464bhp in a hot hatch… stand back everyone
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£112,920 when new
That’s a quick-looking Lotus… It is. The fastest road-going Lotus ever, in fact. If you get the one without the tail wing, it’ll go very close to 200mph. The version with the wing, and balancing aero at the front, is dragged down to a piffling 190mph, but at that speed it makes the same downforce as the Lotus 72 grand prix car in which Jochen Rindt won his posthumous world championship in 1970. Obviously downforce slows it down on the straights, but what about corners? Good point. At a track the GT430 is also the fastest ever number-plated Lotus. Even quicker than the road version of the 3-Eleven.
How’d they do that? Not just the wing. New vents are carved above and behind the front wheels, and behind the rears, and there’s underbody shaping too. The greater half of the bodywork is now carbonfibre. Factor in the pricey adjustable Ohlins/Eibach suspension from the race-winning Lotus Evora GT4. The exhaust system is fashioned from titanium, which saves 10kg and is a £5,500 option on other Evoras. The wheels are new forged jobs, stronger than before to bear the downforce. Kerb weight is down to a kilo under 1,300kg. Bet that’s pure coincidence. I’m not expecting this to be cheap. Sit down. It’s £112,500. And you’ll be wanting the £1,500 air-conditioning because sweat is as heavy as a heat-exchanger. That’s Porsche 911 GT3 money. Can it be as amazing? In some ways. The chassis is the prime star here. On an interesting road, one with corners and bumps and unpredictable changes in speed, you and the Evora find a harmony and intimacy. It works with you and communicates what it is doing, so you learn the depth of its reserves of grip and power and the immense security of its brakes. Mind you, without a track you’ll never really plumb those reserves. Does it feel good? An engineering precision permeates the whole thing. The calibration of all the big controls adds to your intimate connection with it. The steering isn’t so high-geared as to be nervous, but it’s precise and staggeringly alert. And for a powered system the feel is as vivid as it gets. The gearshift is narrow across the planes, but soon you and the lever have a co-ordinated handshake and you appreciate its precise movements and mechanical click. What does the lightness mean for the performance? Isn’t 430bhp a bit underwhelming these days? As the name implies the supercharged V6 is ramped up to 430bhp here, thanks to new mapping and cam timing. But what matters is the delivery. None of the top-endiness of natural aspiration, none of the lag of a turbo. It just goes. Almost the whole sweep of the rev-counter is thickly layered with this generous propulsion. But there is a reward for going high. Beyond 4,500rpm and up to the 7,000rpm cut-off, the sharp-edged baritone of the titanium exhaust makes things sound as mesmerising as any V6 out there. No, it’s not as good as a 9,000rpm Porsche GT3. But the GT430 does 0-62 in 3.8secs, so it has the stats to match the price.
What’s it like on track? It’s extraordinary. Remember the GT4 heritage. It takes just a few minutes and a jack to alter the settings of each damper between Lotus’s recommended road and track setups. Thanks to the big and sticky front tyres, and to the reduced nose weight of the carbon bumper, it hurls itself into corners as soon as you think about turning the wheel. It’ll rotate some more if you lift the throttle. Front-rear balance through the apex is glorious and grip is comedically high. It flick-flacks through esses with nary an atom of lost motion. And on the exit, the traction, aided by a Torsen limited-slip differential, is off the scale. You wouldn’t believe how early you can get the throttle open. That’s even before the aerodynamic downforce starts to pin the car into high-speed curves. Gulp. So it won’t go drifting? It’ll still do that. In slower bends there’s amusement to be had from switching out the ESP and working through the five-stage traction control settings. Level 1 allows just a small amount of slip, but level 5 lets the rear tyres turn 12 percent faster than the front ones are rotating. That corresponds to fairly spectacular oversteer if you provoke it with a throttle lift then get back on the pedal early and suddenly. But mostly this Evora is built for speed, not showboating. You’re off down the straight like there’s a nerf gun up your chuff. Fast exit means fast arrival at the next one, so you’ll be needing some brakes. The AP Racing setup is all you’d need and more. Far more. The light weight helps: Lotus says they put a bunch of unsympathetic journalists in the car who hacked it round a track all day. And all the next. The original sets of pads and tyres were still fine at the end of it. Could you actually live with something so racer-ish as a road car? Well here’s the thing. Those expensive dampers have an amazing ability to round off sharp road impacts. The build quality is pretty good, which means among other things the windows fit their seals and don’t kick up loads of hiss. The tyres aren’t ridiculously loud. the engine is fairly mute below 4,500rpm. I drove to Hethel in a Mini Cooper S with a JCW pack on it, and the hatch was noisier and bumpier than the supercar. If you really can see the use of it, you can have hinged seatbacks for the front, and +2 seats behind. Only thing is, you can’t see over your shoulders because the rear-side windows are replaced by carbon panels. But when I complained to CEO Jean-Marc Gales, ever the salesman, he said they could be swapped back. But just look at it. Hardly stealthy. Let us introduce the GT430 Sport – the grey car pictured above. That has all the powertrain and chassis and carbon. But it loses the high-mount wing and the front splitter and over-wheel vents. Much more subtle, if marginally slower through maximum-effort corners at three figure speeds. The winged car will probably be a collector’s item, the final maxed-out Lotus before the Geely shareholding agreement was signed. But driving it on the road is like turning up at the municipal swimming baths in flippers, dry suit, aqualung and Rolex Submariner.
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