2020 Lotus Evora GT first drive review: A reminder to drive

Cars like the 2020 Lotus Evora GT need to exist. A refreshingly tactile experience in an increasingly sterilized world, the Evora eschews driver assistance technologies and robust infotainment wizardry in favor of a highly engaging relationship between car and driver. Whether it be a weekend track day or spirited run up a great canyon road, the Evora kindly requests that you shut up and drive.

Right from the start, the GT is a car that requires extra attention. Starting the Evora is the same convoluted process as before: Use the fob to unlock the car, turn the key in the ignition on the right side of the steering column and then press the engine start button on the left side of the dashboard. Do it quickly, too -- you only have about 30 seconds to fire up the engine, or you'll have to hit the unlock button and start over. It's a finicky introduction to such a simple car. But I'll admit, I kind of like it.

The V6 engine roars to life with an uncharacteristically throaty rasp. That's especially true when you consider this V6 -- a 3.5-liter, Toyota-sourced lump -- is a heavily massaged version of the motor that powers older Camrys and Siennas. With a water-to-air charge cooler and an Edelbrock supercharger, the formerly milquetoast V6 produces 416 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque when mated to the Evora GT's standard six-speed manual transmission. Opt for the six-speed automatic and you get an extra 15 pound-feet of twist, but, well, it's not worth it. More on that in a minute.

Working the Evora's heavy and delightfully mechanical-feeling clutch pedal is a joy, perfectly complemented by the crisp throws of the six-speed manual gearbox. Launch the GT hard in first gear and slam it hard into second just before the 7,000-RPM redline; Lotus estimates a 0-to-60 mile-per-hour acceleration time of 3.8 seconds, which in action, feels extremely conservative.

Though the supercharger provides substantial motivation low in the engine's rev range, you're better off keeping the V6 humming above 3,500 RPM. Closely spaced pedals mean heel-and-toe downshifts can be executed without much thought, and the Evora is happy to run at full boil all the time. Keep on it, and you'll be rewarded with instant power delivery accompanied by a sweet soundtrack. The engine is nestled behind the passenger compartment, remember -- all the better to hear you, my dear.

Now, about the automatic transmission: I know it makes the Evora GT accessible to a wider array of drivers, but unless you can't physically operate a stick-shift setup, please don't spec your car this way. A modern example of the term "slushbox," the six-speed automatic is lazy when left to its own devices. And though I adore the look and feel of the large, aluminum paddle shifters, their response to inputs in manual mode still leaves a lot to be desired. Don't forget, like the engine, this gearbox was intended for Venzas.

Drew Phillips/Lotus

Regardless of transmission, the Evora's steering is fantastic stuff. The rack uses hydraulic assist rather than a modern, electrified setup, and that means there's more communication than you'll find in just about any other car today. The wheel itself is made of magnesium, which lets it sort of "hum" with feedback. Weight builds progressively as you dig further into a bend, and the Evora's reflexes are almost telepathic in their harmony with your inputs.

The Evora GT likes to be driven hard, and with conviction. The lightweight chassis is incredibly forgiving, and you quickly realize that the GT can handle far more than you're willing to give it on public roads. Eibach springs are fitted to Bilstein dampers, and regardless of drive setting -- Normal, Sport or Race -- their tune remains the same. Instead, these drive modes alter throttle response and traction control intervention, and a fourth "Off" setting removes any electronic aid whatsoever. "This is not Mercedes 'off,'" one Lotus representative notes. "This is real 'off.'"

Extra credit for the GT's wealth of traction goes to the super-grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, which are some of the best rubbers available this side of my supermarket's "family planning" aisle. Forged aluminum, 19-inch front wheels come shod in 245/35-series tires, while the 20-inch rears are wrapped in fat 295/30s. Behind them, AP Racing four-piston calipers clamp down on two-piece, ventilated brake discs, and there's more than enough stopping power underneath your right foot, with no harsh initial bite.

The GT's size and shape haven't changed from its Evora 400 predecessor, and it strikes quite a lovely silhouette on the road. A new front splitter and restyled rear diffuser improve airflow, resulting in twice as much downforce as the 400, but otherwise, the GT is basically identical. The chassis is still made largely of aluminum, with many body panels constructed from carbon fiber. Spec the optional lightweight package and your front bumper, roof, tailgate (with louvers!) and diffuser come made from carbon fiber, too. At its lightest, the GT tips the scales at some 2,800 pounds, or about 70 pounds less than the Evora 400.

Drew Phillips/Lotus

"When you buy a Lotus, we do expect you to drive it hard," says one company rep. But even though the Evora GT is first and foremost a performer, things don't fall apart should you wind up in traffic on a congested stretch of highway. The suspension isn't so stiff that it turns morning commutes into chiropractic workouts, and the Evora is no harsher around town than a Porsche Cayman. It's the car I wish the Alfa Romeo 4C could be.

In fact, the Evora is almost shockingly comfortable and easy to live with. Sure, it's a low-slung thing, but you don't have to contort your body to get in or out. Supportive sport buckets have four-way manual adjustment, and while Lotus will outfit your Evora GT with a pair of rear seats -- yes, in a mid-engine car -- I feel sorry for any poor sap forced to use them.

The rest of the interior is a pretty straightforward affair, with only a few buttons for vehicle controls laid out along the dash. It's hard not to notice the aging, parts-bin switchgear -- you know, like the turn signal and wiper stalks from an early-2000s Ford Focus or the headlight controls from a mid-2000s General Motors car. Cool as the louvers are of the carbon fiber tailgate, they make rearward visibility almost nonexistent. And while the 7-inch multimedia screen does support Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it's an aftermarket Alpine head unit not unlike the one available at your local Best Buy.

Drew Phillips/Lotus

I'll admit, it's hard to justify some of the Evora GT's shortcomings when you consider its $96,950 starting price -- or $131,795 in the case of my test car, $8,100 of which is the cost of the Cyan Blue paint. The Evora GT costs as much as a brand-new 2020 Cayman GT4 with several option boxes ticked, and while it's every bit as exciting to drive (maybe more), the Porsche is arguably the more complete, well-rounded package.

But no one buys a Lotus expecting a luxurious, feature-rich machine. You buy a Lotus to drive the doors off it, and because nothing else gives you quite the same experience.

The 2020 Evora GT is not a car for everyone, and that is exactly the point. I don't care about the hilariously old switchgear. I don't care where the powertrain comes from. The Evora GT is a brilliant, no-frills sports car from a company that only knows how to make brilliant, no-frills sports cars. It's analog and emotional. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Drew Phillips/Lotus

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