It doesn’t matter how many pictures you’ve seen of the GT430, whatever opinions you may have about it, nothing can prepare you for the first time you see one in front of you. It’s a proper coffee-spitting moment. You will forget your name, where you live, what day it is, even that list price. And that’s from a distance. You’ll need to get closer to really drink in the details. The new front and rear bumpers look like the work of an F1 aerodynamicist on his day off. The sculpted, fluted, carbon panels are made by Prodrive, who also supply carbon finery to McLaren among others and they used the high-grade stuff here. The herringbone weave is precisely aligned into a perfect ‘V’, all the way from front splitter to rear diffuser by someone in need of counselling. Only the large rear wing misses out on this orgy of OCD detailing, the flawless weave is merely arranged diagonally here. It’s another work of art in its own right, worthy of being hung on the wall of anyone’s man cave. I’m not sure if it would look better if it was aligned with the other panels or whether that might actually be a bit much. Regardless, from afar or up close, the GT430 is a staggering thing to behold. The re-profiled nose evokes the broad snout of a hungry bull shark. Almost military in its aggressiveness, there’s a touch of Gerry Anderson about it too. It’s a fantastical creation, pushing all the right buttons in the petrolhead brain, exciting neural pathways that lead directly to your awe, wonder and profanity regions.

I’m not sure anything could be quite as fast as the GT430 looks so I need to keep my expectations in check. ‘430’ may be the biggest number to be stuck on a Lotus to date but, in bang-for-buck terms, it’s no Ford Mustang. On the subject of large numbers, there’s just no avoiding that sticker price. I think we were all bracing ourselves for the first Lotus to top £100k and this one blasted straight past that and kept on going! Let’s…er.. try and focus on the positives. Obligatory extras are confined to air conditioning, though I’m sure everyone will spec sound deadening too. While I’d prefer that these were no cost options to delete, you are at least spared the shock of an ‘as tested’ price that bears no resemblance to the basic one. A realistic OTR price is another £5k on top. See how far that gets you on the usual configurators. There’s many a Ferrari or McLaren out there with well over £50k of options on it. If you spec a Sport 410 with Ohlins TTX dampers (£5,000) and the titanium exhaust (£5,500) you’d get close to £100k. From that point of view, the GT430 Sport doesn’t look unreasonable at £104k. From another point of view, the Evora 400 starts to look like a bargain at £74,100, given the number of components and qualities they share. The £38k premium to the be-winged GT430 makes for uncomfortable reading. For some, the proximity to the ‘gen 2’ 991 GT3 is even harder to justify. Instead, consider the Nismo GTR at £151k, or perhaps the Range Rover SV Autobiography at £167,000. For a Range Rover. In cold, objective terms the GT430 has got some convincing to do. Subjectively, I quite admire the audacity of putting an Evora out there for ‘GT3 money’. It’s an automotive thumbing of the nose not seen since Chapman launched the Essex Turbo Esprit in 1980 with a list price higher than the Ferrari 308.

Lotus have been extremely generous to TLF with the GT430, granting us unprecedented access with the press car over two days on both the road and factory test track. I was very fortunate to spend some of that time with one of the project’s key development engineers. As you would hope, he is a Lotus man through and through, eats spring rates for breakfast and probably has his own Type Number by now. Access to this man’s unrivalled knowledge, enthusiasm and experience with the car was absolutely priceless. And there’s no more reassuring sound than that of suspension components being discussed with a Norfolk accent.

We were first treated to a riveting technical presentation on the GT430 by CEO Jean-Marc Gales. His eyes light up when discussing the car, it’s clear that this project is close to his heart. He was keen to stress how close the GT430 is to a race car underneath, using high-end motorsport components like the stronger, lighter, GT4 suspension mounts. At no point was ‘road comfort’ mentioned. The GT4 was though, a lot. No, not that one. In Hethel, a GT4 is the car Gavan Kershaw steered to four victories in British GT. The Evora GT4 was a slick-shod and very serious customer race car that could be bought for around £125,000 back in 2011. Not co-incidentally, the man in charge of  developing the GT430 is also called Gavan Kershaw, so if anyone can make a road-legal Evora go like a GT4 it’s him.

