First drive review: Lotus Emira

  • LOTUS EMIRA
  • price range: $177,000 (Clean Car Program fee/rebate: TBC)
  • Powertrains: 3.5-liter supercharged V6 with 298kW/420Nm, 11.2L/100km, 258g/km CO2 (subject to homologation), six-speed manual, RWD.
  • body style: Coupe
  • On sale: Now (First Edition, base available spring 2023)

The Lotus Emira is the last ever Lotus to use a combustion engine, which is sad. But there is some good news – it’s selling locally, thanks to a renewed effort to get the brand here last year. Right-hand drive versions are very close, but we managed a short drive in a left-hook pre-production model as a little taster.

Make me an instant expert: what do I need to know?

The Emira has landed... Well, a left-hand drive pre-production car has.
Nile Bijoux/Stuff

The Emira has landed… Well, a left-hand drive pre-production car has.

The Emira, as mentioned, is the final Lotus to be powered by an internal combustion engine. It’s actually getting two, the familiar 3.5-litre supercharged Toyota-sourced V6 and a new turbocharged inline-four coming from Mercedes-AMG. The former will get a six-speed manual and a torque-converter six-speed automatic, while the latter is only available with an eight speed dual-clutch automatic, also from AMG.

READ MORE:
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* Lotus puts the Elise, Exige and Evora out to pasture
* Lotus New Zealand prices the Emira
* Five Things: New cars that still have a manual transmission

First to arrive is the V6, which will also be the flagship Emira. The engine produces 298kW and 420Nm of torque, which aren’t particularly mind-breaking figures these days, but are on par with the Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0, which costs about the same. The boosted four won’t be the full-fat version found in the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S, instead it’ll be closer to the non-S version available in Europe, making 268kW/430Nm.

The familiar 3.5-litre V6 is mounted behind the driver, sending power to the rears.

Nile Bijoux/Stuff

The familiar 3.5-litre V6 is mounted behind the driver, sending power to the rears.

Lotus has made a big effort to get not just the drive of the Emira right but the fit and finish too. The interior gets a high-tech dash with a 10.25-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display, a bunch of creature comforts like electric seats, leather upholstery, cruise control and automatic windscreen wipers, keyless start, ambient lighting, and parking sensors. Add on the Lotus Drivers Pack and you get launch control, a stiffer suspension set-up and sportier tires.

Outside are LED lights at both ends, minimal but sharp styling with gashes in the bonnet for aerodynamics, intakes just fore of the rear wheels for the mid-mounted engine, and curvy style lines pulled from the electric Evija.

This one in particular is a prototype. All the important bits – engine, steering, chassis – are done and good to go, but there are a few small things that Lotus will polish up before production, like some squeaky interior bits, improving noise, vibration and harshness levels, and putting the steering wheel on the correct side.

Where did you drive it?

Almost everything on this is ready to go, save for a few final fit and finish tweaks in the cabin and electronics package.

Nile Bijoux/Stuff

Almost everything on this is ready to go, save for a few final fit and finish tweaks in the cabin and electronics package.

Considering that prototype status, we weren’t allowed to drive that far, unfortunately. Lotus let us take it on the motorway, stretch its legs a bit, and see how it went in more urban areas.

I can report that while the V6 might be getting on a bit in years, it’s still a plenty potent powerplant. Lotus’ fettling allows it spins up really fast, not dissimilar to a four-cylinder sports bike.

The powerband is nice and wide too, thanks to that supercharger, with plenty of pull from almost anywhere in the rev range. It’s not quite as peaky as a naturally aspirated engine, but that could also be simply missed due to a lack of time being spent with the car.

Those slashes in the bonnet are for aerodynamic purposes

Nile Bijoux/Stuff

Those slashes in the bonnet are for aerodynamic purposes

Sounds awesome too, although probably not quite as loud as the older Evoras. You can thank the noise emissions regulations for that. Active exhaust valves mean you can adjust the volume with drive modes, with the fully open setting offering a tasty amount of roar, cracks and snaps.

The steering and chassis are typical of Lotus, direct and sharp. In fact, Lotus opted to avoid electric steering and the various safety things that this brings in favor of hydraulic steering, which it says is better for driving.

Road noise isn’t too bad, a bit boomy, but I don’t want to comment entirely until the production car lands, as this is an area that will probably change with the final tweaks before sign-off.

First Editions are available to order now, with the base model coming next year.

Nile Bijoux/Stuff

First Editions are available to order now, with the base model coming next year.

By default, the Emira gets two drive modes, Touring and Sports. Adding the Driver’s pack gets Track, while there will also be an ‘all off’ mode that, as you everything can probably work out, turns off. The modes adjust the throttle progression, exhaust valves, traction control and, in automatic models, enable launch control in Sports and Track modes.

It’s comfy, which is a bit of a relief. You could drive it to work most days and not have your back blown out by seats with a centimetre of padding and track-spec fixed suspension. The screens are simple and easy to decipher, and there are lots of high-quality materials around.

From the driver’s seat, the pedal box is slightly off-centre, which was a bit weird. I don’t remember the Elise being like that, so the final Emira models might be better. Could also have been the strangeness of driving on the other side of the car, which feels a bit like that point in your life where you know how to drive manual but aren’t yet confident to do it without thinking.

The manual transmission is only available with the V6 engine.

Nile Bijoux/Stuff

The manual transmission is only available with the V6 engine.

Speaking of manual, the gear shift is nice and tactile with a short throw. The gears themselves are spaced well – fast driving will see a fair few changes, but the engine will sit at around 2000rpm at 100kph on the motorway.

Now all that’s left is to see how it handles itself on our bumpy backroads…

What’s the pick of the range?

Lotus has built a serious Porsche Cayman competitor here.

Nile Bijoux/Stuff

Lotus has built a serious Porsche Cayman competitor here.

The Emira isn’t just a sendoff to Lotus’ petrol heritage, it’s a concerted effort by the brand to show that it has moved on from previous build quality and engineering issues. A short drive in a prototype showed me that the Emira is a serious contender for the under-$200k mid-engined sports car crown in all areas, not just driving prowess. Which it needs to be, if it wants to beat the superb Cayman.

Why would I buy it?

You want a mid-engined car that isn’t a Cayman, something a bit different from other similar sports cars, and something ridiculously good to drive.

Why wouldn’t I buy it?

It’s nearly $200k, which is a lot of money, or you prefer German engineering over British.