Potential, unfulfilled. Perhaps more than any other performance car brand, these two words best summarise the seventy-odd year history of the Lotus marque. From humble beginnings as a postwar kit car manufacturer (of the Lotus Seven, now produced by Caterham), to icons such as ‘Wet Nellie’, the submersible Lotus Esprit in the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me”, the history of Lotus is rife with tumultuous ups and downs.
Above left and right: ‘Wet Nellie’, the custom submersible in the shape of a Lotus Esprit built for the James Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, and the original Lotus, the Lotus Seven
More recently, there was the stillborn plan in 2010 to launch five all-new sports cars within five years. The vision of then CEO Danny Bahar, it was questionable even back then from where such a boutique automotive firm would raise the capital and hire the engineering resources required to launch such a rapid and dramatic turnaround. With sports cars commanding a very small slice of the auto industry pie, investors were unlikely to fund a product plan that constituted niches within a niche. Importantly, this product plan also lacked any intention to build an SUV, which back then (as is now) was an increasingly in-demand vehicle style. Symptomatic of it being marketing hype, the concepts presented at the 2010 show were little more than polished clay models. And of course, as expected, none of the cars materialised.
From left to right: The proposed Lotus Elise (all-new affordable two-seater, mid-engine version of the existing model), Eterne (four-door GT sedan), Elite (2+2 convertible GT), Elan (two seater sports car) and Esprit (two seater supercar)
So, where has all this left Lotus today? Well, it currently sells three models, all of which are at least ten years old (notwithstanding facelifts and model year updates). There’s the bread and butter Elise, Lotus’ ‘affordable’ sports car, the more powerful, track focused Exige, and the Evora, a more comfortable GT with a greater focus on road use. Fundamentally, however, these three vehicles mean that Lotus retains a reputation as a marque building low volume cars that are really just track stars.
Flush with cash from Geely, Lotus’ new Chinese parent, the Evija marks the most credible statement of intent from the brand in its seventy year history. Much like its spiritual ancestor, the submersible “Wet Nellie”, the Evija is a future focused clean break. The specifications themselves are drool-worthy - a battery electric powertrain that delivers 1,500 kW of power and 1,700 Nm of torque with a top speed in excess of 340 km/h and acceleration figures of less than 3 seconds from 0-100 km/h. These are class leading in anyone’s book (if one has the gall to categorise the Evija in something other than a class of its own).
Just as impressive, if not more so, is the Evija’s exterior design. Lotus’ designers have taken full advantage of the BEV powertrain (and its requisite lack of an engine block) to develop a wedge shaped, cab forward design with a steeply raked bonnet for excellent front visibility. The side profile appears to be well-shaped, with the proportion of the side window to the bodywork approaching the golden ratio, and an equally impressive proportion between wheel size and the rest of the bodywork.
The pièce de résistance of the exterior design, of course, are the innovative Venturi tunnels that create the highly distinctive, jet afterburner style rear profile of the Evija. Acting as an alternative to the typical side intakes used by supercars, these tunnels present an innovative aerodynamic solution, as per the Lotus press release:
“The most dramatic element of the exterior - is the Venturi tunnel which pierces each rear quarter. Inspired by Le Mans race cars, they optimise air flow by directing it through the bodyshell.
Aside from creating a breath-taking presence, this design concept - known as 'porosity' - aids the delivery of high-energy air flow to the rear of the car. This in turn counteracts the low pressure behind the car to reduce drag. Furthermore, the Venturi effect inside the tunnels pulls air through the rear wheel arch louvres, maintaining air quality in the diffuser.”
Likewise, the interior recalls Lotus’ motorsport and track-oriented heritage with a previously unseen level of technology and luxury. This is perhaps best exemplified by the rectangular multifunction steering wheel. Complete with a Ferrari style “Manettino dial” and turn signal buttons, the shape directly references GT4, Le Mans and Formula 1 race cars. The ‘flying’ centre console, with its permeating hexagonal theme and touch sensitive surfaces, presents as a futuristic concept, but I’m not sure about its usability in practice.
At this stage, the Evija ticks all the boxes. It looks fantastic, has the ‘right’ powertrain in terms of being a BEV and is backed by a company (in Geely) with the funds to enable Lotus to build a functional production model, rather than a painted clay concept or a one-off brand builder in the vein of the ‘Wet Nellie’ movie prop. Even the name, ‘Evija’, an arguable portmanteau of the acronym “EV” and “Ninja”, speaks directly to what Lotus now wants to be - a future oriented, electric performance vehicle company that retains the nimble, lightweight sense of handling dynamism that its cars have always been known for.
I can’t wait to see one on the road.