We headed out to the club house to begin filming on the factory test track. However, the GT430 wasn’t there, it was waiting for us out on track. So we all piled into a Toyota Previa and set-off in search of this elusive beast, a rare sight even in its natural habitat. You can imagine the anticipation at this point. It felt like we were astronauts being bussed out to the launch pad. All dry mouths and steely eyes. Still no sign of it as we rolled around the Andretti hairpin. Then, there it is, sitting silently at the end of the Senna curves, coiled and poised, looking like it owned the place. It was a dramatic way to see a GT430 for the first time. Fire Red was a great choice for the press car too, adding even more wow factor. Just then, the cloud that was momentarily blocking the sun passes and the paint ignites. All you can do is stand and swear.

Time to sit inside a GT430. Much is obviously familiar but the detail changes definitely combine to give it a lift. This car has the carbon race seats which I happen to love but I’m aware that they are somewhat polarising, so won’t dwell on them. Carbon Sparco seats are also available for an extra £3500. The twin colour stitching works well with the change of texture from Alcantara to perforated leather and the full Alcantara steering wheel is a welcome addition. The matching matt black steering wheel, HVAC control panel and harness holes bring a more premium look and feel. I’m not sure what more Lotus could realistically have done to the interior for a limited run of cars. For what it’s worth, I really liked it in there. Everything worked perfectly, no squeaks, no rattles, as you’d expect. When the view forward includes a glimpse of some fully functional wheel arch vents, you definitely feel like you’re in something special. But enough about interior fabrics, this is a serious driver’s car, time to prod the starter button. The engine fires-up without much drama and simmers away surprisingly quietly, even with the extravagant titanium silencer. This is partly because the Evora has lost the ability to manually open and close the exhaust valve, due to a regulation change. On start-up now, it’s always shut. Will GT430 owners really be needing to draw any more attention to themselves? I think not. Into first, engage clutch, pull away. I am now driving a GT430 around the factory test track. Crikey. A real moment to savour.

I take it very easy at first, to warm up the tyres and also my brain which needs some spare processing capacity to take it all in. Right away though, there’s a lovely, oily smoothness to all the controls. The steering immediately delights. The news coming through the tactile Alcantara wheel is very good. That silky, honeyed, magic touch is ever-present and very correct. I feared the move to 245 section front tyres might be detrimental in some way. You only have to add 10mm wider tyres on an Elise to notice the difference through the steering. Mercifully, this feels as good as any Evora I can remember, ‘S1’ and GTE included. A palpable ode to tarmac, written in braille for your fingertips’ reading pleasure. It’s a direct link back to Chapman’s road cars, honed by the likes of John Miles, Roger Becker, his son Matt and now Gavan Kershaw. However, there’s no warm, fuzzy nostalgia about the turn-in response. The Sport 410 felt about as alert and pointy as you’d want an Evora to be. This is quicker still. It feels like it accelerates into an apex. It’s pure chassis response, the steering rack remains unchanged at 2.86 turns lock-to-lock. This car was just built to turn. I can feel some of that Evora GT4 already. Key to this is the amount of mass Lotus have removed fore of the front axle and aft of the rear. The polar moment of inertia is said to have been reduced by a startling 30% and that’s from the Sport 410! Somehow, the delectable steering feel hasn’t just survived these changes, it may even have benefitted from them.

