Lotus Evora 400 long-term test review: the benefits of a supple chassis

Lotus Evora 400

Lotus Evora 400

The Lotus Evora 400 has proven it’s worth in our first long-term test; now we consider if its simplicity is a winning trait

A couple of colleagues have spent as much time in the Lotus Evora 400 as I have recently, so the temptation to take the long way home every time I get back into it has yet to expire.

That might be why the fuel economy is hovering in the low 20s, because I suspect other people who borrow it find the same. Both colleagues came back praising the way it steers and its agility, but they were also impressed with how well it rides.

That suppleness never changes regardless of what you do with the driving mode buttons, up on the top of the dashboard. The Evora has hydraulic steering and passive dampers, in a ‘we set it up so you don’t have to’ kind of way. So what you’ll notice if you give a prolonged push of the Sport button is a rise in the exhaust note and, likely as not, a downshift as the powertrain puts itself into a livelier mode.

The ‘zorst can be put into angry mode even in the standard driving setting, in which case its button is backlit in red. Stick it in Sport (or Race), though, and it’s loud when the red light is off. Oddly. But you can have it loud, or not, in either mode, and when it’s on, it sounds great, genuinely rorty. Off, the overbearing noise is from the supercharger, and far more subdued.

It gives quite a nice difference in character for more humdrum drives, which the Lotus good at, too. I like the car’s narrowness, both on back roads and in car parks, and appreciate the fitment of a reversing camera, because rearward visibility over the engine is poor. And although the door mirrors are good, the driver’s one doesn’t adjust far enough to the right, an issue I’ll see if a dealer can address when I get the squeaky driver’s seat looked at.

I’ve been thinking about the Evora’s options list. The Porsche Boxster wants quite a lot lavished on it to help it feel like the real thing, but none of the extras fitted to the Evora feels like an ‘essential’. I’m sure Porsche likes it if buyers feel compelled to add £15k to a list price, but if I were looking for an Evora, I’d feel glad that I didn’t have to.

Lotus Evora 400

Price £72,000 Price as tested £80,600 Economy 23.7mpg Faults Squeaky seat (will visit dealer) Expenses None Last seen 15.6.16

Read our previous report:

First report 

VIDEO: Ford boss Barb Samardzich says “business needs gender equality”

Barb Samardzich

Barb Samardzich

Ford’s European COO highlights the advantages of having influential women in the industry and calls for a change in stereotypes

Ford‘s chief operating officer in Europe, Barb Samardzich, has called on the industry to embrace the opportunity to attract more women into the sector.

In her keynote speech at last week’s Autocar Great British Women in the Car Industry awards event (shown in our video above), Samardzich said: “Today is about celebrating the talent of today and how we can use that talent, all of you, to change our industry, to deliver a more equal and consequently more profitable future.”

Speaking more broadly about women’s role in business, Samardzich cited the Harvard Business Review, which says companies with the best record for promoting women into senior positions are up to 69% more profitable. McKinsey says that companies with senior female representation deliver 54% higher earnings, while London Business School research shows that innovation is positively correlated to gender equality.

Addressing the event’s attendees, Samardzich said: “It is up to all of us in this room to showcase the talents we have, to break through the glass ceiling, but not only that, to provide young women with a true picture of the scale, opportunity and frankly the sheer glamour of what we do.”

She also raised the specific issue with the engineering sector, which is Samardzich’s career background: “Within this mix, sits the most stubborn challenge for women: the chronic shortage of women in engineering.”

She talked about the image of an engineer in the car industry as ”a man holding a greasy wrench or spanner”. Samardzich added that “somewhere along the line in the UK, the value, the kudos, the skill of being an engineer has gotten lost,” before encouraging the industry to change this culture, which, in turn, would encourage young women to consider engineering as a career choice.

Closing her speech, Samardzich said: “This is about attracting and releasing the incredible talent around us. Women across the globe, who if they chose to join our sector, have the skills, ambition and ability to transform the industry that creates and manufactures the car, the greatest consumer product ever made.”

Read the full list of the top 100 British women in the global car industry revealed

Aerodynamics: why virtual testing is better than a wind tunnel

Virtual aero testing

The Jaguar F-Pace is the latest model to ditch wind tunnels in favour of computer simulations to reduce drag; it saves money

Manufacturers are moving away from wind tunnel testing and opting to use virtual simulation techniques instead in their quest to reduce aerodynamic drag.

