Opinion: why Lotuses ruin you for other cars
Once you've driven a Lotus, you've pretty much completed 'cars'
The truly addictive part of a Lotus isn’t how it feels to drive. It’s what happens when you get out of it and into roughly anything else.
Unless you’re getting out of one Lotus and into another, chances are that in car number two, everything will feel... wrong. And it’s an unnerving feeling to realise that, in most modern cars, you’re connected to the driving experience in about the same way that Mike Tyson and Neil Degrasse Tyson are connected.
And that’s really what Lotus’s core motivation seems to be: connection between car, driver and road by eliminating distractions. Yes, they’re fast by almost any standard you care to mention – zero to 60 in less than four seconds in the Elise Cup 250, the same in the Evora GT410 and just 3.3 in the Exige Sport 410 – but that’s not their defining characteristic. That, in fact, is the point entirely – no one part of the car should overwhelm any other. There’s such an inherent balance, an immediate and constant feeling of harmony between components that makes a Lotus inviting and comfortable within minutes, even for a novice. There’s an unmistakable feeling of being the central point that the car pivots around, faultlessly neutral and reactive.
Regardless of model, you’ll find clutches that engage positively and without stuttering or jerkiness, so you can focus on the exquisite gearshift without making mental allowances for the clutch’s throw or bite point. The gearbox itself – especially with the exposed linkages in the Elise and Exige – is unfailingly precise and relishes the fast, cathartic shifts you’ll employ the second you clear traffic or town speed limits. Bang them home as hard as you want; after all, Lotus’s advice was “not to be gentle with the gearbox; if you want a gear, get the gear”.
Experience the unassisted steering once on offer in the Exige and Elise and you’ll understand why Alfa chose to do without power steering in the 4C. Without involvement from hydraulics or electricity, there’s a wholly direct feel as you tell the front wheels what to do and they tell you what’s going on. Power steering was invented for trucks, after all.
And it’s not as heavy as you think – if you possess the upper-body strength to do even a single push-up, you’ll master even low-speed manoeuvring without resorting to valet parking or creative new combinations of four-letter words. It’s no good pulling the power-steering pump out of your current car, to get the same effect, however – if it’s not set up for manual steering, all you’ll get is an arm workout for the ages. Where the Lotus gets the balance right is by keeping the total weight down, putting the engine in the mid-rear position, and certain types of magic presumably only found in Norfolk. Possibly with the help of wicker men.
Lotus does concede to using power steering in the Evora; its grand touring nature extending to a 2+2 seating layout, automatic transmission and softer ‘touring’ suspension if you so choose. Even so, the Evora still comes in under 1,400kg; a comparative featherweight in the midst of the current crop of overweight GT cars. And that’s the Evora’s party piece: even with a mid-mounted, supercharged, 410bhp V6, the experience is still one of lightness and balance.
If the Elise shows what that combination can achieve in a roadster, the Evora showcases its potential – and suitability – even in long-legged tourers. And yet, for a range so wholly focused on balance, Lotus’s most extreme product is absolutely its best.
You prepare for a lot of things in the Exige. You see the familiar Elise lines and engineering, but notice little things like five-bolt wheels instead of four. And big things like a supercharged V6 in the place of a 1.8-litre four.
You know that the Elise already finds the bottom of most drivers’ talent pools without getting its head wet, and that the addition of huge AP Racing brakes, exceptionally grabby tyres and more than 360bhp per tonne is going to be a wholly different experience than anything else Lotus makes.
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What you cannot prepare for is what happens at about 4,500rpm. The V6 engages beast mode, makes perhaps the most furious sound I think I’ve ever heard and fires you at whichever horizon you happen to be oriented towards.
If you’ve not experienced that sound, here’s a rough approximation. Imagine Brian Blessed fighting an enraged Kodiak bear and funnel it through Millwall losing to West Ham in overtime. That gets you about halfway there.
I hit the rev limiter in the Exige more often than in any car I’ve driven before, purely chasing the snarling soundtrack to the redline, again and again. The Exige is the Lotus. If Lotuses ruin you for other cars, the Exige ruins you for other Lotuses.