Upping the pace, the car feels solid and broad-shouldered but not heavy. All the controls are light, precise, undemanding. As you’d hope, the GT430 lunges forward with startling conviction at full throttle. The titanium exhaust erupts at about 4500rpm like Mount Eyjafjallajökull. There’s a lot noise. A rich, urgent, V6 snargle fills the cabin but there’s not much an Evora 400 owner won’t have heard before. From the outside, it sounds amazing apparently. The 430 engine feels like it starts pulling harder, earlier in the rev range than the Sport 410. It’s noticeably more linear as the needle sweeps around the tacho too. The revised map and cam timing really fill the Sport 410’s mid-range lull at 5000rpm (before the storm at 6000rpm) for a solid, sustained push all the way to the 7,000rpm cut out. There is no increase in supercharger whine, in fact, it doesn’t sound supercharged at all. Most of the gains are in the mid-range but, happily, there’s still an addictive crescendo. The noise and power rise exponentially together, becoming an expression of pure mechanical rage at fever pitch. It still pulls hardest right before the cut-out but it’s strong everywhere now. You might well argue that it’s the engine the Sport 410 should have had all along. I can’t say it’s night-and-day faster in a straight line but perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much from a 20bhp increase. However, this car is very fast. Deceptively so. The charge out of Andretti through 2nd, 3rd and 4th along the Senna curves captures your attention. I don’t think I’ve barrelled through here at quite such a rate before. It was an easy flat all day long in the Exige V6 Cup. In this, I’m thinking about having a lift. I don’t need to at all, but the thought is there. The standard carbon seats do a decent job on track but would benefit from harnesses to allow your arms to focus purely on driving and forget all about bracing your wobbly bits.

Windsock corner is fast approaching now. Time for the radical aero parts to earn their keep. The car inspires great confidence through this famously daunting corner but not perhaps the feeling of downforce I had imagined. There was no giant hand squishing the car down into the tarmac. No counter-intuitive sense of grip increasing with velocity. The headline figure of 250kg of downforce is a remarkable claim for a street car but, tipping into Windsock, I had something like 65kg. Very useful when most cars are generating lift but not enough to tempt me into being braver here, not today. At somewhere like Spa, where Eau Rouge is entered at 120mph, I would expect it to generate around 100kg of downforce. The original Elise 250 Cup felt freakishly stable through Goodwood’s Fordwater kink, taken flat at 120+mph. Lotus claimed 65kg of downforce at 100mph from that car too, so we are in similar territory. If this is the level we’re talking about, it would be a great feeling in an Evora but it’s not one you’ll notice much below 100mph. Fascinated by this whole subject, I asked the development engineer, who has driven the car with and without the wings, and he assures me that he can feel the aero working most of the way around the lap. The main benefit for him is the way the car turns in at speed. He said that, with wings, the GT430 feels much more positive, hitting apexes with greater conviction.

I’m looking for some of that from the J-hook AP Racing brakes as the car hurls headlong down the Mansell Straight towards the tight 2nd gear chicane. They don’t disappoint. Bite is instant, pedal feel exemplary. These are truly mighty anchors. In a nutshell, the design prevents vibration, distortion and fatigue cracking while blowing brake dust and debris away. Cross-drilled rotors are fine for occasional stops but when they get really hot, the temperature difference between the holes and the disc make them prone to cracking as the disc expands. The more immediate advantages of the J-hook design, which you can feel, are better initial bite and reduced vibration after prolonged, heavy use. This extra bite is likely to cause increased pad wear but this is a small price to pay, along with the extra brake dust on your wheels. Of greater significance is the stronger retardation at smaller pedal pressures. This makes heel and toe harder on the road where you rarely need more than a gentle brush on the brakes. As is often the case, heel and toe is much easier on the track where you use more of the pedal travel. Of the two, it’s better that it’s set up for track use of course.

The car is neat and accurate through the chicane and you can get on the power really hard and early. The steamroller 295 section rear Michelin Cup 2s will take everything in 2nd gear in the dry without complaint, even with a left-right weight transfer thrown in. Your brain is anticipating oversteer, fingertips tingling, ready to make a quick correction but it never comes. You just get strong forward drive, the nose obediently following the trajectory chosen by the pristine, uncorrupted steering. Up to third before the Rindt Hairpin and the motor has the torque to hold that gear all the way round. A hard charge up the Fittipaldi straight leads to the fast, flowing corners at Clark. Through here the car feels mesmerisingly good. It settles instantly with every change of direction, there’s no slack whatsoever mid-transition. You turn the wheel and feel the grip build, the carbon seats offering firm support to your shoulders, first on your left side, then on your right. It’s very fast, secure and quick-witted with a balance that could only be mass centralised, you’re never fighting either axle. The front is eager and obedient, the rear trustworthy and tenacious. Traction is always mighty, you can chase the throttle without trepidation. The even spread of supercharged torque helps here too. There’s never too much power, so you never have to hold back. You can use all of it.

