20 September 2004

Lotus is planning a new coupé based on a stretched version of the Elise to fight mainstream rivals such as the Audi TT and forthcoming Porsche Boxster coupé.

The car marks the re-birth of the late-lamented M250 concept car (right) – a 2+2 coupé canned in 2002 – and will fit between the Elise and the new Esprit. Lotus insiders say the company is keen to cash in on the coupé boom exploited by cars like the TT, and pricing could start from £30,000.

The styling of the two-door, with its removable hard-top, is revealed here in detail after Lotus registered designs to ensure they own the copyright to the swooping new look.Obvious in these pictures is the family resemblance to the Elise and the Lotus-built Vauxhall VX220 – emphasised by the use of VX Turbo wheels – but the styling of the coupé differs in some major details. Most apparent is the smoother body surfacing, which loses the intricate folds and scoops of the Elise, and the more restrained bonnet and nose characterised by a more conventional headlight design.

Lotus said the car is ‘an evaluation concept for a car with more touring capability than track ability. But we have no thoughts on a decision when it might go into production.’

‘It’s a higher specification than the Elise or Exige and the engine is still under consideration, but it will be a world car saleable in all markets.’

A prototype Elise with a longer wheelbase and wider track has been circulating at Lotus’ Hethel test track in recent weeks, testing the technology that underpins the new car. The bonded-alloy frame is a modified version of today’s Elise with a wider and longer cockpit, due to a stretched wheelbase and wider track.

‘Thanks to our motor sport experience with the Elise GT1 sports car we know what sort of power the rear part of the frame can take,’ said a source at Lotus. ‘Now we need to look at what we can do in the front module.’

But Lotus has yet to decide what to do with the extra space behind the front seats. ‘We may make it a Plus 2 like the original Elan or just use it for luggage space,’ said an insider.

One of the key features are re-designed side sills. In the Elise and VX220 they are wide and high and limit access to the driver and passenger seats. In the prototype, part of the sill is cut away and incorporated into the door, which maintains side-impact protection but should make getting in and out easier.

The prototype, which has yet to receive a Lotus codename or project name, is serving as a test-bed to evaluate today’s bonded-alloy frame against the next generation Versatile Vehicle Architecture. Relative costs and the pros and cons of the technology will be compared.

The prototype is understood to be powered by a 190bhp Toyota 2.0-litre, the engine for the new US version of the Elise. But Lotus has proposed a ‘multi-cylinder’ powerplant, a reference to GM’s all-new High Feature global V6 engine. Other options include the 200bhp VX Turbo engine or US versions of the L850 2.2-litre four-cylinder. Another possibility is a Proton version – in these pictures the badge plinths are Proton-shaped. Proton wants an image-boosting sports car, and Lotus will have spare capacity at Hethel when production of the VX and Opel Speedster ends in autumn 2005.

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