Lotus Evora S

It's almost £60,000, but this car's worth a sacrifice

Here's a new and very promising Lotus. But it's not one of the six all-new Lotuses unveiled, in varying stages of readiness, at the recent Paris show.

Those are the cars that represent Lotus's return, if not quite to Year Zero, then to Year One. They are to be the British near-Ferraris, crisp-edged and aluminium-bodied, upscaled in size, weight, cost, quality and market position, and the first one (a new Esprit) is but two years away.

The motoring world is shocked. Lotus has made the advanced, compact, lightweight and sublime-to-drive sports car its own. The very idea defines the brand, and there has never been a better time for such cars than the carbon-aware present. Clearly Lotus's impressive roll-call of new, well-connected management sees the new way as the key to profits, a concept unfamiliar to Lotus to date, but enthusiasts of Lotus's unique brand DNA are worried. The planned replacement Elise will weigh significantly more than a ton, and that surely can't be right.

Meanwhile, in the real universe – rather than the parallel one we saw at Paris – Lotus still has the V6-engined Evora, as launched last year to ecstatic reviews for its steering, handling and ride – but to a lukewarm response if for the gearchange, the cabin design, and quality of finish.

Then there was the question of the Evora's power, and the way it is delivered. It makes 280bhp from its 3.5-litre, Toyota-based engine, enough to make it very rapid, but the drama is missing. There's not enough "bite" from low speeds and the exhaust note is anodyne. That's bad news when the obvious Porsche rivals sound fabulous and pull with gusto.

Meet, then, the new Evora S. The S denotes the supercharger, whose extra compression of the intake air brings the power up to 350bhp and the torque from 256lb/ft to 295lb/ft. It's hard to think how the suspension and steering could have been improved but Lotus's engineers have stiffened some of the rubber pivots against cornering forces, made the dampers more resistant to movement, thickened the rear anti-roll bar and increased the steering's castor angle.

The idea is to make the steering feel more positive around the straight-ahead, for its efforts to increase more progressively with cornering force, to make the Lotus point yet more keenly into a bend, and to do all this without becoming any harsher over bumps. This sort of simultaneous cake possession and consumption has long been a Lotus speciality. The gear lever's connection to the gearbox is improved with lower-friction cables and reduced slack in the pivots, too.

All this costs an extra £10,000 or so over a regular Evora, even before you start adding option packs or the Evora-bespoke Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres fitted to the test car. But if it makes the Evora realise the potential we knew it had, then maybe it's worth the extra cash.

So, should you extend the mortgage, cash in the ISAs, sell the heirlooms? You should. Bar a few minor details, the Evora S, starting at £58,995, is driving nirvana. The new engine gains a freer-flowing exhaust system, with a bypass valve opening at high revs to improve power and aural stimulation, and the car I am driving on some serpentine Spanish roads has the optional sports exhaust for yet better sonic satisfaction. This Evora sounds crisp, keen, ready to sing as the pace rises, its tune bearing both Porsche and Ferrari-flavoured notes and a muted crackle as you shift gears.

In this Evora, there's powerful thrust available from low speeds right up to the 7,200rpm limit, so it will surge out of bends with no need to overwork the engine. It is not an explosive surge, just an insistent one, which makes the Lotus wonderfully easy to drive smoothly, tidily and quickly: 0-62mph can happen in just 4.8 seconds.

The gearchange is better, with a smoother, easier, more precise action, but if you're brutal with it or you don't properly match the engine speed to that needed for the next downshift, it will still obstruct you. Drive it with the light touch that a Lotus encourages, and it's lovely.

The way the Evora calms bumps while telling you everything about grip and balance is as other-worldly as ever, except that now you feel even more connected to the fabulous steering. Venture on to a racetrack, as I did, and the Evora draws you into a world of thrills as you balance power, grip and steering with breathtaking ease. There's no fear of the unknown with the Evora. It tells you everything. It gives you time to think and react. It's totally faithful.

So, what are those "minor details" mentioned earlier?

The improved fit and finish inside can't cure the meagre storage space, the cheap-looking, hard-to-read, italicised red digits on the electronic information screen, or the strong smell of resin seeping from the composite bodywork. An enthusiast like me can tolerate them, but the new regime must fix such snags if it is to broaden Lotus's appeal. Meanwhile, this final old-school Lotus has just given its era a sensational send-off.

The Rivals

Nissan GT-R: from £59,945

A different way of achieving ultimate handling, with ultra-sophisticated four-wheel drive electronics and a 480bhp turbo V6. Very quick, utterly mad, bargain of its type.

Porsche Cayman S: from £45,719

Cheaper of the Porsches bracketing the Evora S, the Cayman S shares the mid-engined layout, offers 320bhp from its flat-six, sneaks under the gas-guzzler CO2 limit.

Porsche 911 Carrera: from £64,526

Faster than the Cayman, but more demanding to drive, with tail-heavy rear engine. Cheapest 911 has 345bhp, also avoids top CO2 tax band, and is still a thrill to drive