I have a select few heroes, and Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering together make up one of them. As with any hero worship syndrome, I as a rabid fan can get disappointed quicker than the casual onlooker. All I need to say is Lotus Europa and perhaps you'll understand.

Lotus with its limited budgets needs to hit on that genius grass-roots iPod-style idea that captures the fascination of as many enthusiasts (and their expendable incomes) as possible, because the company just doesn't have the cash to pour into a massive media blitz. Word of mouth over the seat-of-pants experience has always been the Lotus way. In these challenging times, you can understand the pressure therefore coming to bear on the totally new Evora.

Let's get it out of the way right now--what's up with the name? I've never been nuts about the girly sound of "Elise" but by now the car by that name is legendary in enthusiast circles, so what do I know? Evora dynamics boss Matt Becker says: "The whole naming thing was such a long process and there were days we thought we'd never get to it." I'd like to see the E-words that got cut.

Along the lines of things getting cut, 27 months ago "Project Eagle"--soon to be Evora--got started in the wake of a major executive decision by then-new CEO Mike Kimberley. With what was intended to be the new Esprit getting close to the verification prototype stage, Kimberley drove the V8 test mule and essentially ordered the project put on a shelf for the time being. According to him, the new Esprit project with a longitudinally mounted amidships V8 was too much of a leap into the supercar sphere, with a too-high asking price versus the existing lineup of well-established, reasonably priced sports cars. He wanted something instead that could work as a logical step upward without being alien to the Elise/Exige heritage or technical approach. A transverse-V6-powered car that would better pave the way for acceptance of the next Esprit in 2011 was just the thing.

So we find ourselves happily gifted with the fruits of Project Eagle, aka Evora, chassis designation 122, parts number series 132. North America has to wait until March of 2010 to take first deliveries of cars with the tiller on the left. Lotus Cars tells us to think somewhere around $75,000 for the 2+2 version, $70,000 for the two-seater. An optional six-speed, dual-clutch, paddle `box ought to come on line by fall 2010, too, if you're not interested in manual life.

This initial version of the Evora will function as the base material for several further iterations, all with more power to be sure. For now we get 276 hp at 6400 revs and 252 lb-ft at 4700. Don't start with the comments either, know-it-alls, because the first Evora out of the gates with the optional Sport Pack close-ratio six-speed manual gets to 60 mph from a stop in 4.9 seconds thanks to great responses between 4000 and 7000 rpm, tremendous body and chassis stiffness, and a decent weight-to-power ratio of 10.8 pounds per hp (curb weight = 2,976 pounds). As I felt all of these dynamic sensations and capabilities first-hand in an Evora final test prototype, I can attest that the car can do, and most likely outdo, what Lotus says.

The base Elise is as close to a flickable track toy as you'll get in a car with body panels. Next comes the less toy-like Exige with its hard top and more beef on its bones, taking a bit more muscle to flick around and hitting right balance for an all-day track car that can lay waste to any comers in its GT4 class. Pause dutifully over the Europa's trunk, and then comes Evora. Much more momentum can be carried into curves, the brakes can be mashed harder and later, and drifting is of a much more predictable and steady nature. The new car is put together well at a level never before seen in Hethel and I was having visions of baby Ferrari F430s.

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