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New Lotus Evora GTE vs the Stig

  1. It’s called the Evora GTE, and it’s the most powerful road-going car ever produced by Lotus Cars. It’s got roughly 440bhp, can hit 62mph in a faintly alarming four seconds dead and tops out at 167mph. It’s lighter than the already semi-anorexic base car and looks uncannily like the result of someone dipping an Evora in industrial glue and rolling it through the GT2 parts bin. It also sounds like someone has replaced the exhaust manifold with a metal drainpipe, giving it the kind of fast, raspy brap usually associated with Nomex and pit garages. I think we know where this is going.

    So, why is it then that - braking hard over a couple of bumps from 120mph into a tight right-hand corner at Lotus’s Hethel test track - all I can think, with remarkable clarity, is: “Bloody hell, this is really… comfy.”

    Hang on. Comfy? I should be regaling you with tales of taming the mighty ravening beast with quick and accurate dabs of opposite lock and exaggerating my driving ability, not pondering the fact that the GTE rides better than anything this side of a full-fat Range Rover on 17-inch wheels. I should be fighting, wrestling, at war, not placidly considering whether I can stick another 10mph on that corner entry speed when I’m already 20mph and 50ft past where I thought I was going to beat my ego to death with Hethel’s shiny new Armco. It’s streaming wet, and this car is rear-wheel-drive and mid-engined. There’s 370lb ft delivered via the tender ministrations of an Eaton supercharger parasitising a 3.5-litre V6, and the traction control is switched off. At some point, I think, as the nose of the GTE stubbornly refuses to wash wide, it’s going to bite, the accident is going to be inconveniently fiery and will involve picking splinters of carbon fibre out of distressingly intimate places.

    Words: Tom Ford

    Pictures: Lee Brimble 

    This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. It never happens. The GTE eventually starts to understeer, and, if especially provoked, flare into brief drifty arcs, but it never really wants to showboat, or teach short but violent lessons in the physics of snap-back. The rear diff has a habit of gifting traction but pushing the nose, and throttle trimming does all you need to tidy up.

    It promotes fast rather than furious, is calm, precise and - frankly - a surprise.

    It is not, as you might have assumed by looking at it, particularly hard work. Quite reasonably, in my opinion, I had decided - before actually setting foot in one - that it would be vicious, hot, vein-pulsingly fast and about as forgiving as a landmine. Horror-movie adrenalin. That the engine would scream and make power in inaccessible strata. That the suspension would be that misguided concept of sporty that conflates fast with viciously rigid, and tries to underline hardcore credentials by punching your spinal column through the roof of your mouth when you run over a cat’s eye. That the steering would be twitchier than a caffeinated gerbil, and that I would hate it completely for being none of the things I like, and then have to ham it up a bit, or risk sounding like James May.

  3. You can see where this thinking propagated. The GTE is The Hulk to the standard Evora’s Bruce Banner. It takes the pleasant but innocuous Evora shape and shoves 110mm into the track (mostly covered off by the offset in the lightweight forged centre-lock rims, if the disc-to-wheel distance is anything to go by), slathered by the kind of bodywork bulges that make grown men blush. There are flares and vents that fail to look fussy - just fierce. The front gets a wide and toothy shark’s grin, undercut by the kind of splitter that’ll do double duty as a snow plough, come winter. And where the standard Evora gets a modest rear spoiler that flows from the bodywork, the GTE boasts a colossal multi-planed aerodynamic behemoth. It also appears, from my first couple of vantages, stubby, wide and wanton. In short, it looks ridiculously good.

    There are more surprises as I decant myself into the driver’s seat and have to spend a couple of minutes hard-rebooting my attitude. Because it’s really pleasant in here. From the lightweight Recaro seats - plush on the cheeks, snug around the kidneys - to the matt, rubbery effect applied to the bare carbon fibre of the doors and other trim, it doesn’t feel like Lotuses of old. The controls are simple, the driving position good for a six footer. In fact, it’s so agreeable that I cling to the only two things that really get on my nerves: the key is a spike of pure design offence, and the stereo/multimedia headunit sits in the dash like it slipped through from another dimension. A dimension where it is permanently the late Nineties. I’m surprised Blur’s ‘Song 2’ isn’t on loop.

  4. The wing mirrors are filled with racy profiles, and the engine fires with a percussive bang. This is not a motor that whirrs into life or chugs its way into wakefulness, stretching languidly before firing into a level purr; it comes on with a bark and settles into a wavering gutteral growl, like a light-sleeping pitbull poked with something pointy. Not pretty, but it does drive home the point. The GTE means serious business. So far, so good.

    Thus far, the GTE comes equipped with a robotised paddle-shift version of Lotus’s Aisin six-speed manual as standard, so first gear comes courtesy of a quick tap of the long right-hand carbon paddle behind the wheel, whose warm, slightly rubbery texture feels a bit like skin. Throttle response is sharp, and you need to modulate the pedal carefully to prevent jerky embarkation embarrassment. Once you’ve got the thing rolling though… everything gets submerged in the aforementioned confusion.