By switching to computer simulations, engineers can model a car’s aerodynamics without even building one.

Virtual simulation techniques are not only quicker and less costly than using a wind tunnel but also yield better results.

One company, Exa, produces a software package called Powerflow that has now been adopted by many leading car makers, including Tesla, Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen. The package was used on Jaguar’s most aerodynamic production cars to date, the XE and XF, as well as the F-Pace.

The XE was the first Jaguar whose aerodynamics were modelled entirely in a virtual environment, a feat involving 1200 computer simulations.

Tesla is also using Exa’s software. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has set a low drag coefficient target of 0.21 for the Model 3, due next year. This undercuts rivals such as the MercedesBenz C-Class (0.24), BMW 3 Series (0.27) and XE (0.26).

The ultimate goal of the industry is to cut out the building of physical prototypes altogether and go straight from virtual modelling inside a computer to a final, physical production vehicle.

One of the main advantages is that the software can immediately highlight where the aerodynamic shortfalls are in a design, whereas poor wind tunnel results can leave engineers scratching their heads as to the exact cause.

An Exa spokesman said: “The use of this technology gives a more accurate analysis of performance in real-world conditions and provides actionable feedback on how to improve the design, something not possible with traditional testing methods.”

Exa claims Powerflow’s simulations are accurate to an equivalent of Cd=0.001. By comparison, traditional wind tunnel tests get to within only Cd=0.003.

So the difference between the virtual method and the wind tunnel method is equivalent to a 5% difference in fuel consumption.

Exa also says there can be a 10% difference between wind tunnel and real-world test results. A virtual environment allows manufacturers to develop sophisticated aerodynamic elements more quickly.

Typical examples are air curtains, active shutters to open dragcreating cooling apertures only when necessary, aerodynamic tabs to cut noise and drag and lift-reducing underbody profiles. The battle is now on to get below the tantalising figure of Cd=0.2 for mainstream production cars.

So far, only concepts such as the Mercedes Concept IAA (Cd=0.19) and the low-volume production Volkswagen XL1 (Cd=0.189) have managed to achieve this.

Drag reduction: the early years

Efficient aerodynamics are a major factor in car design, influencing fuel economy, emissions and range.

That’s because aerodynamic drag is a powerful force that increases with the square of the speed, so as the speed doubles, drag quadruples.

The use of ultra-slippery shapes for cars can be traced back to the early 20th century. Designers understood early on that air passing over a blunt shape detaches at the rear, causing low pressure and literally sucking the car backwards.

Lengthening and streamlining reduces that effect; an early example of that is the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. But huge teardrop shapes are impractical in car parks and, in 1936, Wunibald Kamm invented the Kamm tail by snipping off the end of the teardrop.

The ‘Kamm effect’ created prevents the air from detaching, reducing drag. These two features have endured through to modern hatchbacks, and influences of both can be seen in the Mercedes Concept IAA and the Volkswagen XL1.

In the 1980s, the Audi 100 boasted what was, for a production car, a groundbreaking drag coefficient of 0.30 and, today, slippery aerodynamics are top of the agenda for all manufacturers.

2016 Porsche 718 Cayman S review

Porsche 718 Cayman

Four cylinders sound worse than six, but the Porsche 718 Cayman nevertheless remains an unbeatable sports car

It’s the Porsche 718 Cayman which, I assume, you take as read as being still the best sports car in the world. The best sub-supercar sports car, at least. And you’ll know the Porsche 718 Cayman is the best sports car in the world because you remember the 718 Boxster reviews from a few months ago. To recap, then. Bad 718 Boxster points: the new engine has two cylinders fewer and one turbocharger more than it used to have, so it now sounds a bit like a Subaru. Good points: everything else. The 718 Cayman, as you would expect, has now been through the same mill as its sister model, only this time it has emerged as the cheaper of the two. Which, actually, makes an awful lot of sense, given that it doesn’t have the cost and complexity of a folding roof to contend with. Generally, though, changes to the Boxster have now been conducted on the Cayman. The monocoque’s construction is largely the same as it was before ‘718’ was added to the description, but every body panel bar some elements of the roof are changed. So is the suspension which, at the front, is derived from the 911 Turbo’s, including a steering rack that is 10% faster than it previously had. At the rear there are elements of Cayman GT4, particularly when it comes to lateral stiffness. Spring and damper rates and tuning are all new, though, not least because the 718 Cayman has a lower centre of gravity – marginally – than the six-cylinder car, although the addition of the turbo has left it – similarly marginally, at 1430kg versus 1415kg – heavier.That engine, that aural downgrade, if you like, is a 2.5-litre horizontally opposed four instead of a 3.4-litre six, in as-tested S trim. (The standard 718 Cayman has a 2.0-litre donkey instead of a 2.7.) Because it’s boosted, and despite a 0.9-litre decrease in capacity, power is up by 25bhp to 345bhp, but it’s torque that gets the big boost, here lifted from 273lb ft at 4500rpm to a wholesome 310lb ft developed from just 1900rpm all the way to 4500rpm.

