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Lotus Flowers

One of England’s flashiest sports cars brings panache to a back-roads ramble



RURAL ENGLAND IS AN OLD and fastidious spread of charmed and dreamy landscapes, full of misted hills, farmhouses and snug villages. In other words, it’s not exactly where you’d expect to find the nation’s flashiest car manufacturer. Yet there I was at the Lotus factory, set in a lush Norwich woodland, anxiously awaiting delivery of the new Evora IPS. I caught my breath as the curvaceous gunmetal-gray body rolled into view, its engine burbling quietly, looking like it owned the ground beneath its wheels.

Lotus has long been focused on creating sports cars that are big on performance, with comfort and convenience generally taking a backseat to handling and acceleration. But the Lotus Evora is a kinder, more approachable version of its forebears — like the all-out track-tuned Elise and Exige — and it’s as happy on highways as it is in tight corners.

After tapping some details into the navigation system, I gently engaged the throttle and took off with a throaty roar. In short order, the roads of England were unfurling before me, winding through villages and hamlets as I headed west to the mystical mountains of Wales — home to one of the world’s oldest languages and claiming more castles per square mile than any other country on earth.

The Evora IPS (Intelligent Precision Shift) is the first Lotus since 1986 to feature an automatic transmission, which, while controversial among purists, makes a long journey over back roads a little easier. Buttons on the center console provide a choice of driving modes (the sport mode, for instance, transforms the Evora into a full-on attack dog, offering the driver a projectile throttle response), while paddles mounted on either side of the steering wheel allow the car to be switched into manual (reverting back to automatic if you make no changes within 10 seconds).

After crossing the Welsh border, I chased lengthening shadows into the Dee Valley, set amid lustrous green mountains. It took some finding, but the West Arms Hotel, a family-run 16th-century inn in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, was worth the effort. It’s a warm and welcoming place, with just a few hugely comfortable rooms and a wholesome menu featuring, among other delights, Gressingham duck on creamed spinach with locally produced black currant sauce.

Early the next morning, following narrow country lanes through fogged valleys, I pressed on to Dolgellau, a mountain town built on the back of the wool trade and, if local folklore is to be believed, watched over by giants. Landscaped gardens and a riot of roses greeted me at Penmaenuchaf Hall, a privately owned 14-bedroom luxury mansion hotel that stands in seclusion on a steep hill with views of the Mawddach Estuary and the mountains of Snowdonia National Park.

On my return leg, I swung through Cheshire, England, an area of quiet prosperity and trophy homes, to spend a night at Peckforton Castle. Formerly home to Lord Tollemache (and a location for the 1991 TV movie Robin Hood), Peckforton is a 19th-century country house built to mimic a medieval castle — there’s falconry! — that serves award-winning cuisine (try the pork cutlet cooked with Cheshire apples, olive oil, garlic and thyme) in a setting of four-poster luxury.

So, how did the car fare? The Lotus chassis helped deliver F1 handling, the roadrunner acceleration made for great sticking power around the bends, and the tautly precise IPS provided feedback on road conditions via the highly tactile steering and Pirelli P-Zero tires. At the same time, for all its beauty, the Evora is meatier than its predecessors: The width, height and length have increased, and the generous door opening and narrower side sill facilitate exiting the cockpit elegantly. Combined with a long wheelbase, this clever packaging allows for two very small rear seats to be dropped in, making a unique British sports car suitable for grand touring.

It may be less coveted than a Ferrari, less insane than a Lamborghini and less techno than a Porsche, but the Lotus Evora sits at the cutting edge of everything that makes cars exciting.

CINDY-LOU DALE, a writer based in southeast England, would like to apologize to all the sheep she startled with the Evora.

The bells and whistles

Starting Price: $67,450

Engine: Mid-mounted, transverse 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 VVT-I, delivering 276 hp and a top speed of 155 mph

Fuel Efficiency: 17 mpg in the city, 27 on the highway

Perks: Traction and stability control, alloy wheels, heated exterior mirrors, air conditioning, leather seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, tire-pressure monitoring system, trip computer and a slick Alpine audio system with CD/ MP3 player with iPod integration and Bluetooth connectivity

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