2011 Lotus Evora S first drive

With a chassis designed using race car architecture, the Lotus Evora S is a precision handling machine. A supercharger gives it 99 horsepower per liter. CNET Car Tech takes it out on the track.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
5 min read
Lotus Evora S
Lotus added a supercharger to the Evora, creating the Evora S model variant, with engine output increased to 345 horsepower. Lotus

The transmission emits a sound of shrieking metal as the 2011 Evora S cruises slowly through the parking lot and epoxy is the dominant note in Lotus' new car smell. Manually adjustable seats need to be pushed all the way back before getting into the car, but entrants will still need to explore the maximum flex point of knees and elbows to fit through the door opening.

2011 Lotus Evora S (photos)

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The sticker price comes in more than $70,000, but the infotainment system is just an aftermarket unit from Alpine, a double-DIN system combining navigation, Bluetooth phone support, and iPod integration. A microphone dangles comically from the ceiling and a mere four speakers make up the audio system.

But the Lotus Evora S makes up for these sins of the premium car set through a finesse that can only be experienced from the driver's seat, preferably when faced with tight turns of diminishing radius. Lotus emulates F1 car architecture with the little Evora S, creating separate front and rear subframes that bolt onto the main tub, resulting in frying pan flat rigidity.

Lotus Evora S
The Evora S uses aluminum wishbones fore and aft, supported by subframes bolted to a central tub. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

During a preview drive on both a racetrack and public roads, the Evora S proved its worth, effortlessly achieving triple digit speeds and exhibiting a near-perfect connection between thought and action in the corners. The Evora S is something of an ideal, showing how well a car can handle.

At 3,168 pounds, the Evora S is hundreds of pounds heavier than the Elise, and even has some mass over the standard Evora, that due to the supercharger strapped onto the engine. But the power more than compensates for the extra weight.

Lotus sources the Evora S' engine, a 3.5-liter V-6, from Toyota, but mounts it sideways behind the cabin. Along with Lotus programming, the supercharger increases the output, putting it up at 345 horsepower, or 99 horsepower per liter of displacement. Torque is up at 295 pound-feet, and Lotus points out with a torque curve graph that the low point of the Evora S' torque matches the peak point for the standard Evora.

Other than the supercharger, the standard Evora and Evora S are very close together, although Lotus claims that different bushings on the suspension make the Evora S almost 15 percent stiffer. But the power jump from the supercharger makes a big difference, the standard Evora feeling almost anemic in comparison.

Under acceleration, the Evora S' power comes on easily, and doesn't let up. The engine's music is a refined whirring noise accompanied by the turbine whistle of the supercharger. Lotus doesn't put a redline on the tachometer. Rather, as you approach redline, an oval light appears on the instrument panel. Keep accelerating and another oval appears, and at redline a third lights up, just before the rev limiter kicks in.

Lotus Evora S
The Evora S handles corners easily, showing little strain at high speed. Lotus

On the track, the rev limit was easy to reach, as this engine never complains, even when run up beyond 7,000 rpm. And we were too busy mentally mapping out the upcoming corners to notice the warning lights.

Of course, on a track you quickly learn which gear works best for each turn and straight. At Laguna Seca, tight turns, which demand second gear in most cars, required third in the Evora S. On the straights, fourth gear let the Evora S run up to 120 mph and higher. Third and fourth each have wide power bands.

The six-speed manual transmission is one of the least refined components of the Evora S' power-train. Where many premium sports car manual transmissions guide you from gear to gear with short throws, the Evora S forces you to learn the pattern. Without good muscle memory for the three up and three down positions, you will miss shifts and cast about in confusion over whether the car is in third or fifth.

Low-speed shifting is a pretty horrendous affair, with plenty of vibration coming up through the knob. Try to put it in first gear with the car rolling, even very slowly, and get treated to the grind of gnashing metal. Lotus also sourced the transmission from Toyota, but it would be nice to see something from Getrag or another quality transmission maker.

Lotus Evora S
The Evora S' six speed transmission feels crude, shifting roughly and offering little guidance in the pattern. Lotus

Lotus will also be offering what it calls Intelligent Precision Shifting (IPS) for the Evora and Evora S later this year. But that is merely a six-speed automatic with manual and sport modes, and probably will suffer a bit from the torque converter. That transmission choice is intended to broaden the appeal of the Evora, reaching an element unlikely to sign up for track days.

What will probably never appeal to the casual set is the level of steering engagement afforded by the Evora S. This steering rig shows no slack, giving an immediate connection between wheel and wheels. Turn the wheels, and the car responds with surprising ease. Bundle it hard into a corner and the tires hold the pavement fiercely, only allowing a little bit of slide, a little kick out from the rear.

The Evora S handles with precision, not allowing the same kind of tomfoolery as other cars that like to throw their rear ends around at every opportunity. But drive sloppily into a turn, and the Evora S does a good job of cleaning up mistakes, using its Bosch-sourced road-holding electronics to right itself. Along with traction control, it also has an electronically controlled differential and corner braking control. This latter feature corrects for understeer, braking the inside wheels a little to help bring the car back inline with how its wheel is turned. Lotus offers three modes with the stability electronics: normal, sport, and off.

While throwing the car around on public roads and the track, during a few hard corners the suspension came up against its stop points. But while suspension travel seems limited, the ride quality was surprisingly good. The shocks and springs eat up harsh jolts, serving them up as soft lumps to the car's occupants.

The standard brakes on the Evora S come from AP Racing, and use four piston calipers front and rear, along with drilled rotors. The stopping power feels excellent, but more than that, these brakes are very easy to modulate, letting you shave off a precise amount of speed.

Lotus boasts EPA fuel economy of 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for the Evora S, only about 1 mpg lower than the standard Evora, but the EPA's tests don't call for much use of forced induction. Expect canyon carving antics to reduce real world fuel economy.

Lotus set pricing for the 2011 Evora S at $76,000, or $77,500 with the rear seat option. Although $12,000 more than the base Evora, Lotus notes that the S model comes standard with much of the sport equipment that can be optioned on the non-supercharged Evora.

The Technology package runs $2,995, and brings in the Alpine infotainment system. It's a lot of money for what is essentially aftermarket electronics, and Lotus charges an additional $495 to add a rear view camera. But that rear view camera is essential with this car, as the postcard-size rear window offers a minuscule look at the world behind the car. When compared to the cost and personal pain of smashing the rear of the car against a light post, the $3,490 total cost to get the rear view camera is a worthwhile investment.