Given who it is made by, and what it represents, it would probably be fair to say that the Lotus Emira is the most significant new car PH will drive this year. We’re excited, you’re excited, everybody is pretty excited. So hopefully accepting the offer to drive a car that isn’t quite production spec (but is a step on from the other prototype tested recently) wasn’t a bad decision. Not least with a chance to drive the new Lotus on the road, too.
No less importantly, there’s the chance to get a good gawp at the Emira in the real world (well, Norfolk) shorn of its disguise. To these eyes it looks fantastic, squat and purposeful like a junior supercar without resorting to gratuitous add-ons. There’s enough Evija influence in the details to create a familial link but sufficient individuality for it to avoid a mini-me appearance and establish a distinct identity. It’s more attention grabbing than any similarly priced sports car, and for all the right reasons. Apart from the black wheels, obviously, because they’re as bad as everywhere they’re seen - but can easily be changed.
The interior is, if anything, even more impressive, despite not yet being in showroom condition. We were told to expect sharper, more responsive screens in time; there’s some work still to be done on the seats, too. Even at this stage, however, the Emira is a world away from previous Lotus cabins: it is comfy, accommodating, stylish and logical, a really pleasing place to sit. Certain little details grate - the steering wheel is a touch chubby, the starter button flap is naff and the old Lotus gearknob looks out of place - but the fundamentals are spot on. The driver has space, the ventilation controls are where you’d want them, cubby holes abound in sensible spots and the screens make sense. All too often an interior, for one reason or another, has held a Lotus sports car back - on this experience, not any longer. It’s even easy to get in and out of.
As with Mike’s previous drive, there was opportunity to try this Emira on the Hethel circuit. Encouragingly, we both found the same sort of things: even on the softer Tour suspension, poise and body control are exemplary, it’s endlessly forgiving for a mid-engined car, the assists are very smart and it’ll do big skids quite easily if you fancy. Less auspiciously, the brake pedal on our test car was very long (even though the brakes themselves are strong once past the squish), which made heel and toe very difficult, and all pedals seemed offset to the left. Nevertheless, though with the obvious caveat of driving a Lotus on the Lotus test track, anyone taking to the circuit in their new Emira - even with the less focused chassis option - is going to be very, very happy indeed. If anything, more grip and more tautness would mean less opportunity to show off what a smart bit of chassis tuning this appears to be.
That impression becomes even clearer on the road. The Emira is never harsh and never uncomfortable - not given the 20-inch wheels on both axles - though it’s difficult to imagine craving anything stiffer for everyday use. Memory suggests this is Lotus is a fraction more pliant than a 718 Cayman on similar sized rims with PASM, but anyone enamoured by the way an Alpine A110 glides down the road won’t find a similar experience here. The ride is a tricky thing to draw a proper conclusion on, truth be told; anyone used to some of the older cars on smaller wheels will probably find the Emira quite tense. On the other hand, this is a 1,400kg sports car on passive suspension and 20-inch wheels; its combination of composure, control, comfort and connection at any speed is unmatched anywhere else.
And that’s to say nothing of the fun you’ll be having behind the wheel, either. The Emira is a joy on the road, perhaps even more so than on the track without the brake pedal proving such a frustration. It feels compact, easy to place with the wings cresting in front of you, and excites the driver from the get-go. In the wing mirrors are those chunky intakes and muscular haunches, out front are the Evija-esque grilles in the bonnet, and a 400hp engine over your shoulder - the mini supercar impression from outside definitely makes it to the driver’s seat.
Once again, Tour feels like it’ll be the best set up for the Emira, as it allows for some roll that Sport would likely eliminate and lets you know something is going on. Everything you would expect of a contemporary Lotus is here, from wonderfully textured steering to that famous V6 wail once in Sport mode; there’s some proper excitement in running out a gear and hustling it along a tad, but also engagement to derive at sensible speeds simply from just being with a well-honed machine.
Problems? Only the inevitable ones. Though familiar, the sensations offered up by the Emira are somewhat more muted (sometimes literally, in the case of the exhaust) compared to what came before, the immersiveness taken down a notch or two. Just as intended, no doubt, because the relative rawness of the old car will have put prospective buyers off. But even those coming from an Evora will notice the newly acquired mellow side. Whether it will be welcome or not remains to be seen; whether those who might buy a Porsche instead will appreciate the civility is surely the more pertinent question.
For our money, the conclusion is not in question: in combining an unmistakably authentic Lotus dynamic character with some much needed concessions to usability and interior ambience, the Emira already feels to be hitting exactly the mark the last combustion engined Lotus needs to. It feels like the best is yet to come, too, and not just for the finished version of this car. For all its fans, the V6 and its manual transmission are starting to feel just a tad old hat - not least because there’s a better combination of six-cylinder engine and gearbox available in another mid-engined sports car, with a pretty good chassis of its own. Fortunately, the lighter AMG-built four-cylinder turbo promises significant gains: a proper dual-clutch in a Lotus, a bit less weight, more room in the footwell and opportunity for the Emira to further show off its considerable abilities. Either way, though, the car is all set to be a fitting farewell to ICE Lotuses, and that next drive can’t come soon enough - whichever engine it has.
SPECIFICATION | LOTUS EMIRA V6 PROTOTYPE
Engine: 3,456cc V6, supercharged
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 309@3,500rpm
Top speed: 186mph
Price: £75,995 (V6 First Edition)
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