Lotus really wants the new Emira to sell in far bigger numbers than the Elise, Exige and Evora. Lotus owner Geely is investing big. Sure, the Emira’s aluminium frame and glass fibre skin are the same materials Lotus has used for years. But they’ll be made in expensively scaled-up factories.
Lotus has built a new plant in Norwich for the aluminium bits, so the frames don’t have to be trucked far to the main factory in Hethel. There too we find a new production line, with robots painting and computer guided trolleys carrying the cars between stations. Some £100m has gone into all this, creating 200 new plant jobs.
Look at the Alpine A110. Not that many people are buying it, because they get in and think it’s a bit toy-like. That’s a criticism Lotus has obviously suffered with many of its past models and is determined to avoid this time. Get into the Emira and it’s a world away.
If the marketing team has any Porsche-like gumption, the Emira will doubtless later be offered with the option of hip-crushing race seats, but right now you’re forced to endure the luxury of four-way electric adjustment as standard, or the option of a premium seat with 12-way motors.
You don’t need to contort yourself to get in either – the door openings and sill heights have been carefully considered. The seat moves back to suit tall drivers who were simply barred from the Elise. You can see out pretty well, too.
While it might sound boring, the storage in an Emira matters. Big bags behind the seats, smaller ones in the rear boot, amounting to 359 litres – or the same as a VW Polo. Drinks bottles fit the door pockets and, er, cups in the cupholders and a phone in the phone tray. The instrument display and central touchscreen both use Lotus graphics, unless you’ve switched to phone mirroring, which you can. Lotus has worked with KEF on a 10-channel hi-fi.
Lotus’s current slogan says “For the drivers”. But if you’re to use a car every day, you want some help. If your commute involves a long section with average speed cameras, you’ll want radar cruise control, anti-collision braking, lane departure warning and lane change assist. For slow-speed work, keyless go, rear cross-traffic alert and parking sensors are handy. So you can spec all that. It hardly adds any weight.
We know where this is going, then. Mainstream? You’re all going to hate the Emira 'cos it’s a sell-out. It’s 1,400kg, has radar cruise control and electric seats. Remember the fuss when the new Defender came out? The armchair critics hated it because it wasn’t like the old one, a vehicle no one bought new, because its design and engineering were so very not new. I adore both the old Defender and the Elise, but I never considered buying either except second-hand, which wouldn’t be doing much to keep Land Rover or Lotus in business and their staff in jobs.
So let’s park the righteous fury and look at the Emira for what it is. A £60,000 (RM350k) 400-odd bhp mid-engined sports car with modern amenities, charismatic engines, a lightweight structure, beautiful design and, we trust, the Lotus dynamic fairy dust. What, exactly, is not to like?
Words: Paul Horrell Photography: Mark Riccioni