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Sacrilegious to some but inviting to many more, this stonking great electric SUV from China heralds a new dawn at Lotus

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Remember when Chinese car-making giant Geely bought Volvo? It went quiet for a few years, then came launch after launch. The same is now happening with Lotus, and its new generation starts with the Eletre – a big car in every sense.

They call it a hyper-SUV, because it’s a 4x4 with at least 603bhp. A coupé-ish saloon will follow, then a smaller SUV, all on the same platform and all made in China. Only after that will there be a two-door sports car built in Norfolk, electric like the rest. The Emira petrol sports car and Evija electric hypercar feel a bit incidental to what’s coming.

The Eletre’s Electric Premium Architecture, of which 47% is high-strength steel and 43% is aluminium, shares some basic ideas but “almost zero components” with anything used elsewhere in the Geely empire.The Eletre has a length of 5.1 metres, a height of 1.6 metres, four or five seats and pricing that ranges from £90,805 to £121,305. Between the base car and the R is the £104,500 S, tested here. It has the same 603bhp as the base car via two 302bhp motors, one at each end, with open differentials. The R gets a bigger rear motor with 603bhp for a 905bhp total.

Every version has a 109kWh battery under the floor, running at 800V and able to charge at rates of up to 350kW. The generous 373-mile WLTP range is aided by a competitive aerodynamic rating of 0.26Cd.Air springs are standard, while rear steer and 48V active anti-roll bars are options fitted to our S test car (they are standard on the R). And if none of that hardware sounds like the ‘simplify and…’ school of Lotus, wait until I tell you the kerb weight is 2520kg.

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Also remarkably un-Lotus is the interior. Bar the smell, there’s nothing in here that an existing Lotus owner would recognise – but it’s none the worse for it. Perceived material quality and fit and finish are genuinely first-class, proper premium-brand stuff. The touchpoints are excellent: column stalks move precisely and I think are unique to Lotus. The real metal switches on the small and slightly irritatingly shaped steering wheel click and move with the action of high-end hi-fi components. The ambient lighting is slick. And the stitching and gaps are tight. 

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I don’t think the Eletre has anything to fear from competitors in its £100,000 electric SUV sphere, from a feel perspective, at any rate, if not strictly ergonomically. There wouldn’t be much in that either, but too many of the climate functions are relegated to the infotainment touchscreen (15.1in), ditto ways to turn off the driving assistance systems. And while the switches and the polished carbonfibre console look and feel the part, in bright sunlight they are perfectly shaped to punch reflections into your eyeballs. That’s a shame, because the driving environment is otherwise pleasing. There’s bags of rear-seat space, at least in the (pricier) four-seat model I tried, and a decent 611-litre boot, albeit with a tall and not especially wide loading lip.

Under the new ownership, a Lotus is a globally developed product. There’s a design centre in Coventry, a factory in Wuhan and some HQ bods in Hethel but, most importantly, the hardware and software is developed in a new engineering centre in Raunheim, not far from Frankfurt – apparently an extremely helpful part of the world for talking to suppliers, and for poaching engineers from other car companies. And that German origin shows almost as soon as you begin turning a wheel. The Eletre doesn’t feel like an old Lotus at all.

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In a way, that shouldn’t surprise: no Lotus ever weighed two and a half tonnes. But still, if you come expecting family DNA, by which I mean overtly communicative steering, tremendous agility and poise and yet a mysteriously pliant ride, you won’t find it. Engineers from the UK have gone to visit the Eletre in Germany, but it’s a relative stranger to the pockmarked and bucking roads of Norfolk.

Instead it gets rolling with a firm composure, which isn’t surprising given the 275/40 and – how’s this for width? – 315/35 Pirelli P Zero-shod 22in wheels. The 23in optional wheels are not particularly recommended by Lotus’s dynamics specialists, while a low-drag 20in design is a no-cost option partly responsible for the low drag coefficient and optimum range.

With this all comes isolation, too, though. Any ‘iconic’ (ie fake) motor noises are notable by their absence and active sound compensation in the cabin is said to reduce overall noise levels by as much as 5dBA.Throttle response at low speed is generously proportioned. Ease your foot in and it responds gently. It takes a big flex of the ankle for the Eletre to accelerate with the force that it ultimately can.As speeds rise, it displays a relative compliance in its regular Tour driving mode, absorbing small surface ripples deftly but still moving all of apiece across cambers and dips or crests.

Things are tighter in Sport, but bump absorption remains acceptable. Either way, there’s always a solidity behind it. The idea of an active anti-roll bar, especially a powerful 48V one, is to quickly stiffen to counter hefty body movements and cornering forces, then ease off in a straight line. But even at a cruise, what happens to one side always seems to affect the other. It doesn’t feel like everything slackens entirely. Not like, say, the easing off of the weaker, slower, 12V set-up on a Rolls-Royce – although, of course, that has different aims.

By comparison, cornering lean is certainly minimal, with only a short and quick roll allowed before the car settles into a planted, secure stance. With equal power to distribute front or rear, there’s little hint of understeer or oversteer. On the road, those would require brain-out ambition and great visibility. It’s a new character. Test an Emira against, say, a 718 Cayman and the Porsche feels more hard-wired to the asphalt. I could imagine testing an Eletre after a Cayenne and the two seeming not so dissimilar.

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The steering also has a Germanic quality, secure and stable, with a quick build of torque and response after a degree or two of turn and middling to high efforts required to twirl around its 2.5 lock-to-lock turns. It’s not a light set-up that you can easily palm around town one-handed, nor one that bristles with filtered but valuable feel even at mild speeds, but a very serious, accurate rack, with a quick build-up of weight, some road feel and good accuracy (helped by it being hard-mounted to a subframe).

Top speed is 160mph, and it feels made to do it without drama – and to heck with the pesky cambers and lumps you British types live with. To Rolls-Royce again, if I may. The Spectre’s makers said they wanted it to feel like a Rolls first and an EV second. With the Porsche Taycan, it’s a toss-up as to whether it first feels like an EV or a Porsche, but it does at least feel strongly like a Porsche. The Eletre feels like an EV first and a Lotus not at all.

At first, the fact that it could wear any number of badges bothered me. After a day, not so much. Test it for what it is, not what I think it should be. And I don’t suppose that will worry Lotus either. The perfect car for Lotus isn’t some idealised sports car, it’s a car people want to buy. With this extremely capable SUV, the company probably has that.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.