Lotus claims it has a tradition of doing this 2 + 2 thing. Indeed, the company's new North American public relations expert, Kevin Smith, points out that four-seaters, in the guise of Elans, Elites, Eclats and Excels, have made up 20 per cent of the storied marque's entire car production between 1948 and 1996. The problem with that statement, no matter how factual, is that none of us remember those cars. Everyone with even a bit of 10W40 running through their veins is, of course, familiar with the little Elise and Exige, those Toyota-motored little speedsters that like to embarrass Ferraris for one quarter the price. Those of us old enough to start forgetting may well have some fading memories of tiny little Lotus 25s dominating Formula One. There might even be some passing fondness for the Esprit, the ill-conceived but blindingly fast exotic that Lotus thought might challenge the Italian hegemony on supercars. But, passenger-friendly Loti? I have no memory of those. Surely, they are a myth.
Welcome, then, to 2010, when even established and financially-successful purebreds like Ferrari have to bend to market pressure and build things like hybrids to shore up sales in a recessionary market. For the last 15 years, Lotus has been a one-trick pony, serving up mad little two-seater roustabouts, passionate but never pragmatic. Perhaps it is time that a little everyday practicality gets mixed into all that panache.
So, the Evora is the practical Lotus. Indeed, a sceptic might point out that the use of an engine from a Toyota - a Camry, no less - represents a step back from its commitment to performance. But, of course, that sceptic would be completely wrong; in fact, all current Loti are Toyota-powered, Elises and Exiges being powered by a high-revving four-banger liberated from the Matrix XR-S and the Celica GT-S. And nobody is questioning their sporting bona fides.
Indeed, the practicality of sourcing engines (saving R&D dollars, bypassing the expensive certification processes, etc) from Toyota does not render the Evora at all pedestrian. From its underpinnings (a modular, aluminum-based chassis Lotus calls Versatile Vehicle Architecture, or VVA) to an incredibly sexy body of which the official description as "sleek and athletic" is woefully understated, the Evora is as exotic as anything that has worn the Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman logo.
But it certainly is more practical. Forget that the rear seats are really only appropriate for toddlers or amputees, it's the rest of the car that actually makes this the first serviceable daily driver in Lotus's history. The front seats, by Recaro, are eminently comfortable and well up to a day-long cruise. They are (will wonders never cease?) adjustable both fore and aft and for recline. There's even enough travel to accommodate a six-foot-six basketball centre, and you don't have to fold like a contortionist to get into them. And surely the wonders just keep on coming, because this a Lotus in which the steering column is also adjustable, both tilting and telescoping.
There's an audio system that is actually audible, a navigational system that might even direct you where you want to go and, shades of modern motoring, an available backup camera. The climate controls actually condition the air and, as perhaps the ultimate sign that Lotus has indeed gone mainstream, the headlamps even offer little washer units, just like real cars. Yes, the front wheel wells intrude too far into the cabin for perfect ergonomics and, OK, the red-tinted digital readouts are difficult to read in direct sunshine, but the there's no disputing the Evora is the most practical Lotus ever and as utilitarian as, say, a Porsche Boxster.
But while everyday usability might be the attribute that potential customers use to rationalise their decision to purchase an Evora, it is not the reason that anyone lusts for a Lotus. Nope, the reason that Colin Chapman remains the exalted guru of lightweight sports cars is the almost synoptic connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels that is part and parcel of every Lotus ever built.
The Evora, for instance, starts with a chassis, built in three parts, that boasts an incredible torsional rigidity of 26,600Nm per degree (more than twice that of the Elise). That means the chassis is extraordinarily stiff; the perfect basis, say suspension engineers, for tuning a car that both handles well and doesn't jar fillings over potholes. And here's where the Evora shines. Despite its (relative) practicality, the Evora handles every bit as well as the much-acclaimed Elise and Exige. Though the suspension is more family-friendly, roll, even during hard cornering, remains all but non-existent. Though it is tuned for user-friendly understeer with relatively narrow 225/40ZR18 front tyres (255/35ZR19 in the rear), it's a brave man that will push the Evora beyond its 1.02 g cornering capacity to start sliding around. Even then, the Evora has a newly-minted traction control system that, while generating the intervention that safety nannies require, offers a sport mode that Yours Truly can use to hold that perfectly-controlled drift he's always bragging about.
As for that Toyota-sourced engine, fret not about its origins. Yes, it may have once powered the most boring sedan in existence, but tuned by Lotus with Evora-specific electronics and exhaust system, it sounds quite rorty and produces a creditable 276hp that can accelerate the 1,382kg Evora to 100kph in just 5.1 seconds. If you're looking for a downside to the Toyota connection, it won't be found in the engine, but the transmission. Its six forward gears shift smoothly enough, but the throws are extraordinarily long for a car this sporting. And, a word of warning to all potential Evora customers; order the optional, close-ratio sports transmission. The standard box - identical except for changes to gear three through six - is woefully overgeared and designed for maximum fuel economy.
Lotus claims that the Evora is the world's only mid-engined 2 + 2 sports coupe. I say it's the best Lotus I've ever driven. As for pricing, the base Evora, without the rear seats cost US$72,900 (Dh267,760); with the rear seats the MSRP rises to $73,500 (Dh270,000). firstname.lastname@example.org