700 Miles and Running: To Track Night and Back With the Lotus Evora 400
When I wrote my review of the Lotus Evora 400 for our friends over at Jalopnik a couple of summers ago, I submitted it with the headline “The Lotus Evora 400 is the Best Dual-Purpose Car I Have Ever Driven.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t deemed to be a sexy enough headline, so it was switched to “Best Track Car.” Such is the life of a freelance contributor.
While there’s no doubt the Evora 400 shines on the racing line, its true genius is revealed on the highways and byways of these United States. It’s rare to find a car that can both quicken the pulse and comfort the soul as well as the Lotus does. To that end, when Lotus sent the Evora to my Old Kentucky Home for a week for some extended testing, I decided to revisit my original premise: Is the Lotus Evora 400 really the best dual-purpose car I’ve ever driven?
To find out, I decided to drive from Winchester, Kentucky to Dawsonville, Georgia and back in the same day, a round trip of 700 miles. Oh, and I figured that I might as well go to the SCCA’s Track Night in America at Atlanta Motorsports Park while I was at it. Dual-purpose? You bet.
The day started around 9:00 am on a humid Tuesday. My route was going to be a combination of interstates and country roads, and the first few hours were going to be of the highway variety as I set out down I-75 South toward Tennessee. Unfortunately, I was stopped by Kentucky’s finest before I even made it to the entrance ramp.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” the officer asked me as I rolled down the passenger window.
“Hurry? Was I speeding?” I offered meekly.
“I clocked you at 74 in a 55.” Thanks to the Evora’s $10,000 carbon fiber package, I hadn’t even seen the brown Explorer behind me until his lights went on.
“Oh, wow, I’m sorry. I certainly wasn’t meaning to speed. This thing can get away from you.” And it was true. The Evora was already demonstrating its comfort level at cruising speeds on KY-627 South. If you keep the revs under 4,500, the exhaust will keep sound levels nice and Camry-ish, which isn’t terribly surprising, considering that the Lotus and the Toyota share the same 3.5 liter V6 motor.
“Do you have any tickets on your record?”
“No, sir.” That was very nearly a true statement, considering that I only had one … in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
“All right, well … slow it down. What year is this thing?”
“2018. Brand new.”
The trooper whistled in appreciation. “It’s nice, man. Have a great day.”
And so it was that I continued on my way down through the Bluegrass into Tennessee, careful to set the cruise control at 78 mph as I attracted the attention of every single driver and passenger on the road. In the South, we don’t see many wedge-shaped supercars — our big money vehicles tend to be of the King Ranch, Denali, and Raptor variety. Even a Navigator or Escalade is too ostentatious for southern gents and ladies. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in the Evora — far from it.
In fact, every stop at a drive thru or gas station was extended by the amount of time necessary to discuss the Lotus with fellow patrons and employees. My first gas stop was in Lenoir City, TN, outside of Knoxville, where I was pleased to see that the Evora was delivering about 26 mpg on average.
Combine that fuel economy with the highway manners of an English gentleman, and you start to see how Hethel’s creation really does make sense as a daily driver. The Alpine stereo, which shockingly features Apple CarPlay, does a more than adequate job of playing everything from Kenny Garrett to Sublime with reasonable range of tone and quality. Michelin provides the rubber here, with Pilot Super Sports, and they’re quite good on the road, able to whisk away water at a moment’s notice while keeping road noise to a minimum.
The seating position delivered by the alcantara-wrapped Sparco seats was nearly perfect for this 5’9″ driver — I would have liked to have been able to raise the seats up a bit, but that’s a minor complaint. And on this brutally hot May afternoon, the air conditioning was more than up to the task of cooling me down, a job that previous Lotuses seen on our shores might have struggled with a bit.
My only real complaint about my lengthy drive to Georgia was a lack of cupholders. Ugh, I hate even typing that, as it’s the most journosauristic complaint possible, but one does wish for somewhere to store his large Chick-Fil-A tea (unsweetened, which is a felony in some Georgia counties) other than between one’s legs.
My arrival at Atlanta Motorsports Park was surprisingly anticlimactic. Normally, after a drive of 300-plus miles in a sporting car, you have to unfold yourself out of it in a somewhat painful manner — especially at the age of 40. Not the Evora. Just swing your legs to the side and hop out, and neither your back nor your extremities will be any the worse for having made the journey.
AMP is a fun, easy track for newbies to negotiate, and that’s why it makes for a perfect Track Night in America. It drives somewhat like a big autocross, and there are only a couple of spots where you’ll get yourself in any trouble — although those spots are big trouble when you find them. Since my Evora was equipped with the aforementioned Super Sports rather than something like a Pilot Sport Cup 2, or even the new Pilot Sport 4 S, I decided before I even went on track that I wouldn’t be trying to set any lap records on that day.
