Lotus’s last new petrol-engined car must also be its most successful. The Emira is charged with replacing the entire outgoing Lotus range – the Elise, Evora and Exige – but will need to reach greater heights than those cars ever did collectively.
Big money has been spent on fitting a new high-tech production line at Hethel – one that features autonomous sleds to move cars between work stations and which we’re told has been scaled to build up to 4500 cars per year. That’s a production figure Lotus hasn’t got close to since it was assembling the Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster alongside the still-fresh Elise S2 in the early noughties. With the need for revenue to help fund the forthcoming wave of pure-electric cars, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Yet you will be pleased to hear that our first experience behind the wheel of the Emira is reassuringly familiar. Lotus has been inviting journalists to Hethel to drive new models on the factory’s test track since it first moved to Norfolk in the 1960s. It would feel wrong to be piloting a new Lotus anywhere else for the first time.
The car you see here isn’t a fully finalised version, but nor, as director of attributes Gavan Kershaw is keen to point out, is it a finished car pretending to be pre-production so that excuses can be made for anything I don’t like. Rather, it’s what is known internally as a VP2-level prototype – one that has been borrowed from the pool of cars being used to test the driver assistance systems. Visually and mechanically, it’s close to what the first buyers will be receiving later this year. Barring some ungrained surface panels, the interior is nearly finished and chassis settings are close to signed off. But there are quirks: the Track driving mode isn’t active yet and I’m told to expect some warning lights.
This prototype is using the Emira’s carried-over powerplant option: the 400bhp supercharged Toyota V6 familiar from the Lotus Evora. This is combined with the standard six-speed manual gearbox and a mechanical limited-slip differential.
It also sits on the softer Touring suspension and road-friendly Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, rather than the track-biased Cup 2 rubber that will be an option. In wet and very windy conditions at Hethel, the gentler settings seemed a good idea.