'Just added lightness', said Colin Chapman. And a massive engine.
The Lotus Evora has been around for a long, long time. At its launch in 2009 it was billed as a more grown up car, one to move on from the fun, but not very sensible Elise. The basic recipe was the same as the Elise – mid-engine, light weight, good looks. Its 3.5-litre V6, an import from Toyota, provided enough power to entertain and it handled impeccably. It was ‘A Good Car’.
As time went on though it barely evolved while its competition did. So Lotus had to change it. A 400 variant added more power, spruced up the interior and made the car harder edged. Not long later the 410 appeared with more power, more… everything. There was life in the old motor yet. Lotus saw it as an equivalent to the Porsche 911 Carrera S, which meant there was room for something more… Why not tackle the GT3?
And lo, the Evora GT430 and GT430 Sport were born. It looks like an Evora, it sounds like an Evora, and… that’s where the similarities end. Its chassis is based on the Evora GT4 race car, which means it’s stiff, its motor has been cranked up to produce 430bhp, its front and rear are made of carbonfibre, it has adjustable dampers, and the top-spec hardcore GT430 will set you back £112,500 before options.
There are two variants to choose from: The GT430 is a stripped out, hardcore, angry thing, covered in vents, aero trickery, and a wing so large it generates 250kg of downforce. The GT430 Sport is more relaxed. The wing is absent, it doesn’t look quite as feral, and it’s more subtle. Both cars have the same power output, springs and damper set up. It’s just that the GT430’s aero kit makes it the faster of the two.
See, the GT430 is the fastest Lotus to lap Hethel – it put in a time of 1:25.8 seconds. Besting its Sport counterpart by a second, and even taking the track-special 3-Eleven by 0.8 seconds. While its 190mph top speed may be a touch down on the GT430 Sport’s 196mph, it’s faster when you need it to be…
The work Lotus has put in to the car’s aerodynamics is pretty astonishing. Vents in the front of the car allow air to flow through to the front wheel arch, then force it through the hood of the car to keep pressure low. At the rear air is guided direct from the rear wheel arch out through a giant vent to relieve pressure and allow things to spin much more easily. And then, for the GT430 only, is the largest wing ever fitted to a production Lotus. The resulting downforce is massive, and it shows in the drive.
Lotus’ test track is a mixed bag – technical corners, long straights, and lots of fun – but you need to trust the car you’re in if you’re going to get the best out of it. In the full fat GT430 I was told that a 100mph run through ‘Windsock’ was possible. Windsock is a long right hander with, at triple figures, not much run off on the outside.
My first few runs were marred with ‘getting to know you’ fear, entering at 65mph, and leaving 5mph faster. With each lap I went faster, winding my way up to 93mph on exit before my time ran out. As I went faster, the car felt more planted, stronger… better.
Lap after lap I pushed the car harder. It’s a communicative thing, its steering precise and wonderfully weighted to give inch perfect feedback, while its throttle response is instant so caution, in any other car, would be advised but with the grip on offer in the GT430 you can put power down earlier and harder with few ill effects. If you chunter in to a corner too early you’ll get a warning shot of understeer, but that’s about it.
You have to work very, very hard to unsettle it. The six-speed manual gearbox is a masterwork – slick, smooth, easy to use, just what you want in a car like this. The car’s brakes aren’t jazzy carbon jobs either, they’re massive AP racing discs and by heavens they work well. The pedal offers fantastic feedback, and they’re easy to modulate. It’s a wonderful track toy.
On the road, the GT430 Sport with is dampers tweaked for more everyday driving, was a slightly different story. On the motorway the sonorous supercharged V6 doesn’t scream, but at the speed limit it settles in to a bit of a drone. The similarly-engined Lotus Exige suffers the same problem, and it can be rather irksome.
Rear visibility is compromised thanks to its solid engine cover, and as it’s a mid-engined car the blind spots are quite large, so overtakes are to be taken with a sensible dose of caution and life saver checks. However, find a bit of B-road and just go nuts with it.
The Sport variant doesn’t have the downforce of the hardcore car, but you needn’t worry about lack of grip. It just stick to the ground and screams its way through the gears until you either run out of road, or (as was in my case) you find the slowest Ford Fiesta known to man blocking the way.
You can spec an infotainment system to while away long trips (and override the drone on the motorway). It sounds pretty good and comes with Apple CarPlay, but you can go without should you choose.
This being a Lotus it’s got to be ‘light weight’ and it kind of is. The GT430 Sport sits at 1,248kg, while the be-winged GT430 is 1,258kg. That’s around the same weight as a Hyundai i20, but with 430bhp on tap. That means it’ll hit 60mph from rest in 3.6 seconds. It’s hardly a slouch…
The real rub here is availability and price. There’s no doubting that it’s an utterly phenomenal car, but there are only 60 GT430s and 60 GT430 Sports available worldwide (though a separate US allocation is on the way) and the full fat GT430 will set you back £112,500. That’s a lot of money. That’s Porsche money.
It’s not a flawless car, and while the test cars felt solidly built you’d likely feel a little more confident with something from Stuttgart, but would you feel as special? Maybe. The GT430 has a presence to it, and a drive that’ll blow you away, but it’s likely the kind of car you have to really want to ‘get’.