What about Colin? Chapman said? The late founder of Lotus was a restless innovator whose famous mantra was “Simplify, then add light.” Surely the new Eletre, a complex and heavy electric SUV, is the antithesis of everything Chapman stands for?
Maybe, maybe not. To begin with, Chapman was also a pragmatist. He introduced commercial sponsorship to F1 racing with the Gold Leaf Lotus 49 in 1968. And he sold the rights to his most enduring creation, the Lotus 7, to Caterham Cars in 1973. Before Eletre, the range of carmaker only consists of two-seater sports cars. Now it is poised to become a volume-selling—and potentially very profitable—premium brand.
While the 2,490-kg Eletre may lack a certain “lightness,” it’s full of great design features, including active aerodynamics, 5G-capable infotainment, and deployable lidar sensors. We suspect that Chapman, who experimented with everything from gas turbines to ground effect (aerodynamics created by exploiting the undercarriage design of cars), and developed the first carbon fiber-bodied F1 auto, find the technology fascinating.
The Electre line has three levels: The 603-horsepower base model costs £89,500 in the UK (that’s about $114,000—US prices are not yet known, but you can make a reservation here ). It has a twin-motor, four-wheel drive and a 112-kWh battery—good for 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and an officially certified 373-mile range. The Eletre S is £104,500 (about $133,000) and uses the same drivetrain, but adds luxuries such as ambient interior lighting, soft-close doors, and a 23-speaker KEF audio system.
Topping the range is the £120,000, 905-hp Eletre R (approx $153,000). Capable of 0-62mph in 2.95 seconds and a claimed 304 miles on a full charge, it gets chassis tech, such as active roll control and rear-wheel drive, plus a maximum- attack Track driving mode. Let’s check that later.
The Eletre is an important car for Lotus. Built in China instead of Norfolk, UK, it will soon be joined by a smaller electric SUV, along with a sedan car to compete with the Porsche Taycan. Whatever Colin Chapman has achieved in the past, this is the future of his company. So, how does it stack up?
Cutting the Wind
WIRED tested the Eletre at a brand-hosted drive event in Norway, a country that has embraced EVs more than any other. By 2022, nearly 80 percent of vehicles sold here will be electric, encouraged by everything from more tax incentives to cheaper parking fees. Chinese EV manufacturer Nio is using Norway to test its battery swap stations as well.
The “porous” design of the Eletre is clearly influenced by the Lotus Evija electric hypercar. Its wide grille has six apertures, which open or close as needed to improve cooling airflow or retain heat. Pop-out lidar sensors—an apparent world-first on a production car—are hidden on both ends of the roof and above the front wheel arches, which are said to give the Eletre “a true 360 -degree view of the world around it.”
Instead of conventional door mirrors, Lotus offers high-definition cameras that stream the rear view to two 6-inch displays. WIRED isn’t a fan of such systems, but you do get a slight aero advantage. An active rear spoiler helps the car cut through the air and doubles the downforce (to a still modest 112.5 kg at top speed) when needed. The overall drag coefficient of 0.26—a shade more than the new Rolls-Royce Specter EV—is impressive for such a large SUV.
The Eletre’s body is more than 50 percent aluminum, and all models ride on air suspension that can increase ground clearance by 25 mm if you venture off-road. The electronically controlled shock absorbers can adjust the vehicle’s damping 500 times per second, while the optional 48-volt active anti-roll system and rear steering (both standard on the Eletre R) enhance the agility of winding roads, or on a racetrack.
As Seen on Screens
If Lotus purists struggle with the idea of an SUV, the Eletre’s interior may surprise them. Instead of the bare bones of an Elise, the spacious cabin uses tactile Alcantara trim and tech. “With EVs, the digital user experience becomes the most powerful point of differentiation,” said senior chief engineer Serino Angellotti. “This is why many people choose one car over another.”
The infotainment is focused on a 15.1-inch OLED touchscreen with 5G, which looks fresh and responds quickly. Use the native Lotus navigation system and it can calculate energy use, suggest more efficient routes, and precondition the battery before you reach a charger. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are coming via an over-the-air update this fall.