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First Drive: 2012 Lotus Evora IPS Automatic


Call it what you will: blasphemy, a sign of the times, a Smart business move. For Lotus, it's simply reality. In markets like North America and Asia, the brand is turning away a large number of customers who say they'd be happy to buy an Evora, if only it had an automatic transmission. That's about to change.

Arriving in late 2011 as a 2012 model, the self-shifting Lotus Evora IPS will be the first Lotus since the wholly forgettable LOTUS EXCEL SA of the late '80s to offer an automatic transmission, and the first American-spec Lotus to offer an auto since the LOTUS ECLAT in the late '70s. It's the first step of a plan to rebuild the Lotus brand and increase its appeal to a broader range of consumers.

 The transmission is right at home behind the Evora's Toyota-built 3.5-liter V-6 because it's essentially the same engine/six-speed transmission combo Toyota uses in the Camry. Like the engine, the tranny arrives at Lotus' workshop devoid of any electronic bits. From there, Chapman's minions set about replacing its entire shifting system. Now controlled by a Lotus-design actuation system and computer, the pedestrian Camry transmission takes on a whole new persona.

The end result is a unique experience. The torque converter locks above 20 mph and stays that way, so you don't get the smooth yet squishy automatic feel. It's more akin to single-clutch automated manuals, with a distinct kick during hard shifts. It's not as smooth or quick as the best dual-clutch automatics, nor is it as slow or clunky as an automated manual. It exists in some previously nonexistent middle ground that actually suits the car rather nicely.

Going in, we never expected the LOTUS EVORA IPS (which stands for Intelligent Precision Shift, naturally) to feel like a dual-clutch Ferrari. Lotus cars have a well-worn rep for being raw and uncompromising, and the Evora, while less of a dedicated track car than the Elise, is no Mercedes SLK or Bmw Z4. For that reason we can forgive some of the LOTUS EVORA IPS' clunkiness. It comes across as a necessary evil of performance rather than a flaw in engineering.

 That's not to say that the average well-off buyer is going to find the car rough and unrefined. Left to its own devices, the LOTUS EVORA IPS will sift through its ratios only slightly less smoothly than any other torque converter automatic, and will do its best to keep the fuel economy up. Like the manual transmission Evora, though, we find it's best to hit the "Sport" button, which has been relocated from the dash to the new push-button gear selector on the center tunnel, as soon as you fire the engine up. Sport mode noticeably increases throttle sensitivity, quickens shifts, holds gears longer, and downshifts more quickly and aggressively under braking.

 In default mode, the LOTUS EVORA IPS is a fairly docile tourer. Shifts are quick but smooth as the transmission heads for the high gears and an unofficial 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. Acceleration is a bit underwhelming unless you really put your foot in it, but it'll scoot when you do. Grabbing the paddles will get you a downshift on command quicker than burying the throttle, though the transmission will automatically revert to full auto if you leave the paddles alone for 10 seconds.

Hit that Sport button, though, and everything wakes up. The throttle is suddenly much more responsive and the shifts are quicker and sharper. The transmission programming isn't as near-telepathic as Porsche's PDK gearbox, but it's not too far off and you can't help but smile as it bangs off a few rev-matched downshifts as you brake for the next corner. Pull a paddle and you're in full manual mode with no automatic upshifts at redline and no reverting to auto mode. If you're not having any fun with the LOTUS EVORA IPS, you're not trying.

(Source)


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