The tricky left at Graham Hill interrupts the rhythm established through the Clark curves, it’s really easy to steam-in too fast here. At one point I thought I’d over-cooked it but the car remained calm and composed, unlike me. We simply flew over the curbs with a rhythmic ker-whump, felt a bit of tyre scrub and that was about it. The Ohlins are sheer class, you can attack curbs like an angry Touring Car driver. It’s totally unfazed, turning mountainous curbs into molehills. These dampers are not just off the shelf units either, they are built to a unique spec, just for this car. Development has been extensive, taking full advantage of the on-site test track and challenging Norfolk roads. Finally back to the Andretti hairpin to complete the lap, it’s time to chuck it in more aggressively, just to see how it reacts. The nose dives in like a missile locked on to the apex but there’s gentle understeer if you get back on the power too early. It’s immediately neutralised with a lift, you can trim the nose back on line right away without any lift-off oversteer anxiety. It’s reassuring and benign, friendly at the limit, exactly what you want for exploring your own limits. Even this can be dialled out though. The recommended factory settings are neither fully hard for the track nor fully soft for the road. Want to soften it further for a weekend away? Try two clicks softer on the compression at the front and leave the rebound alone. That’s from the guy who developed the dampers – some exclusive TLF gold dust for you right there.

With so much grip at your disposal it will take a while to find the limit, certainly longer than I’ve got. However, I have a plan to shortcut the learning process. I pull over and let the Voldemort of suspension wizards take the wheel (well, it’s definitely a dark art!). The next few laps are eye-opening and a huge treat. The first thing that hits you, literally, is the braking performance. First you have to endure that profoundly unnerving feeling of accelerating hard, way beyond the point where you or I would start braking. Just for a moment, while you search the passenger footwell for a phantom brake pedal, you wish it had less power. There’s palpable relief as something like 90mph is wiped off the speedo faster than you can exhale. Bracing with your legs against the passenger footwell works surprisingly well in the absence of a harness but there’s so much weight going through them, it feels like you’re standing up. These are rollercoaster g-forces. It will take some nerve to use all the braking power available, if you ever feel the ABS kick-in on track you’re doing well.

I had massively under-estimated the six stage traction control system. Taken from the GT4 race car and shared with the 311, it’s a brilliant addition to the electronic suite that reveals the car’s potential in spectacular style. It controls wheel speed slip angle, as opposed to the car’s yaw angle. Level 1 allows 1% slip at the rear wheels. The engineer uses repeated passes of the Andretti hairpin to demonstrate each level as we work our way through to level 5. With 12% slip on offer, you could well call it ‘hero mode’. It’s definitely more than 12° of yaw angle, it feels closer to 90°! It takes a very precise form of brutality to provoke the car into a slide. With so much grip, greater provocation is needed and the resulting slide requires quicker reflexes to catch. It feels like when it finally lets go, you’ll need your wits about you. But even on level one it’s an emphatic demonstration that, in handling terms, this car can be whatever you want it to be. What feels like a large, rapidly rotating mass entering the corner, exits with balletic grace. Suddenly, the driver’s hands calm right down, steering inputs become small and measured, balancing the car in an extravagant drift, exhaust parping like a staccato trumpet as the ignition cuts the spark. This is not a fast way to corner by any means, it feels like slow motion compared to a neat racing line but it’s very rock’n’roll. This system is going to be huge fun to play with on a wet track day. Level 5 is pure theatre, a huge arcing power slide, throttle buried, fully sideways, on the lock stops. Magic!

