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Lotus Emira – your last chance for a new driver’s car?

More than any other marque, Lotus focuses on, and is associated with pure driving pleasure. Lotus has never been about lap records, top speed or 0-100km/h times. The ethos of Lotus is the driver, the joy of the human-machine partnership.

In 2021 we are nearing the end of an era. The internal combustion engine is to be no more. Like it or not, the world is moving to electric and the UK has declared no more petrol or diesel engined cars are to be sold after 2030…a mere nine years away. Other countries are, or will follow suit, and every carmarker is focusing on electric.

While electrification offers many practical benefits, and is necessary for environmental reasons…I, and many car enthusiasts will mourn the loss of the internal combustion engine. An electric motor cannot, ever, replicate the feeling, sensation, thrill and awe of a high-revving petrol, and it’s not about the speed but the visceral feeling. I’d rather go 0-100km/h in a V6 or V8 and take four seconds than have an electric car do it in two. I’d rather give up seconds of laptime for the pleasure of a heel’n’toe shift than have computers aid me to an artificially low place on the scoreboard.

So if you feel the same way, act now. Because your chances to own the last of the driver-oriented internal combustion cars are fast running out, and expect prices to skyrocket. And that’s why the new Lotus Emira is important. It’s pronounced “Eh – meera – ah” by the way, there’s your PR people earning their keep.

The Emira is special, in today’s market. First, there’s a manual option, which is rarity now in any sportscar, especially the higher performance models – the Alfa Romeo 4C, Toyota Supra, Corvette C8, Alpine A110 and all supercars are now auto-only. It’s also mid-engined, another rarity…put the two together and I can think only of Porsche who offer a similar configuration. Then, it’s a Lotus…not driven it yet, but let’s assume that Lotus haven’t totally dropped the ball on their last car and have done their usual superb job of fine-tuning the handling for precision, accuracy, feeling and thus enjoyment.

Now Lotus say the Emira is the replacement for the current Elise, Exige, and Evora. I disagree. The Elise is a smaller car, and a convertible. The Emira is physically larger, weighs around 500kg more, and is a tin-top. So in my view, the Elise is gone forever, with no replacement…there’s a final edition being produced now, and I suggest you act very quickly if you want one. Instead, the Emira is more like an Evora replacement; a sportscar with a little bit of grand tourer, but not very much. This is no criticism, by the way, just setting the scene.

So what will the Emira be like? I’ve not seen one yet, so I’m working off the press information. But it seems far more liveable than previous Lotus cars; advanced safety aids, infotainment, touch-screen better storage and usability. It can carry a golf club bag, the benchmark for sports cars the world over, whereas the Elise could only carry a table tennis bat.

There’s two engines; the carry-over 3.5 V6 from the Exige/Evora available with automatic or manual transmission, and a Mercedes-Benz 2.0 turbo with a DCT automatic, claimed to be the world’s most powerful 2.0 – I guess it’s the same one as in the AMG A45, but tuned for the Emira to deliver 360hp/268kW, with Lotus saying the maximum power (V6?) will be 400hp/300kW. Lotus say that pricing in the UK market is around 60,000 GBP…no word on Australian pricing, but an Exige 430 Cup Final Edition is around 100,000 GBP and $210,000 AUD so applying the same factor to the Emira we end up with $126,000…which isn’t very much for such a car so I’m tipping higher prices! A basic Porsche Cayman is around $135,000 driveaway, so there’s a price hint.

I’m going to leave it to others to talk about styling cues because that’s not really important to me; the car looks beautiful and I’ll leave it at that. I’m going to trust Lotus to design it to handle as a Lotus should, but I’ve had a few thoughts as I look over the specs. First, the front and rear wheels are identical, not staggered which means the fronts are narrower, and shorter than the rears. Look at any mid, or rear-engined car, roadcar or racecar, and they’re almost all staggered and for good reason; those cars are rear-drive weight with the bulk of the weight over the back, so the front wheels can be smaller. Yet, in this car, they’re the same. Why not save weight, a Lotus mantra, and gain potential aerodynamic efficiencies? I don’t know, and I’d like to.

Speaking of aerodynamics, Lotus make much of the downforce:

” Intelligent engineering means it is the only car in its class to generate significant downforce, generating outstanding performance and exceptional grip at all speeds.”

Well, I’m sceptical, and not just because no figures have been supplied, and I’m always wary of carmarker claims without facts. But also – at road speeds of 100km/h and under, you’re simply not going to generate meaningful levels of downforce, especially as the car has no wing to help. And even on a racetrack with a car that already weighs at least 1400kg…struggling to see how much useful downforce will be generated. Also, the more downforce you have, the more drag you generate which blunts top speed. So I treat these aerodynamic claims with scepticism until I see some figures to back up the statements.

The specs, so far, include 0-100km/h of 4.5 seconds or less and top speed 290km/h / 180mph. These would be for the highest performance version, and they’re not market-leading, but frankly they don’t need to be. That’s plenty of performance right there, and I’m much more concerned about the driving experience. And the Emira isn’t a huge car; dimensions are length 4,412mm; width 1,895mm (mirrors folded); height 1,225mm; wheelbase 2,575mm.

Now the weight, at 1400kg plus, can be viewed two ways. It’s hugely more than the last Elises, which are around 930kg, and the more comparable Evora is around 1350kg. So relative to those cars, it’s heavy. But that’s not really a fair comparison, because cars have become heavier as safety improves and we expect features such as air-conditioning, power steering (which is hydraulic on the Emira), power windows and much more. Perhaps a fairer comparison is the Porsche Cayman…and that’s around 1350kg. So, I think it is fair to say this Lotus isn’t as light as it could perhaps be, which is a great shame – 1200kg would have been impressive, but I just don’t think Lotus had the $ to get there. Maybe Gordon Murray should have been asked to consult and bring a bit of T.50 thinking. That said, the Emira is still lighter than the likes of the Jaguar F-TYPE, and should handle better thanks to more centralised weight. Also, the 50/50 weight distribution being perfect is a marketing myth, please ignore it. I’ll explain why another time.

Also interesting is the reaction of the Lotus faithful, which is pretty normal for fans of any much-loved marque which does anything different – they hate it. Too big, too heavy, too whatever, not enough whatever else. But the fact is, that’s the best Lotus can do with what they’ve got, and if that’s the car they need to survive, that’s the car they will build. Same way the much-hated Cayenne saved Porsche. Think of the alternative; no Lotus at all, because there’s simply not enough sales volume in the current range, something die-hard fans always struggle to comprehend. I guess it didn’t help that Lotus said the Emira ‘replaces’ the Elise and Exige…it clearly doesn’t. And, let’s wait till we drive it or even see proper specs, hey? If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the last two decades of test driving it’s wait till you get behind the wheel.

So at any other time in the last 20 years the launch of a new mid-engined, manual, relatively affordable sportscar from a marque like Lotus would be a notable occasion. But now, this truly is the last of the breed and if you were thinking about owning a piece of history, something that will be revered and awed for decades to come in the age of purely electric semi-autonomous cars…now is the time.

Here’s the link for Australian buyers to register their interest or reserve a build slot.

Here’s a look at three older Lotuses…just because.

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