New Mazda MX-5 vs used Porsche Boxster: roadsters compared

Mazda MX-5 vs Porsche Boxster

The competition between these two roadsters isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem; will a new MX-5 outshine a second-hand Boxster?

A Porsche Boxster versus a Mazda MX-5? Well, we all know which way this one’s going, don’t we? Or do we? Because the latest MX-5 is quite the thing, as you’ll know. It’s small, light, agile – at its thin-Elvis best.

We’ve ummed and ahhed about which is the perfect spec for the latest-generation MX-5 roadster, but although the purity of the base 1.5-litre model is appealing, the 2.0 is not all that much heavier and Sport Nav trim gives you a limited-slip differential, Bilstein dampers that keep its body movements better controlled than standard and a strut brace to add rigidity. As such, then, it feels more like an old-fashioned sports car, with a pleasing engine note and snappy gearshift and just about enough power to make it throttle adjustable. Equipped like this one, it costs £23,295.

That’s around £4500 less than Chris Pyle, who generously gave up his time and use of his car for the day, paid eight months ago for the white Boxster you see pictured next to it, but that makes it close enough to be a valid comparison. This Boxster is a 2.9-litre 2011 model (a facelift or ‘gen 2’ 987-series car), with 33,600 miles on the clock, which Chris bought to replace an earlier model. So good he bought another one, in short.

That it cost as much as £28,000 is down to two things. First, Chris wanted it to come with a two-year warranty, which added £2000 to the price, but it did mean peace of mind and the car went through a 111-point service before he took custody of it.

Secondly, as with most Boxsters, its original owner didn’t skimp when specifying it in the first place. The vast options list includes – deep breath – a Sport Chrono Pack Plus, leather seats, embossed headrests, a wind deflector, PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission with sports steering wheel and shift paddles, a Comfort Pack, heated seats, park assist, an Infotainment Pack, auto air-con and 18in Cayman wheels. Many of those are £1000-plus options, and although I don’t have Porsche’s 2011 configurator to hand any more, it’s a fairly safe bet that together they’d have added the best part of 10 grand to the £35,000 or so list price of the time. To those options, Chris has since added twin round exhaust pipes, because – and I agree with him – he thinks they look cooler.

At the time, as now, there wasn’t a better sports roadster than the Boxster, and we figured that the 2.9 was as good a bet as the 3.4-litre Boxster S. But, as now, the Porsche was more expensive than a Mazda that, back then, wasn’t as delicious as the one on offer today, if you follow. So the MX-5 could draw blood.

There are two things I want to  know, then: which of the two is the more recommendable car to buy now, and which is the better sports car now? I have a hunch that I know the answer to both things, but it’ll want a back-to-back test to know for sure.

The Mazda, then, has the advantage of being new. That means its rubber bits and joints and bushes are all new, too, and that, I often find, makes a big difference to the way a car drives. New cars feel tight and responsive, in the way they were designed to. That the MX-5 is so new, of course, means we don’t know how well it’ll last and we don’t know what, if anything, will go wrong with it.

But in the past, MX-5s have had good reputations. Buy a new one and you’ll get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty – and if you drive 60,000 miles in three years in one, you’re a better person than I am, because the fact that there are great things about the Mazda being small doesn’t mean there aren’t some downsides, too.

First, you feel rather like you’re sitting on it, not in it. The seats don’t adjust for height and the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, so you end up perched and the wheel can feel too far away.

Otherwise, ergonomics are good. Everything is in the right place, because there aren’t that many things to put in the wrong place. Worried about glovebox ergonomics? It doesn’t have one. Hence it weighs 1075kg, which is remarkable for a new car.I still remember the glee on a Mazda engineer’s face when, before he and his colleagues had released any specs, he asked me to guess how much a basic 1.5-litre car weighed. “About 1100kg?” I asked, thinking I was being optimistic. “Less than 1000!” he said. “Extraordinary,” I thought, then as now. 

