Lotus has revealed plans for a stunning front-engined, 2+2 V8 coupe, reminiscent of Aston Martin's DB9 and scheduled for launch in early 2014.
The car, a hybrid that incorporates a Lotus-developed KERS system, will be the third front-engined model in Lotus's 52-year history to use the revered Elite name. Its launch confirms months of speculation that Hethel is deadly serious about challenging Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin head on with cars costing £100,000 plus. More models are expected, including an Elite offshoot to challenge Aston Martin's Rapide saloon.
Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar only joined the company last year. But since then he's been working on a multi-model Lotus revival plan, of which the Elite is only one step. Bahar calls the new model "a car of perfect contradictions: compact yet spacious, high performing yet low emitting, lightweight yet still reassuringly solid."
The new Elite will be made both as a fixed-head coupe and with a retractable hard-top. It's not clear yet whether there will be a full convertible.
The structured, muscular new Elite shape ditches Lotus's traditional 'mouth' in favour of a new, squarer and more aggressive intake, which is likely to be used in various forms on future models. There are no details yet of the interior, beyond Lotus's intention to use an own-design touch-screen for all major functions. Company insiders are well aware that Lotus will have to ramp up its craftsmanship skills if it is to compete successfully with the Aston/Porsche brigade.
All models will get a 'charged' 5.0-litre V8, believed to be the unit used in the Lexus LS600h, linked to a hybrid transmission comprising two electric motors and an epicyclic gearbox from the same source. Two power levels are suggested: a 540bhp standard version and a 610bhp R model, both delivered at 8000rpm, but there are no details on how the front-mounted KERS stores energy, or how much it can deploy.
Toyota, once Lotus's co-owner, has been the Norfolk sports car firm's engine partner since the Elise adopted Toyota units around 10 years ago. The Japanese giant seems content to allow Lotus to 'charge' its V8 (Lotus is understood still to be deciding whether it will be turbocharged or supercharged) and to use its own engine control software to vary the performance of Toyota's engines. It already does this with the Elise SC and Evora.
The new Elite is bidding to be the first performance hybrid in the £100,000-plus sector. At 4.6 metres in overall length, it is around 10cm shorter than a DB9, and its proposed 1680kg kerb weight is about 80kg less. However, the forecast CO2 output of its hybrid powertrain (215g/km) undercuts the Aston’s 367g/km by a remarkable 40 per cent — for no performance penalty. Lotus forecasts a 0-62mph sprint time of 3.5 to 3.7sec, depending on model. No top speed has yet been mentioned, but it’s certain the high-powered Elite will at least match the Aston's 186mph.
"Make no mistake," says Bahar, "there’s a definite market requirement for the Elite. It's the ultimate compromise of sports car feel with comfort and space. There will always be those who say Lotus should stick to small sports cars, but we didn't take the decision to design something like the Elite lightly. It is based on months of careful research and planning."
Bahar points out that front-engined 2+2s represented around 20 per cent of Lotus production between 1948 and 1996, when the Elise became the company's only model, and 11 per cent overall. "The sector has been very successful for us in the past, and the new Elite raises the benchmark higher still," he says.