Road Tests

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Lotus Evora S
How different the story of the slow-selling Lotus Evora might have been had it come to market as it is now. When sales started in the summer of 2009, Lotus hoped to make 2000 per year, but to date just 1200 have found homes, though Lotus still maintains this is ‘to business plan’. It has its dignity to think of, after all.

What cannot be avoided is that the Evora was too slow, its quality nowhere near what the market requires from a £50,000 car. Moreover, its gearbox was horrid and it was too hard for middle-aged men to climb out of. To too many people, its inevitably lovely chassis was insufficient recompense.

The Evora S is far more than a supercharged version of the above and its £58,995 list price includes so much you’d have to pay for to add to the standard car (the vital closer-but-still-notclose-enough-ratio gearbox for one) that the spec-corrected difference between the two is only around £4000. That buys you a 69bhp power hike to 345bhp and as much torque at idle as the normally aspirated car can muster in total.

Furthermore Lotus being Lotus, it has been right through the whole suspension again making minute changes to rollbar and bush rates in an attempt to improve what many might regard as close to unimprovable.

Before you even start to drive it, the S makes a better impression than its predecessor ever managed. The cabin is still hard to get out of and some of the ergonomics are disastrous, but fit and finish appears dramatically better.

Much work has been done on the gearbox whose day job Lotus won’t thank me for reminding you is to provide a transmission for a diesel Toyota Camry. It’s still the car’s single biggest weak point, but its action is now tolerable and its feel more robust.

The real surprise is the engine, which I’d expected to be raw and rorty but is nothing of the kind. It’s quiet, flexible and rather refined in the way it goes about its business. Despite the impressive power and acceleration figures it now boasts, the biggest favour it has done the Evora is to provide its chassis with some meaningful work to do.

The motor’s fat and flat torque curve means you need scarcely use the gearbox at all, but if you do spot a delicious-looking corner ahead and decide to drop a couple of gears, there is now the punch at the apex to make the most of the Evora’s fabulous traction.

What hasn’t changed is the car’s almost alien ability to maintain its ride height on the most undulating roads while simultaneously riding better than quite a few limousines I could name. On the test track I thought the balance inclined slightly more towards understeer than in the normal Evora, but its stability when turning into a quick corner on a trailing throttle followed by the linearity of the transition through neutrality to power-on oversteer still sets the benchmark for mid-engined cars.

The future for the Evora is uncertain, even Lotus CEO Dany Bahar agreeing with me that the car felt ‘unfinished’ when it first came to market. It is far easier to succeed if you come out of the gate at a gallop rather than a leisurely trot, and time alone will tell if the S will allow the Evora to make up all that lost ground. But even if it does, those who read Ed Foster’s report on the future of Lotus last month will notice a conspicuous absence of anything Evora shaped in the long-term product plan.

But for now it is perhaps more constructive to focus on the fact that this Evora S is at last a fine car. And come what may, late is always better than never.

FACTFILE
Engine: 3.5-litre supercharged V6
Top Spee d: 172mph
Price: £58,995
Power: 345bhp at 7000rpm
Fuel/CO2: 27.7mpg, 235g/km
www.grouplotus.com

Fiat 500 Twinair Lounge II
Who but Fiat would have the nerve not only to put a twocylinder engine back on the market but then premiumprice it above four-cylinder alternatives? In yet another affempt to go back to the future, Fiat has reintroduced two-piston power into the chic and disgustingly successful 500, just like the original had back in 1957.

Well, actually not like it at all. This one displaces almost 900cc, boasts a turbocharger and can develop something like six times more power than the original, even if that is only 84bhp. The real interest, however, lies in the inclusion of its fiendishly clever electro-hydraulic inlet valve system, which uses solenoidcontrolled oil pressure to open the valve through an infinitely adjustable range of timings according to need. It can even open and close twice during the same stroke.

The result is a car with more torque than Fiat’s standard 1.4-litre engine yet which will also extract a further 20 miles from every gallon of petrol you use. And it has the lowest CO2 emissions of any nonhybrid petrol engine. It’s a terrific engine too.

The sound has clearly been engineered to mimic the original’s noise and it does so brilliantly. And with maximum torque arriving at just 1900rpm, it pulls beffer than you would imagine possible from so small an engine. So far, so good.

A shame, then, that the car has been spoiled to some extent by poorly chosen and overambitious gear ratios and that the chassis offers so lift le to the driver. The steering is too light, the suspension damping nothing less than poor. Nor is it as frugal as Fiat would like you to think: what you’d have to do to average the 68.9mpg claimed combined consumption I can’t imagine.

This then is a flawed car, but its charms are considerable and not to be underestimated. If you liked the idea of a 500 but not the reality, this new engine’s ability to appeal to both heart and head makes it well worth revisiting.

FACTFILE
Engine: 0.9-litre turbocharged twin
Top Speed: 108mph
Price: £15,265
Power: 84bhp at 5500rpm
Fuel/CO2: 68.9mpg, 95g/km
www.fiat.co.uk

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