The Porsche weighs rather more – 1335kg – because it’s bigger (4.3 metres long versus 3.9m) and because it has an extra 0.9 litres and two cylinders, and an electric roof. And either its seats are set lower or the window sill is higher than the Mazda’s – or both – because it feels cosier yet more spacious at the same time. The driving position is great and there’s decent oddments storage.

Chris’s example still feels good, even at five years old – but then, at 33,600 miles, there’s nothing tired about it. In fact, regular use is best; the car is not a leggy example but has been used enough to avoid some low-mileage Boxster problems such as corroding brake discs and a battery that doesn’t like to hold charge. By this age, the Boxster’s engine was generally sound, although some earlier cars suffered cylinder bore scoring. Overall, reliability is good. Coil springs can corrode, as can damaged wheels, and uneven tyre wear suggests things have been knocked out of alignment.

When things do go wrong, they can be expensive, mind, so it’s worth ensuring there’s a full history and you call on an expert to inspect it, should you need one. Many owners find that Porsche Club Great Britain, which has a Boxster Register (and helped to put us in touch with Chris) is invaluable.

When new, the Boxster’s flat six engine produced 252bhp at 7200rpm, and it still feels like it makes that today. The car rides well and corners flatly, with great composure. It also steers accurately and with terrific feel. The gearshift doesn’t have the rapid response of the latest PDK system, but it’s plenty good enough.

It feels, in fact, an altogether more serious proposition than the MX-5, whose roll movements fall more quickly, slightly unsettlingly, while the steering is more remote. With 158bhp, it’s slower than the Porsche, and because it has four cylinders, it doesn’t sound as good, either.

But as a road car, it’s still terrifically good fun; it’s compact, there’s a snappy gearshift and it responds with great agility. There’s also the appeal of running a new car whose problems, should it have any, you won’t have to give a thought to for three years.

Still, given the choice, I’d stick with the Boxster. How about you, Chris? Keeper of this Boxster, yes, but presented with an MX-5 in cold steel in front of you, could you imagine opting for the new Mazda over the old Porsche?

A pause. Not very long. “No,” he said. That’s that, and I am in agreement. 

2016 Paris motor show preview

Alfa Romeo Stelvio rendering Autocar

We cover the key cars headed to France’s biggest motor show this September and October

The 2016 Paris motor show looks set to be one of this year’s most significant car events, as some of the industry’s biggest and most influential manufacturers reveal all-new models and forward-thinking concepts for the first time.

Below, we run through some of the key cars to look forward to. We’ll be updating this preview in the coming days and weeks, so be sure to check back to keep up with the latest.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Alfa’s Porsche Macan rival will come with the same twin-turbo 2.9-litre petrol V6 that sits under the bonnet of the Giulia Quadrifoglio. In the Giulia it’s good for 503bhp, but it might shed a few horses in the Stelvio. Still, that’s a lot of power for an SUV. We’ll meet it in Paris.

Citroën C3 Picasso

Citroën’s second-generation C3 Picasso looks set to follow the design trend set by its bigger siblings, the C4 Picasso and C4 Cactus, when it arrives in Paris. The car will sport a raised bonnet and more rounded edges, and it could even gain a set of Airbumps, as seen on the Cactus.

Skoda Kodiaq

We’ve already driven the prototype and have a very good idea of what the car will look like undisguised in Paris. Skoda’s new seven-seat SUV could easily become one of the car maker’s best selling models. It will come with a choice of five engines and optional four-wheel-drive.

Mercedes all-electric SUV concept

Mercedes will reveal a GLC-based all-electric SUV, which will be labelled as a concept but is said to give a clear indication as to what the car maker’s first purpose built EV will be like. The model will come as the first of four EVs due before 2020.

Hyundai i30

The third-generation Hyundai i30 hatchback will be launched in Paris before it goes on sale in 2017. The model will ditch a three-door variant, but will retain options for a five-door hatch, estate, and four-door coupé.

Ferrari LaFerrari Aperta

Although not officially confirmed for Paris, Ferrari’s LaFerrari Aperta – an open-top version of the discontinued LaFerrari hypercar – looks set to make its public debut there. The limited-run drop-top will feature the same 950bhp V12-based powertrain as the original car.