Monday 16 January 2017 7:04 pm

Lotus Evora Sport 410 review: Short, sharp bursts of pleasure that the Porsche can't come close to

W hen former PSA Peugeot Citroen boss Jean-Marc Gales took over as CEO of Lotus in 2013, things were looking a little desperate. His predecessor, Dany Bahar, had made a hasty departure amidst court cases, the company was losing money hand-over-fist, and it simply hadn’t got the cash to replace its ageing model line-up.

Since then, it’s been a tough few years for Lotus. Gales has implemented a cost-cutting regime, making redundancies at the firm’s Hethel headquarters in Norfolk and scrapping plans to launch five brand new models announced under Bahar’s watch.

It has worked, however, with Gales gleefully telling City A.M. that his company is now in profit, meaning future models are now very much on the agenda – including a new SUV and, finally, a replacement for the Elise sports car.

If Lotus’s change in fortunes could be attributed to one particular model, it would be the Evora. Launched in 2008 as a more usable alternative to the hardcore Elise, sales got off to a slow start. But a facelift in 2010, followed by a number of hotter and more track-focused models, have helped the Evora grow in popularity – particularly in crucial markets such as the US.

At last year’s Geneva Motor Show, Lotus revealed the Evora Sport 410. As well as a 10hp power boost, the Evora 410 is 70kg lighter than the Evora 400, which itself shaved 42kg off the standard Evora. There’s also reduced ride height, increased downforce and super-sticky tyres.

How does this translate on the track? Well, I’ll let you in on a trade secret about press launches… Many manufacturers are a little edgy about letting journalists out on-track in their new sports cars. They’ll let us do it, but usually in specially-prepared cars, with strict instructions not to turn off driving aids and sometimes even with a pace car to keep things sensible.

Whether that’s because they suspect they’ll get trashed, or they’re concerned we’ll discover faults at the limit, I don’t know. But it says a lot about the confidence Lotus has in its latest model that I was allowed a good 45 minutes, on my own, around the company’s demanding Hethel test track with no one clearing their throat if my finger slips and I select ‘Race’ mode.

And when I do, the car flatters. While the stability mode and ABS don’t switch off entirely, they allow proper sliding around, even on a dry track, without being intimidating. Its handling is brilliantly neutral, and the wonderful hydraulic steering is a joy in an age of electric power assistance. The engine, an old-school 3.5-litre supercharged V6, sounds incredible.

Of course, even a stripped-out special such as this needs to perform on the road – and the Evora 410 does. I slip the gearbox into automatic for road duties, expecting it to be disappointing.

And it is, to an extent – it’s a torque-converter and stands no chance against Porsche’s ultra-quick PDK twin-clutch auto.

When I got back to the factory, Jean-Marc was waiting to find out how I got on. “How was it?” he asked, with the knowing smile of a man who already knows his car is a masterpiece.

It’s not terrible, though. Sport mode works best for B-roads most of the time, allowing the car to get into a rhythm of negotiating bends speedily but safely, and blatting past the odd dawdler. It somehow feels more authentic than tooling around in a Porsche.

When I got back to the factory, Jean-Marc was waiting to find out how I got on. “How was it?” he asked, with the knowing smile of a man who already knows his car is a masterpiece.

Would I spend £82,000 on one? That goes a long way in the world of Porsche – a rival Gales isn’t shy about naming it our discussions. The interior of a 911 is, of course, so much plusher than that of a Lotus.

But the Lotus feels special – if you can justify one as a weekend toy, it’ll give you short, sharp bursts of pleasure that the Porsche just can’t come close to.