Only 40-odd lucky Australian buyers will get the chance to slide into Lotus's most ambitious new model in years, the Evora 2+2.  Globally it will be the company's most desirable car, with just 2000 being built this year.

Some cars already have names to them and Lotus Cars Australia general manager sales and marketing, Jonathan Stretton, says anyone ordering now will have a six-month wait.

Explore the 2010 Lotus Evora Range

The newest Lotus, which flew by the codename of Project Eagle during its development, is the company's break-through car.  Its brief is to go head-to-head against some fancied German rivals, particularly the benchmark Porsche Cayman.

Price and market

Stretton wants the Evora to attract new customers to the brand.  "We're hoping to lure buyers across from other premium brands," he says.  The car's small production number is a key component important for the car's image, he says.  "It is a low-volume car so it is something that will stand out from the crowd," he says.  The cost of that exclusivity is $149,990 for the two-seater and $156,990 for the 2+2.

Engine and gearbox

Although the Evora is more than sum of its parts, some the pieces that go into the mid-engine sportscar are not so exclusive.  The engine is a Japanese 3.5-litre V6 that will be familiar to Toyota Aurion drivers.

However, Lotus has tweaked the V6 so it now pumps out 206kW/350Nm with the help of a remapped engine management system, freer flowing exhaust and Lotus designed racing flywheel and AP Racing clutch.  Unlike the Aurion, the car gets a six-speed manual gearbox from a UK-model Toyota Avensis diesel.  A six-speed sequential automatic with paddle shifters is not due to arrive until later this year.

Equipment and fit-out

Sourcing a well respected drivetrain has its advantages.  The car's light weight and composite bonded body panels helps deliver a combined fuel economy figure of 8.7 litres/100km from the V6.  Even the flat bottom steering wheel is made from forged magnesium to reduce weight and the interia of the wheel.

As expected of a sportscar the suspension uses light-weight forged double wishbone suspension, Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers tuned by Lotus.  Engineers have also stuck with a hydraulically assisted power steering setup in favour of an electric system.

Stretton says the Evora will also allow existing Lotus owners to upgrade into a bigger, more refined car.  "It will also help broaden the audience," he says.  Initial cars will come fully loaded in "launch edition" specification which includes tech pack, sports pack, bi-xenon headlights, premium audio system, reversing camera and electric mirrors.

The tech pack is normally $8200 and the sports pack $3095.  Despite its compact dimensions - it's 559mm longer than an Elise - the mid-engine 3.5-litre V6 is a true 2+2, with rear seats large enough to accommodate smaller folk in the back and soft luggage in a 160 litre boot.  "It also has a proper boot and is more accommodating that some of its competitors," Stretton says.

Appearance

Visually the Evora takes some design cues from the Elise but at the front has a more modern take on the Lotus grille and headights.  Lotus executive engineer, Matthew Becker, admits there are elements of the famous Lancia Stratos rally cars in the Evora's design.

"One of the key elements was not to make the car too big," he says.  To ensure it has enough room for four, the Evora is 559mm longer, slightly wider and higher and sits on a 275mm longer wheelbase than the Elise.  The chassis uses the same structure as the Elise, which is extruded aluminium but is longer, wider stiffer and safer.

"The Elise chassis was designed 15 years ago," Becker says.  "So we've taken the good bits of that chassis and developed it."  The car is the first example to use Lotus's low volume versatile vehicle architecture and is expected to support more models in coming years.

It uses removable front and rear subframes so they can be replace and repaired easily after an accident.  Three other new Lotus models, including the 2011 Esprit, are expected to use a similar platform over the next five years.

Driving

Lotus has always held aspirations beyond just being a small niche sportscar carmaker. And while we love driving the Elise and Exige they will never crossover into the mainstream.  They are pure sportscars for hard-core enthusiasts. Weekend warriors.

The Evora is a very different proposition.  It has been designed with comfort in mind without sacrificing the Lotus pedigree for performance and handling.  Every aspect that marks the Elise and Exige down for occupants has been addressed in the Evora.  The sills are lower and slimmer and the doors are taller and open wider, making entry and exits less of a contortionist's nightmare.

It looks like a serious sportscar but Lotus recognises that to compete against the likes of a Porsche Boxster, it has to be more user friendly.  They have succeeded.  Slipping into the Evora is like putting on a well-tailored Armani suit. It fits very well yet in a snug, reassuring way.

Once seated in the hip-hugging sports seats there is still plenty of leg and headroom without any sense of claustrophobia.  That's the first hurdle overcome.  The second hurdle is the hugely variable quality of past Lotuses and their "kit-car" reputation.  The Evora goes a long way to dispel such preconceptions.

Design-wise it feels different to a thoroughly efficient and Germanic Boxster. Probably our only gripe about the interior is that some of the minor switchgear still feels as if it's come for a Toyota parts-bin.  But the quality is the best we've seen from the British carmaker for ages, from the headlining to the well-crafted leather seats.

All is forgiven though when you turn the key and hit the road.  The steering is sharp, there is a good balance between ride and handling and the mid-engine V6 has a sweet note.  Like some of its rivals, the Evora gets a "sports" setting, which heightens driver involvement by limiting some of the in-built safety nannies.

Lotus has wisely stuck with a hydraulic steering rack, rather than an electric system, for better feel and feedback.  Like the Elise, the Evora benefits from lightweight high-tech manufacturing technology, which is the key to the car's sparkling performance.

At 1380kg the low-slung sportscar is on a par with average Japanese hatch, yet the worked over Toyota-sourced 3.5-litre six provides plenty of grunt.  The six is efficient and smooth, delivering seamless power and plenty of low-down urge that builds quickly once the revs go beyond 4000 revs.

On full song, the engine has a wonderful note yet at highway speeds it is composed and quiet.  For some enthusiasts, the V6 might not have a big enough soundtrack to identify it as a car that hits 100km/h in 5.1 seconds or reach 261km/h but the crispness and urgency of the six's delivery is still impressive.

Equally impressive are the massive brakes - 350mm front and 330mm rear - and grip from the Pirelli P-Zero tyres.  The V6 is mated to a Lotus-tweaked Toyota-sourced six-speed manual gearbox.  At first the gearshift feels a little notchy between first and second but familiarity helps smooths the changes.

Once mastered, you can confidently push the Evora well beyond normal handling threshholds.  We didn't get anywhere near the car's very high dynamic limits.  Yet even without sports mode activated, it remains utterly entertaining.

There is no doubt the Evora feels like a more grown up Elise.  It might just have enough cache to lure some performance buyers across from the more established German brands.  It is an every day Lotus you can finally live with.