Upon entering the pit lane for the first Advanced session, the SCCA’s Dustin Stevenson asked me to show him my point-by signals. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t need to use them.” And I was very nearly right — only a GM Performance SEMA Camaro had any pace for me out on track.
The Evora 400 had more than enough juice to slide by everybody else, including C7 Vettes, F30 and E92 M3s, and even an Exocet — they all had to practice their own point-by signals when the Evora came up behind them. The straight line acceleration is no joke, and the Evora showed its ability to make up time on my Track Night teammates between the turns.
In the turns, I had much less confidence. The car showed a tendency to oversteer in the carousel and in the sharp hairpins of turns 1 and 6, and I had no desire to end up backwards in the wall in 14, 15, and 16 — 16, in particular, is notorious for helping drivers find the wall with the back of their cars.
But even with taking the final three turns incredibly conservatively, I was still able to turn consistent 1:36 laps, which was just about what I was able to coax out of the Honda Civic Type R last summer, and only a couple of seconds slower than the NSX I had there the year before. If I were driving my own Evora on a set of tires that I trusted a little bit more, quicker times would be more than possible.
After each session, the Lotus was surrounded by fans. “Nice car” became such a common refrain that I quickly tired of explaining that it wasn’t mine and just said “Thanks” in response.
The next most frequently spoken words were, “How is it?” Well, it’s not supercar fast. It’s fast enough, though. While the Evora 410 Sport is probably the car you’d want if being a trackday bro was your goal in life, the Evora 400 is a fine compromise for a car that you’ll drive every day. And because the brakes and tires showed little to no wear after three 20-minute track sessions, the Evora 400 owner will feel completely safe being able to drive his car to and from the track day.
Ah, yes, that reminds me. I still had a 300 mile drive home, and it was past 8:00 pm. Time to get a move on.
With the sun making its way beyond the horizon, and with no option to stop for a motel overnight along the way (my daughter was performing the very next morning in a school play at 9:00 a.m.), I realized my best option was to grab a couple of Rockstar fruit punches from the local gas station and make my run for home.
Just as I expected, there was no sponginess or fade in the brakes after the sessions. In fact, if I had parachuted into the car for the drive home, I never would have guessed it had just completed an hour of fairly hard track driving. Apple CarPlay and my maps application conspired to give me a rather indirect route home, with nary a mile of freeway driving until well after I had entered the Volunteer State.
The Evora was up for it — even with a Rockstar balanced precariously between my legs. As I came up on a Ram quad cab pickup doing about 30 mph with a dog in the bed and seemingly an entire county of drunks in the cab on a two-lane road, I looked for an opportunity to pass. Immediately after I did, the Ram came to life, kicking its Hemi into gear and attempting to chase me down. Thoughts of banjos and canoes entered my mind, and I quickly conducted an Evora vs. Ram performance test on the back roads of Tennessee in the near pitch black darkness.
After quickly losing them in the side mirrors (because I couldn’t see a damn thing out of the rearview), I realized that I needed to stop for gas. The track session had caused the Evora’s total MPG for the trip to dip slightly below 20 MPG, a figure that was still outstanding, all things considered. The quick consumption of the two Rockstars meant that trip to the restroom was necessary as the Lotus gobbled up a tank of premium at the dimly lit gas station.
Upon returning to the car, I found the Ram waiting for me. Fuck. There I was, ready to face the worst of the South, fearing that I’d be on the wrong end of a shotgun.
“Hey, buddy,” the driver called out. “Is that a Ferrari?”
“No, man, it’s a Lotus!”
He nodded approvingly. “Man, was that you that blew by us a few miles back? We was trying to catch up to you so we could see the car! It’s beautiful, dude!” And like that, they were gone, the sounds of Florida Georgia Line trailing behind them as they disappeared into the darkness.
I, too, had to complete my journey into the dark, and there were police everywhere along the way.
Luckily, I had driven through the South before, and I knew that small town cops liked nothing better than to snag big fish coming through 35 mph zones. I carefully observed the speed limit icon on CarPlay and adhered to it religiously.
At almost 3:00 am, I rolled back into my driveway, the trip odometer reading 699.9 miles. I was tired, but happy to have been able to prove my original hypothesis from many moons prior. The Lotus Evora 400 is the best dual-purpose car I’ve ever driven. Given the reality of my life, there’s not another car in its class that would fit me better — it truly is a 911 killer. It’s more comfortable to drive every day, and it’s better on track, too. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.
[Images: Mark “Bark M.” Baruth/TTAC]