  5. Within the first 100 yards, you will assume that the GTE is soft. You will be quite correct. But after 200 yards, two corners and four bumps, you’ll realise that ‘soft’ shouldn’t be confused with wallowy, or uncoordinated. It rides like an Evora; a good thing, because an Evora pads and thinks its way down a bumpy road like no other car on the planet. But where a standard car will lose its nose fairly early to speed-sapping understeer - especially in anything tight - the GTE just burrows its way through an apex. The harder you throw it, the better it gets. A lot of this is due to the increase in track width - 110mm may sound like relatively little, but in engineering terms it’s a huge margin - but also because the centre of gravity has changed in relation to that tweak. So, the GTE is more stable and feels more responsive through every part of a corner, from turn-in to accelerate-out. The suspension is otherwise pretty much standard Evora S spec, so the huge dynamic change is purely down to the way the car stands over the standard-size wheels and tyres (19s on the front and 20s on the back). It’s phenomenal.

    The more obvious difference is the motor, but even here it doesn’t feel like the GTE is some lashed-together special. Yes, it will have coming up for 100bhp more than the Evora S, but it still pulls cleanly and builds consistently through the entire rev-range. The car we’re driving is awaiting final production tweaks to the induction and exhaust system, and so is slightly down on power (making about 410bhp as opposed to 438), but the torquey delivery feels as easy to access and fuss-free as the rest of the car. You can rely on the motor to help out if you happen to pick the wrong gear, never getting stranded in some cam-based no-man’s-land. And the noise builds through a gravelly rush of induction to a no-nonsense shear of exhausted gas. Not particularly soulful or operatic, but addictive.

  6. There’s been a discreet little bargain here that means the GTE looks much harder to deal with than it really is. A massive plus. Out on the road, the feeling is amplified. The wide track should make the car fidget and follow, writhe and squirm - but doesn’t. You can feel what’s going on with the front wheels, especially when braking down into a corner with the excellent - and standard - Evora S brakes, but the steering rack is actually unusually considered in its reactions: not so much slow-geared as not wound up to need correction every microsecond. So although you might be left wanting for millimetric kerb-clipping on a track, flowing down a bumpy back road is fluid guidance, rather than a series of snatchy inputs, as the front wheels buck and flicker. The wider track does make a difference out on a real road, with the GTE not quite as effortless as the standard Evora, but it’s a close-run thing. And it has the front-end grip to make up for any loss of finesse.

    The trick is that compliance in the suspension. Down a B-road, this car is staggering simply because it stays in contact with the floor no matter what the surface is doing. Imagine a ball bearing dropped onto a wet sponge; it doesn’t bounce, or deflect, or roll off in an unexpected direction. That’s what the GTE feels like over bumps. Like it has millipede legs instead of wheels, feeding into the ridges and holes. Other marques always seem to sacrifice road manners on the altar of track severity, and it rarely makes for a car that’s any fun when the going gets coarse, compliments generally delivered through lightly clenched teeth. The GTE is a Lotus and ignores convention. It’s one of the most delightfully sorted suspensions in the world, bar none.

  7. The package isn’t perfect, mind. On track, the paddle-shifted manual found a sliver of a sweet spot for hard upchanges; on the road and at a less frenetic pace, the ‘box has that horrible habit of making your head rock back and forth. It also dropped a gear a couple of times under hard load. Downchanges are snappy, precise and beautifully punctuated by throaty throttle blips, but if you’ve recently driven any modern car with a DSG, the GTE will feel tardy on the upchange. Lotus acknowledges the issue and reckons the ‘box will be much quicker, come full production, following tweaks to the engine mounts and the shift itself. I chose the more prosaic approach in the meantime of trying to only change gear in the 6,000+ rpm sweetspot, which proved to be a bit annoying in traffic.

    When I eventually arrive back at Hethel, the Stig is waiting by the barrier. There’s rumour that he emerged from some molten aluminium in the Lotus Motorsport shed, with the ‘Death Star’ theme playing faintly in the background. I hand over the GTE, and he snaps the car out onto the circuit, rooster tails of spray venting themselves skywards as it blares off into the distance. Stig, unsurprisingly, demonstrates that the GTE is more than capable of being drifted, memorably managing a couple of 60mph sideways moments with hangtime the entire length of the top corner. But he also spins. Twice. Which just goes to show that tidy is better for the GTE, and that the margins for error once the envelope is breached are small and sharp-edged. A few rigorous laps later, he drives back through the barrier, steps from the car, gives the briefest ghost of a nod and walks off into a field. High praise indeed.

  8. The GTE sits steaming in the cold and wet, and all I can think is that this is a seriously surprising car. The problem with the stock Evora is that, despite being one of the most satisfying cars to actually drive down a typical UK B-road, it lacks visual presence, has been lumbered with a not-quite-up-to-scratch interior and has a habit of getting its arse thoroughly kicked in a traffic-light drag. The GTE looks like a full-on, street-stopping supercar, has the gumption to match the swagger and delivers it in such a way that mere mortals can reasonably access the voodoo. But what it also manages to be, more than anything else, is a Lotus. It sucks itself down a bumpy road in a way that makes most other sports cars seem slightly… primitive. The bigger industrial picture is still a worry, but when Lotus Cars has people that can create vehicles like this, then there’s always a tiny piece of Norfolk that deserves a much bigger place on the automotive map. It’s one of our brightest stars. And the brilliant GTE gives it an extra laser-bright twinkle.

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