The battery-powered Eletre SUV is controversial but Jonathan Crouch thinks it defines what a new-era Lotus can be.
Ten Second Review
Lotus describes its Eletre high performance EV crossover as 'a desirable all-new lifestyle car for our next generation of customers'. It's very different from anything you'd expect a car from this British brand to be. But the same time, satisfyingly Lotus too.
Should Lotus be building an electric car? Or full-EV? Well the facts are that if it doesn't, it won't survive. And the British brand has spent too much of its seventy year history barely surviving. Time for something different: time for this, the Lotus Eletre.
With this performance SUV, the British brand reinvents itself as an electric performance car maker, in the process leap-frogging rivals Ferrari and Aston Martin, both yet to take that final step. Three other uber-fast Lotus EVs are set to follow by 2025, including the Evija hypercar. It's all a far cry from the Lotus of just a few years ago, a cottage British brand hand-building lightweight little sports cars for the few that wanted them. The company's acquisition by Chinese giant Geely in 2017 changed all that. Now, Lotus is so well funded that its boss Matt Hindle has been poached from Tesla and it has a dedicated Lotus Technology Centre in Coventry 'for the creation of lifestyle cars', of which the Eletre is the first.
Impressively, instead of merely borrowing a platform from fellow Geely brands Volvo and Polestar, Lotus has created its own, the 'Electric Premium Architecture'. And manufacturing will take place at the Geely plant in Wuhan, China which will eventually be putting out up to 50,000 examples of this car a year. A whole new world for Lotus then. Would you want to be a part of it? Read on.
Lotus claims the Eletre has been engineered to deliver everything you would expect from the brand, in terms of ride and handling, steering and driver engagement. There's a clever three- in-one electric motor system integrating motor, controller and reducer into one package. And thanks to copious use of carbon fibre and aluminium, this car is light by EV standards too. Just one reason why the company is able to claim that the Eletre is the world's fastest dual motor production SUV, a boast that applies to the top variant, the Eletre R. This has combined motor output of 905bhp accessed (unusually in an EV) by a dual-speed transmission which allows for faster acceleration. The 62mph sprint is dispatched in just 2.95s en route to 165mph. Plus there's lowered suspension, race-style damper settings and anti-roll control. The 'R' also comes with a 'Lotus Dynamic Handling Pack' (optional on other models) which gives you launch control and grippier tyres. Plus a 'Track' driving mode which firms up the dampers, lowers the ride height and gives you tauter anti-roll control.
The more affordable Eletre and Eletre S models also use a dual motor (so AWD) format, but have a lower (but still prodigious) system output of 603bhp accessed through single-speed auto paddle shift transmission. 62mph is 4.5s away en route to 160mph. All Eletre variants use the same big 112kWh battery, which offers a 304 mile range in the R version - or 373 miles in the other models. Active aerodynamics, air suspension with active ride height control and adaptive damping are standard on all variants. Options include active rear axle steering, carbon ceramic brakes and torque vectoring via an electronic limited slip differential.
Design and Build
So much is different here. Not only the fact that this is an all-electric Lotus SUV but also the fact that this car has five doors, a big boot and, at 5.1-metres in length, is vastly bigger than anything the brand has previously made (almost the same size as a Lamborghini Urus). Yet great lengths have been gone to by Design Chief Ben Payne and his team to give the car a Lotus 'feel', primarily in the way that the compact bonnet, the short overhangs and the cab-forward stance reference the brand's previous mid-engined design layout. There are nods to Lotus cars of the present too, with sharp edges at the front and the glass canopy on top of the body, both referencing the look of the Evija hypercar. Huge 23-inch wheels help visually 'shrink' the silhouette. And at the rear, there's a full-width ribbon light that changes colour according to battery charge level. Plus there's a carbonfibre three-stage deployable roof-mounted spoiler. And digital stalks replacing the usual door mirrors.
Inside, if anything, it's even more extreme and yes, again there is a very Lotus feel thanks to the driver-focused minimalist vibe. The small-diameter steering well with its regen-adjust and drive mode paddles is retro, yet futuristic. And through it, you view a slim info strip (under 30mm tall) which displays key vehicle and journeying info. Anything else you'll need is found on a 15.1-inch landscape-orientated central infotainment screen, which automatically folds flat when not required. A camera on the dash watches where you're looking and adjusts screen brightness automatically - which is useful to stop the little screens at either end of the dash (the ones replacing the door mirrors) becoming distracting. The front seats are super-slim race-style items trimmed in a wool-blend fabric that's lighter than leather. For the rear, a three-person bench is standard and rear legroom is impressive. A four-seat layout is optional with individual rear chairs. However, this reduces boot space from the normal 688-litres to 611-litres. Not bad for a Lotus though.
Market and Model
Prices start at £89,500 for the base Eletre model, but you'll probably want to stretch at least to the mid-level Eletre S, which prices from £104,500. With both these two variants, you'll be offered the optional 'Lotus Dynamic Handling Pack' for a sharper driving feel. The top Eletre R has that as standard and costs £120,000.
Standard equipment includes 22-inch wheels, with 20 and 23-inch rims additionally available. You also get an augmented reality Head-up display and five drive modes that alter the car's steering, powertrain and suspension parameters. Plus there's a clever 'Electric Reverse Mirror Display' package which replaces conventional door mirrors and uses three cameras; one replacing the usual internal rear view mirror, one to contribute to a 360-degree surround view of the car and one as part of intelligent driving technologies.
As for media connectivity, there's a 15.1-inch OLED touchscreen in the centre of the dash that's fitted with Lotus's latest Hyper OS operating system for the driver and passengers, pre-prepared for over-the-air updates. A dedicated smartphone app, wireless 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring and 5G data compatibility are also included. As is a 1,380-watt 15-speaker KEF stereo. Lidar sensors have been placed around the bodywork which will allow the car to offer level four self-driving capability as soon this is allowed by legislation. 'Highway System Pack' and 'Parking Pack' options are available to widen the suite of driver assets.
Cost of Ownership
We gave you the driving range figures earlier - 304 miles for the Eletre R and 373 miles for the other two variants. This Lotus model's 'Electric Premium Architecture' 800-volt platform supports the latest ultra-rapid chargers that are springing up all over Europe: many rival premium brand EVs are still stuck on the old 400-volt system with their architecture. The 112kWh battery supports charging speeds of up to 420kW, which should enable you at a conventional rapid charger to replenish the battery from 10-80% in 20 minutes., allowing you to add 74 miles of range in just 5 minutes.
The charging port has been placed on the front wing, which means electricity coming through to the car will be as close as possible to where it's needed, which cuts down on unnecessary internal cabling and the extra weight that would bring. A five year warranty is standard in the UK. Lotus offers roadside assistance across Europe for five years after vehicle purchase.
The Electra is indeed a Lotus through and through - which is an enormous achievement given how far it deviates from anything the brand has previously offered. Even Lotus can't avoid the use of heavy EV architecture, but everything that could be made lighter has been in pursuit of a new standard of driving involvement for this class of car.
The way the Electra looks and the way it feels inside will also draw in those who've enjoyed the idea of a Lotus from afar but never been able to justify owning one. And it comes with the kind of technology that prior to the Geely take-over the brand could only dream about. Everything's different then, but fortunately, some things are still the same.