So, what makes a Lotus a Lotus? Super lightness and devastating agility, a spine-splintering ride, almost no creature comforts and zero practicality.

Basically, it's a road-legal race car for hardcore track-day enthusiasts, a car that's difficult to get in and out of because it's so low and has such wide sills.

One doesn't so much enter a Lotus gracefully as fall into it like a sack of potatoes so, is it feasible to make a one that is more practical and comfortable while keeping its essential Lotus-ness?

That's the experiment the now Malaysian-owned British marque has tried with its new Evora just launched in South Africa - a car Lotus hopes will attract buyers from the likes of the Porsche Cayman.

The Evora's larger and heavier than other Lotuses with a smoother ride, more space, more creature comforts and easier ingress and egress (although I still wouldn't recommend mini-skirted ladies to try it). And it has rear seats. Well, toddlers would call them seats; adults would call them a surefire way to induce claustrophobia and deep-vein thrombosis.

The front seats are deep bucket Recaros but they're covered in soft, luxurious cloth or (optionally) leather. The doors, fascia and floor are similarly upholstered in rich-looking materials - rich when compared to the bare aluminium cockpits of the Lotus Elise and Exige.

There's a classy fascia bearing buttons for the aircon, central locking and other onboard pleasantries; the comprehensive instrument panel includes a digital trip data computer and the steering wheel bears switches for the cruise control.

There are two crash bags and anti-lock brakes and yes, you can drive it in traffic for an hour and arrive at your destination without needing a chiropractor. The ride can be firm and jittery over bumps but, in general, the car glides as smoothly as an ocean liner.

So does this mean the Evora's a watered-down Lotus or perhaps a Lotus Lite? For now let's use Civilised Lotus as a working phrase. Civilised can be good, because it means a car you can live with and commute in on a daily basis - there's no rule that states a sports car must be hopelessly impractical and uncomfortable.

That's as long as it still has the required performance, handling, looks and skin-chilling driver appeal.

UNHEROIC FOR A 3.5 V6

Does the Evora deliver on those fronts? Yes and no.

The straight-line performance is a bit of a letdown. The engine behind the rear seats (this is the world's only mid-engined four-seater production car) is a normally aspirated 3.5-litre Toyota V6 that is charmingly on view in your rear-mirror at the bottom of the letterbox-sized rear window.

It delivers 206kW at 6400rpm and 350Nm at 4700rpm - unheroic for a 3.5-litre engine and the car's not light either at 1382kg.

Ultimately the Evora feels a little under-endowed at Gauteng altitude and the over-long ratios in the six-speed gearbox bear much of the blame. It creates a lazy feel at low rpm and requires extended throttle inputs to get those revs singing.

It delivers meaty power once the revs are up but still nothing supercar-like. Perhaps specify the sports-ratio gearbox, a R35 360 option.

Lotus claims a 5.1sec 0-100 at sea level sprint but at Reef altitude 6.4 was the best it could manage. Its 261km/h top speed is certainly useful however, and it has rock-solid straight-line stability.

SURE LOOKS LIKE A LOTUS

It's left to the handling to determine the Evora's ultimate success or failure as a true Lotus and a true sports car and here it delivers with a nimbleness that does the badge proud. Awesome traction, no body roll to speak of, and beautifully weighted steering make it dance through turns like a true sporting thoroughbred.

It sure looks like a typical Lotus with a compact, kit-carish kind of style that doesn't quite radiate the traffic-stopping, three-million-bucks effect of a Ferrari or Lambo but then it doesn't cost three million bucks either, retailing at a fairly affordable (for a sports car) R899 000 without options.

With all its extras boxes ticked, the price comes to around R1.1-million. These include a rear diffuser, leather interior and a Sport button that quickens throttle response and reduces traction control intervention.

VERDICT

So, Lotus Lite or Lotus Civilised? I know what Elise owners would probably say but I'll stick with civilised, as the Evora's an accessible, more user-friendly, sports car that, while more mainstream, sticks to its sporty guns. Mostly.

But man! Would it feel good with a turbocharger and shorter gear ratios. - INL Motoring

A challenger for the Porsche Cayman? What do you readers think? Tell us in the Readers' Comments box below.