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.

The transverse, mid-mounted, dual VVT-i, 3.5-liter V6 is the 2GR-FE powerplant from Toyota and the six-speed manual hales from our Pacific Rim brothers and sisters as well. With a new twin-barrel exhaust system put on and particularly with the in-house programmed T6e Lotus ECU, the free-revving thrills are as you have always expected from a Lotus. In standard trim, the Evora powertrain revs to 6600 rpm and can be momentarily overrun to 6800 rpm for heated downshifts and such. Opt for the Sport Pack and redline rises to 7000 rpm with throttle dabs to 7200 rpm--opt for the Sport Pack, all right? Acceleration to 60 mph is estimated as equal to a Porsche Cayman S with seven-speed PDK. Launch Control will not be available until the dual-clutch six-speed comes into production.

Cleverly wedging the V6 sideways between the rear bulkhead and back axle, Lotus dynamics are maintained with a 39/61 distribution of weight. Special engine mounts under the V6 allow for better negation of engine vibrations and weight shifts in the engine bay. The wheelbase is 101.4 inches, 10.8 inches longer than the Elise or Exige, making possible this unique example of a mid-engine two-plus-two. Between the aluminum tub and frontal structure strapped to a sturdy steel rear framework (440 pounds total weight), and the full fiberglass body, the Evora's fore-aft bending and torsional rigidity are both double that of the Elise, stiffness reaching 26,000 Nm/d. I noticed no expected body creaking or metallic rattling anywhere at any speed.

Bilstein provides the passive 46mm tube dampers and Eibach the springs, the latter attaching directly to the body to allow for softer bushings to be used. Lotus is hinting at a future multi-mode Damptronic system. Chassis at the corners is the expected double-wishbone with shorter upper arms. Wheels are lightweight, single-piece, forged nine-spoke alloys from Rimstock--18-inch front and 19-inch rear--with a customer-pleasing "forged" logo embossed on the rim. Though I've felt better tires on such a car versus the stock Yokohama Advan Sport LTS treads, these Yokes are good work after Lotus has collaborated closely with the company to dial in the composition and tread design. After a slew of laps spent drifting with gusto, the tires held up surprisingly well.

The AP Racing brakeset with four-piston calipers--there's a cross-drilled option in the Sport Pack--is definitely up to the task from what I witnessed and felt. Someone out there, perhaps even Lotus, will find upgrades for stopping, especially as the Evora is deemed "easily race ready," but the stock set is a good group even at the latest braking points taken all afternoon long. The steering rack, with its 2.9 turns lock-to-lock, is supplied by TRW from an existing vehicle's parts bin, though Lotus ain't telling from which (apart from that it isn't a sports car). It certainly feels sports car, stopping one tick shy of that typical go-kart Lotus personality.

Inside, forget everything you assume about a Lotus, since the Evora cabin as designed by Anthony Bushell is distinctly premium. The first version of Evora out will be the 2+2, followed later by the inclusion of the "2+0" optional interior where you gain a righteous parcel shelf. All is not as awkward as you'd imagine in the rear seats, with honest room there for kids and smaller adults provided the two people in the front Recaros don't play in the NBA. All the same, rear foot room is great since the Recaros are set 2.5 inches higher than in any other Lotus. The copious headroom of the long swooping roof has made all of this possible. Staring through the feel-good three-spoke steering wheel, I note the subtly chromed dial display housing and easy-to-read instruments. A latest-generation 7-inch Bosch touchscreen onboard system with sat-nav is optional and sets nicely into the upper dash.

As to the exterior design, led by Steve Crijns, it looks simply great and very Lotus. There's a little Artega GT in addition to the three-quarter-scale F430, but the Lotus trademarks carry through in the integrated rear wing, rear fascia design, and big integrated hood and rear quarter breathing vents. The doors are cut high and open wide, while the side sills are an inch narrower and placed lower down versus their orientation on Elise/Exige, easing the notoriously difficult Lotus ingress and egress. This latter narrowing and lowering has given the Evora profile a famous and recognizable shape.

The best recent annual report showed Lotus selling 2,633 total cars in the 2006-2007 fiscal year. Adding Evora on a dedicated line will add no more than 2,000 units per year in volume, though for Lotus it's a massive deal. And then comes the Evora roadster in 2010 and the definitive new Esprit supercar after that.

I can only selfishly say: Now, go, Lotus! Grow and thrive and expand the herd. And stop just nobly trickling along accepting your fate. This anxious world needs a lot more Lotus-style excitement inflicted upon it.

Lotus Evora
* Layout
Transverse mid-engine, rear-wheel drive

* Engine
3.5-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve, dual VVT-i, Lotus T6e ECU

* Transmission
Manual six-speed

* Suspension
F/R: Double-wishbone setup with short upper arms, Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs

* Brakes
F/R: AP Racing four-piston aluminum calipers; 13.8-inch rotors (f), 13.1-inch rotors (r)

* Wheels and Tires
One-piece Rimstock forged alloys, 18-inch (f), 19-inch (r)
Yokohama Advan Sport LTS tires, 225/40ZR18 (f), 255/35ZR19 (r)

* Exterior
All-fiberglass body, front splitter, rear diffuser, integrated rear wing

* Interior
Full leather, Recaro sport bucket seats, rear foldable bench seat, acoustic roof liner

*Performance*
Peak Power: 276 hp @ 6400 rpm
Peak Torque: 252 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 155+ mph
*mfr data

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