s juiced to 416 horsepower with an Edelbrock supercharger and a unique engine management system, among other more minor tweaks. Emissions get tooted out through a titanium exhaust system that burns blue and makes music, particularly in “loud” mode; especially when all its baffles are open above 4,500 rpm.
The six-speed manual transmission uses an aluminum shifter linkage and it’s glorious. Crack. Crack. Crack. It’s supremely snappy and satisfying; the kind of shifter you’ll be telling your grandkids about, as they laugh and hover away on their hoverboards wondering what the hell a “shifter” was. A six-speed shiftable automatic is available too, but it’s lame.
The Evora GT’s steering assist is hydraulic and the wheel itself is made of ultra-light magnesium, giving you a uniquely intense connection with where the car’s pointing. Traction control can be completely deactivated, affording skilled drivers the option of even more precise directional management, or a spectacular crash, your results may vary.
But as unforgiving as the Evora GT can be, it’s so well balanced and shod that its stability is the stuff of legend. It wants to be rocketed around corners. It craves carving speed.
The Evora GT’s basic design has been around for almost a decade. Wild to think about; I bet you’ve only seen its silhouette on the road a handful of times since then, right? Anyway, it still slaps, and Lotus’ liberal application of carbon fiber, aerodynamic tweaking and creative decorative accents for this latest revision only accentuate an awesome look.
I love the tight accent lines on the roof in particular to highlight its double-bubble shape.
Forward visibility from the coffin-cozy cab is exceptional. The nose is so short that it practically ends where your shoes are. Looking backwards, all you can see is the engine and a sweet set of carbon louvers covering it.
But don’t get distracted watching what I thought was the throttle cable (it’s actually the wastegate opening) wiggle in the rear-view mirror, this car will point any direction you so much as think about, and turn accurately, apparently regardless of how fast you’re going. Dropping your attention is not an option.
The biggest standout attribute of the Evora GT though, without a doubt, is the G.I. Joe kung-fu grip it has on dry pavement. This should come as no surprise–you’ve got a remarkably light car running pretty much the most aggressive tires you’re allowed to put on a street car. Wide ones, too.
Push the car around corner after corner and it just... Does. Not. Quit.
To call it comfortable would be a comical understatement; the chassis almost felt bored with the inputs me and my co-driver, The Drive’s Jonathon Klein, were feeding it up and down the hilly and twisty Route 33.
“Should I ask him to slow down?”, I thought at one point, as we assaulted a long, sweeping turn at a speed that would have put one of my trucks onto its side. But the car was just so locked-down, so smooth–it felt fast, but it wasn’t scary.
The two of us were having the time of our freaking lives, shoulder-to-shoulder, windows and throttle wide open, supercharger a few inches from our ears... tell the Evora GT to jump and it doesn’t ask “how high,” it’s already where you wanted to put it.
If you don’t approach a Lotus with an appreciation for what a handmade car really looks and feels like, you’re going to have a bad time. The Evora GT is not as comfortable as a modern Lamborghini; it’s not as refined as a Porsche. Like, not even close.
The blinker stalk wiggles awkwardly; the gauges are liquid-crystal displays that could have been sourced from an old graphing calculator. The switchgear, in general, is janky compared to more mass-produced cars that also cost about $100,000.
But none of that really detracts from the driving experience on a hot road–which demands your complete and full attention at all times anyway–and to be honest, it just kind of adds to the car’s charm.
The only aspect of the Evora GT that’s completely devoid of redeeming characteristics is its optional automatic transmission. It’s sluggish and rough to shift manually, and even in sport mode, takes every opportunity to upshift leaving you to lug where you could have been exploding out of a corner. To hell with it.
I’m also not sure how a six-foot person would be able to sit in this car with a helmet on. That’s a real concern, since owning an Evora GT and not taking it to a racetrack would be like leaving a dog chained up in a garage all its life–it just ain’t right.
The Evora GT is going to amaze anybody who’s halfway interested in driving, just by virtue of how responsive it is and how fast it feels. But if you’re willing to tolerate its inherent coarseness and invest serious time behind the wheel, there probably aren’t many better ways to become an elite driver.
It’s not meant for the masses, really. It’s for a very specific kind of buyer, someone who appreciates the craftsmanship at work here and doesn’t want to be in something as ubiquitous as a Porsche. We can’t kid ourselves and say the latest iteration of the aging Evora will be some volume-seller that’ll save the company until its Geely-backed electric revolution happens; that is not the point.
This car was made excellent the way cars used to be made, with masterfully-executed architectural engineering,. The result is an experience that’s uniquely engaging and, if you’re up for it, fun as hell. This is everything old cranks like to say they miss about good old days of driving and it’s still a reality in 2019.
Its capability feeds you confidence, and confidence makes you drive faster. Its simplicity gives you feedback, which makes it very easy to tell when you’re on and when you’re off. Like I said, in the right context, this car would love to teach you how to drive.
I wouldn’t hate it if Lotus found room for a cupholder... is what I said in my original draft of this, but Lotus’ people called to assure me there is one, in the back of the center console! So hey, maybe it’s perfect.