Inside, things are more luxurious than I expect. I’ve never driven an Elise, but I’ve been inside one and it’s bare-bones, Spartan, a necessity to keep the driver away from the tarmac and the wind. Things are more accommodating in the Evora, although still fairly basic. There’s suede across the dashboard, lined with yellow stitching, a narrow centre console rising, six buttons to the left and six more to the right of the steering wheel, upon which are four more buttons for the cruise control. It’s nicely put together, and gives off a very similar in vibe to clambering into a McLaren MP4-12C – all purpose, no frills. But there has at least been some concession to every day use. An Alpine touchscreen infotainment system sits in the centre of dashboard.
I clamber in over the high sills, settle low into a nicely supportive bucket seat, and note with pleasant surprise that I have plenty of headroom. Later, a colleague will comment on the intrusion into the footwell of the front left wheel – I confess that I hadn’t noticed. Maybe I just rest my left foot weirdly. The rear seats… well, they’re there. No one with legs could sit in them, but they work well for holding a couple of bags.
The Evora fires up with a twist of a key, the 3.5-litre V6 behind my head bursting into life. It’s an idle with an edge, but not one that screams performance. Just that it’s ready to do my bidding. And so off we go, headed for our regular mountain stomping grounds. We – that’s photographer Arun and I – have six hours with which to drive the car properly and get the photographs you see here, so time is of the essence.
I’m prepared for an uncompromising experience, and although the cabin is much more hospitable than I anticipated, a glance in the rear view mirror shows me how much the focus is on what’s in and ahead of the car rather than behind. A tiny letterbox view is all that’s offered, the space taken up by the Toyota lump, a glass cover and some Lotus Performance stencilling. By contrast, visibility out the front is excellent, a big expanse of glass affording a panoramic view.
The journey out of Dubai and into the rural expanse is surprisingly comfortable. The ride impresses the most; it’s far from the crashing, super-stiff spine test I expected of a focused, honed performance car. Lumps and bumps are dispatched without wince, cruise control enabled, my iPhone connected via Bluetooth to the slightly tinny but perfectly serviceable sound system, and an hour passes very pleasantly. Is this right? I begin to worry that the Evora has eviscerated everything that the Elise and Exige have worked so hard for. Where’s the uncompromising savagery?
I save my concerns for the twisties, the familiar network of mountain roads near the Omani border on the east of the UAE peninsula. We know these roads well, so it’ll be a fine proving ground for the Evora. Before we arrive, the motorway blends into a fast flowing dual carriageway and I get my first proper chance to play with the throttle. The reaction isn’t as instant as I’d hoped but when the surge comes, it’s decisive and smooth, climbing strongly. 345bhp doesn’t sound like much these days, but with so little weight to haul it feels like more. 0-100kph comes up in 4.7 seconds, but the mid-range acceleration is impressive too, even if the IPS gearbox takes a few moments to compose itself. More on that later.
The Lotus is deliberately low on electronic aids – only ABS, traction control and ESP are included, but it still feels absolutely nailed down and solid, helping in large part by steering that’s seriously close to perfect. Compared to so many modern systems – Porsche, I’m looking at you, accusingly – it feels weighty and feelsome, which gives the driver so much confidence in what’s going on. There’s no squirming going on despite some serious pace. This bodes well.
I turn off in the middle of the mountains, casting a suspicious eye at a darkening horizon as I do so. It’s October, not the rainy season yet. Someone didn’t get the memo.
We press on, and find a nice section of corners where Arun jumps out to get some shots. I’m tasked with taking the 90-degree left-hander in a suitably dynamic fashion to make for a nice snap. Shouldn’t be too hard. After turning off the electronics, I get hard on the brakes, blip down to second using the wheel-mounted paddles, turn in with the front tyres loaded and get on the gas. Nothing. The Evora just grips and goes. I try again, a touch faster, and the same result – a chirp from the tyres, grip and traction out of the corner.
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