A dozen years ago I raced up to Lotus HQ at Hethel just the other side of Snetterton. There was joy in my heart. I was about to drive the Lotus Evora, the Lotus that would finally provide convincing opposition to the Porsche 911.
Others had tried, the Eclat and Excel of the ‘70s and ‘80s in particular, but while lovely to drive – I hanker after a late Excel to this day – were always too underpowered and had too great a perception of fragility to work in that crucial daily driver role. But the Evora would be different. Why? Because it had the look, the power, the equipment and the price. Lotus seemed confident and so was I.
It took less than a minute to shatter. That early Evora wasn’t just a disappointment, in some regards like its gearshift and ergonomics, it really was shockingly poor. The fact that Lotus really was suggesting this car could be a credible rival for any Porsche, let alone a 911, was stretching the bounds of credibility to breaking point and beyond.
This was no alternative to a Porsche, but a Lotus far more flawed than either of the already ageing Elise and Exige. And it was only the fact it still set a new benchmark for ride and handling for that kind of car, that ensured its survival these last 12 years.
So now Lotus is having another go. Its new Emira will be launched on July 6th and is slated to be the company’s last purely petrol powered product. It will be one of four product lines with the Evija electric hypercar, a British-designed but Chinese-built SUV and a new platform for all-electric sports cars.
The Evora missed the mark when it arrived on the scene against its competition
But here’s the interesting bit. The Emira is directly descended from the Evora but while its chassis is a development of that used by its parent, I am told that ‘it is so changed for there to be no point in further comparison’. Even so, that does confirm the Emira will still come with an aluminium chassis made from bonded alloy extrusions and we know too that the 3.5-litre Toyota V6 seen in the Evora in both normally aspirated and supercharged form will be retained, and joined by a 2-litre petrol four. Lotus is not saying from where the latter was sourced but both Toyota and its parent Geely have engines that fit that specification.
The Emira will be the last Lotus built with a purely petrol powertrain, which seems a little strange: scarcely relevant Evija aside, this is Lotus’s return to the world stage, only the second new car mere mortals can buy it will have launched this century, and it’s doing it with a car that in at least one crucial way doesn’t represent its future at all. But its positioning is more important still.
Many people, myself included, had expected the first production Lotus road car from the new regime to be a belated replacement for the Esprit: a low volume, high margin supercar to elevate the brand’s positioning. And the Emira could have been that car with a 600bhp motor and £120,000 price tag. In fact, it looks like it’s going to come in at about two thirds of that power and possibly less than half the price, with Lotus boss Matt Windle confirming it will be priced between the Porsche Cayman and 911, but closer to the former than the latter.