Heading out on the roads in something that wouldn’t look out of place on a British GT test day was going to be interesting. First though, the car is whisked away, for no more than a few minutes, to dial in the recommended damper settings for the road. The effect is immediately felt. To my great relief, the GT430 an absolute peach on the public highway. The spring rates are up 47% at the front, 20% at the rear over a Sport 410 but you’d never believe it. I honestly think it rides even better than the Sport 410, possibly even the Evora 400. On road settings, this car is stunningly compliant for something so capable on track. It’s fluid and serene on the roads around Hethel which means it will ride well everywhere. This signature ability has set the Evora apart from day one. Nearly 10 years on, I’m delighted to see it has been preserved right up to this, the most extreme variant. Underneath it all, the GT430 is still an Evora at heart. Just to check that I hadn’t exaggerated the ride quality in my head, I took it out again in search of some even more challenging roads but the conclusion was just the same. It’s a proper sports car, make no mistake about that, you feel everything but each bump and dip becomes another reminder of the sheer quality of the damping. The engine, which felt only marginally stronger than the Sport 410 on track, suddenly feels more energetic here. A bit more nape-prickling as the revs climb, a good degree more naughty. It charges forward like an angry bull, always strong and determined whatever the revs. Levels of power and torque are more than enough for the road and at times it can feel, reassuringly, a bit too much. Keep it under 4500rpm and it’s much quieter and more refined than an Exige. The carbon race seats may be thinly padded but with ride quality like this you could crush long distances on a bed of nails. Point to point pace will be disturbing. To label it a ‘race car for the road’ is selling it short. So broad are its talents, it wouldn’t feel wasted even if it never went anywhere near a track.

I did get some insight into some of the more boring, practical aspects of owning a GT430. The turning circle is pretty limited, rear visibility even more so. The wing hasn’t made it any worse (not much could!) you have to rely heavily on the wing mirrors for reversing. The carbon rear quarterlight panels obscure your vision at oblique junctions. This was exacerbated by the left hand drive on this press car but it’s a problem we’re likely to encounter when taking right hand drive cars to Europe. If you think ahead, you can position the car for a better view but while forward visibility is excellent, the rest is 70’s supercar. This GT430 didn’t have a stereo fitted so I can’t comment on that. There is an annoying beep related to the parking sensors when engaging reverse gear which I could do without and another for not putting on your seatbelt. Ground clearance seemed pretty good but the extravagant carbon front splitter will be very expensive to replace and it comes without any kind of protection. The Karussell will be taken high for sure.

Riding home on my Kawasaki ZX10 that evening, I had four fairly gruelling hours to process a sensational day. The GT430 is an enthralling car. One that will leave everyone who drives it wanting more. On track it’s a monster. It will test your bravery more than your driving skill. On the road it will be continually unimpressed by your idea of fast cornering but it communicates this nonchalance with such clarity and detail, that it’s genuinely enjoyable at legal road speeds. It could be argued that the less grippy, more accessible, more adjustable Sport 410 remains, in some ways, the most fun Evora. The same could be said of the Elise Sprint versus the Elise 250 Cup. It does, of course, depend on your idea of fun. If sheer grip, composure and cornering speed are you’re thing, then look no further. Oversteer addicts, stick with the drift spec Sylvia. Power obsessed sorts will fixate on the extra 20bhp but upgrades to the wheels, tyres, dampers, brakes, aerodynamics, weight reduction and mass centralisation all come first at Hethel. The ride quality and road manners were the stand-out surprises for me. I never dared to imagine it would be such a lovely road car. The duality on offer is extraordinary. 3-Eleven track performance meets Evora refinement and B-road supremacy. I can’t think of any other Lotus to match it in this regard. If this is all down to the adjustable Ohlins, they are worth every penny. The GT430 needed to be special and it is. Special enough to justify the price tag? That’s for you to decide according to your own priorities. If they include steering feel, suspension quality, ride comfort, handling precision, mechanical grip, road covering ability, track prowess, Gerry Anderson styling and driver involvement at all speeds, then it just might be.

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