Honda announced recently that itís to stop making the drophead, two-seater S2000. And since this has always been my favourite small sports car, I thought Iíd borrow one and go for one last, tearful drive.http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/driving/jeremy_clarkson/article6205379.ece
God, it was horrible. There wasnít enough room for even small parts of me to get comfortable. The digital instruments looked like they had come straight from a Nik Kershaw video. The plastics would have looked shoddy on an Ethiopianís wheelie bin. It was as sparsely equipped as an Amish barn. And the noise. It was hip-hop horrendous. Conversation was impossible. Thought was impossible. It was the kind of relentless drone that, after a while, can drive a man mad.
So how come I used to love this car so much? Itís not like Iím talking here about meeting up with an old girlfriend. The Honda has not become fat and frumpy. It isnít pushing a pram or wearing tweed instead of miniskirts. Itís not now married to a golfer called Colin. Itís exactly the same now as it was in 2005. And 2005 is not that long ago.
Except of course, in automotive terms, 2005 is somewhere between the big bang and the Norman conquests. And what was acceptable then ó heavy steering, no sat nav, religious persecution and dinosaurs ó is not acceptable any more.
Cars are not getting faster or more economical. But in terms of refinement and comfort, they are a country mile better than the cars you could buy as recently as a week ago last Tuesday. (Unless you have a Peugeot.)
This is great for us but itís a big problem for Britainís small car makers. Because in the olden days (1994), when all cars exploded every few minutes, you could have a Lotus or a TVR or a Morgan and it wasnít that much different.
Today, though, as the big car companies churn out cars that have no transmission whine and never break down ó Peugeot excepted ó the offerings from a small car company look as out of date as a ruff. This is because small car companies have no robots. There isnít the money for relentless testing of every component in every corner of the world. The car must be designed on an Amstrad and put together by a man in a brown store-coat. And saying a car is hand-built is just another way of saying the glove box lid wonít shut properly.
Take the Lotus Elise. It squeaks. It rattles. It drones. It vibrates. Itís hard to get into and impossible to get out of. Itís badly equipped and hard to operate. All of this might have been acceptable 13 years ago when the Elise first came out and it might be acceptable today if it were the last word in zip and vigour.
But it isnít. Compared with even a Golf, it feels old and slow and understeery. Itís a 20th-century car in a 21st-century world where last Friday is already last year. And the last new car Lotus made, the Europa, was even worse.
Thatís why I wasnít looking forward to driving the new Evora. I knew it would smell of glue, give me cramp and fall to pieces, because Lotus, up there in the turnips, simply doesnít have the sort of bang on, bang up to date production line that makes modern mass-produced cars such engineering marvels (except Peugeots, obviously).
I was in for a bit of a shock. No. I was in for a lot of a shock. I was in for so much of a shock, in fact, I had to have a little lie down.
First of all, the bad news. Because it was designed on an Amstrad in someoneís mumís bedroom, there are mistakes. All you can see in the windscreen is a reflection of the dashboard and all you can see on the ancillary dials is a reflection of whatever weather happens to be prevailing at the time.
Whatís more, the buttons are all carefully placed to ensure you can neither see nor find them. And even if you do, they have plainly been labelled by someone who was mad, or four.
Then you have the Alpine sat nav cum multimedia interface wotsit in the dash. Why didnít Lotus develop its own box of tricks instead of fitting one thatís designed for youths in CitroŽn Saxos? Simple. It didnít have the resources.
And so, you get a system that speaks. And what it says is: ďYou are breaking the speed limitĒ, every time you go near the throttle. This is very annoying, but happily there is a solution. Because it speaks only once, at the moment you stray over the limit, you should accelerate as quickly as possible to beyond the speed limit and then stay there all day.
The other solution is to turn it off. Which is impossible. Because Iím 49. And a man. So I wonít look things up in instruction books. Or listen to my wife, who said she knew how. Because I know best.
As you can see, then, the Evora features many things to cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth. So the car would have to be very good or very cheap to make those problems worth tolerating. And hereís the thing. Itís both. The 3.5-litre Toyota V6 is not the most powerful engine in the world but itís smooth ó and refined ó and the power it produces is delightfully seamless. Thereís no sudden savagery. No ďOh my God, Iím going to crash nowĒ. Itís brilliant.
Soís the packaging. Normally, a mid-engined four-seater car looks all wrong. The Ferrari Mondial springs to mind here. But the Evora is bang on. It really is a genuine surprise when youíve studied the nicely proportioned exterior to find there are two seats in the back. And a dribble of legroom, too, provided the driver isnít too tall.
And speaking of tall, the front is a revelation. I could get in easily. I could get out without crawling. Inside, I didnít even need to have the seat fully back. Anyone up to 6ft 7in is going to fit in an Evora and that alone makes it special.
Especially when I tell you the boot, which is at the back, where it should be, is big enough for two sets of golf clubs.
So, the driving. Sadly, I didnít have much chance to really push it ó the weather was horrendous and time was tight ó but I put in enough miles to know this car has great steering and handles well. Of course it does. Itís a Lotus. And because itís a Lotus, itíll crash and jar and lurch from pothole to speed bump.
Wrong. It simply glided over absolutely everything a torrential rainstorm and Britainís B roads could throw at it. There is no other mid-engined supercar that has ever been so compliant. Or refined. Or quiet. Itís amazing. It doesnít feel like it was made in a shed in Norfolk. It feels like it was made yesterday, by a machine.
The Evora, then, is not a car you buy because itís a Lotus and you have always fancied one. Itís a car you buy because you want a comfortable, practical, mid-engined supercar and no one else makes such a thing. Not Ferrari. Not Lamborghini. Not anyone.
As I wafted from corner to corner, gradually forgetting about the smell of the glue they used to hold the chassis together, and the reflections, and the silly sat nav, I started guessing how much this car might cost. I reckoned on somewhere around £60,000. I was wrong. Itís less than 50.
And thatís what makes this the most modern car of them all. Itís the first to come to the market with a deflationary price tag.
Lotus Evora 2+2
Engine 3456cc, six cylinders
Power 276bhp @ 6400rpm
Torque 252 lb ft @ 4700rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Fuel 32.5mpg (combined cycle)
Acceleration 0-60mph: 4.9sec
Top speed 162mph
Road tax band K (£215 a year)
On sale Now
A revelation - no really