The Lotus Emira is the last ICE sports car from Lotus, but the brand has also gone all out to make it the best.
Having driven various iterations of Elises and Exiges over the last 25 years or so, there was never any doubt about how wonderfully pure the driving experience was. However, it always seemed to be at the expense of comfort, practicality, convenience, and, crucially, quality.
Every time I got into a Lotus, I loved how they drove, but always wished that they were just that bit easier to live with, or had air-conditioning that worked. Also, a few other creature comforts like Apple CarPlay and cup holders, for example, would be nice.
This brings us to the Lotus Emira tested here. Popularly referred to as the “Lotus without excuses”, it promises to be the most complete sports car the British manufacturer has made yet.
By the time I got to drive my first Lotus around 1999, it was the Elise Mk1. By this time, Lotus had entered a very different era. It had become so focused on lightness and handling that the sexiness and glamour of iconic models such as the Esprit was put on the back burner.
The Emira however, is set to bring sexy back to Lotus. Painted in a two-tone colour scheme of Magma Red and Black, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a Ferrari. Many did during the few days that I had the car.
It certainly turns heads in a way that I haven’t seen in a car for quite some time.
The Emira’s interior doesn’t disappoint either. Gone are the bare aluminium interiors of the Elise and Exige. In the latest Lotus, every surface is covered in leather or carpet. There are also proper cupholders, a generously sized infotainment touchscreen and electrically adjustable seats with memory.
Importantly, getting into the Emira no longer requires the dexterity of a contortionist like the Exige demanded. The sills are now lower than the seat bolsters. Yet, from the outside, the Emira cuts a low-slung silhouette expected of a supercar.
The Emira may have the presence and poise of a proper supercar, but happily, it doesn’t come at the expense of outward visibility that afflicts many such cars. The driver gets a good view of the road ahead and even the sides, thanks to a window line that swoops downward towards the wing mirrors.
This makes it easy to sight apexes and inspires confidence in placing the car exactly where the driver intends it to be. In town, it also makes parking a cinch.
It wouldn’t be a Lotus, however, without some quirks. The placement of the parking brake switch, for example, feels odd when you’re driving the manual gearbox version as was the case here. It’s over on the lower right side near the door. This means getting used to an unintuitive action of shifting into first gear with your left hand, and then using your right to release the parking brake before moving off.
So at some point, one hand lets go of the steering wheel while the other takes over. Feels a bit like learning to do that hand clapping thing when singing Edelweiss around a campfire…
The location of the parking brake switch happens to be the same as that in Mercedes-Benz cars. This is fine because now they’re all autos anyway. So I suspect that the Emira, sharing the same switch location has something to do with the 360hp 2.0-litre turbo models being fitted with the M139 Mercedes-AMG unit that can be found in the A 45 models.
Another ‘Lotus’ oddity is that it has keyless ignition. You still have to fish the key fob from your pocket or bag to work the door locks, but no need when starting the engine.
If you want to drive a manual Emira, then it only comes with a 400hp 3.5-litre V6 supercharged unit built by Toyota. An auto version powered by this engine is also available for $11,000 more for a six-speed automatic with shift paddles.
But I mean, who wouldn’t want to row your own gears, right? That’s entirely the fun of it.
The Lotus Emira may be more civilised, but it hasn’t gone soft. The bolt-action gear shift feel is still there, with a ringside view of its linkage visible to its occupants. Look through the rearview mirror, and the driver will spy the throttle actuator working in unison whenever the accelerator is blipped.
Pulling away from low speeds reveals a rather truck-like clatter which can be unflattering but power through the gears and the sound of the V6 starts to sing with a distinctive supercharger whine supported by the baritone of the V6 through its exhaust.
The real highlight here, however, is its ride and handling. This, after all, is a Lotus and once again it shows the world how to make a car that can care up your favourite corners without shaking your fillings loose.
It has a relatively long-travel suspension set-up for a sports car and a front-rear weight distribution of 38:62. This rear-biased setup actually resembles that of a Porsche 911 (40:60) rather than its most direct competitor, the 719 Cayman GTS 4.0 which features 45:55, in case you were wondering.
The Emira’s rear-biased setup affords it fluency with the way it changes directions with hardly any understeer to speak of. Another ace up its sleeve is that the Lotus still employs a hydraulic steering rack while its German rivals have gone electric. The result is a more organic steering feel.
When you have such a finely tuned driving tool, the most minor details start to become apparent. In this case, Lotus should have paid more attention to the design of the steering wheel. The delicacy of the steering feel is sullied somewhat by a misshapen rim that’s too fat and the multi-function spokes too wide for even this writer’s large hands to wrap around.
Porsche currently has the best steering wheel in the business. Just try to hold the standard, thinner-rimmed one – and you’ll know what I’m on about. That is the steering wheel the Emira – or just about any car, really – needs.
The Emira can be ordered with either a Tour or Sport suspension setup. The car tested here wore a Tour suspension setup, which makes the car comfortable enough to be a daily driver proposition. Sport is supposed to be a more track-focused setup and the customer can specify Michelin Sport Cup 2 tyres as well.
That said, this writer found absolutely nothing lacking with the superb Goodyear F1 Sport rubber and Tour chassis combo on the test car. For that matter, the drive mode selector didn’t seem to improve the experience with the manual gearbox. For 99 per cent of the drive, leaving it alone in the default tour mode was satisfying enough.
Reasons to get one
For those of a certain age, Lotus is a brand that holds a special place in the hearts and minds of a generation of car enthusiasts. For this writer, mind-blowing moments that introduced me to the brand started with James Bond’s Esprit transforming into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me, then Aryton Senna’s first F1 win at the rain-soaked Portuguese Grand Prix in 1985.
A few years later, this young man’s loins were stirred when a silver Lotus Esprit was skillfully driven by Julia Roberts in the opening scenes of Pretty Woman. Then again, this time by Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct…
More than any recent Lotus, the Emira looks and feels more like a spiritual successor of the iconic Esprit. Along with the fact that this is said to be the last ICE sports car from the hallowed brand, it’s easy to see why the order books are filled for the next 3 years in the UK.
At current COE prices, the Lotus Emira costs the best part of $700k in Singapore. While this might be an outrageous amount of money for most of us, the next closest thing to offer this combination of a ride-handling balance of this calibre would be a $2 million supercar like the McLaren 720S.
That cliché that Lotus stands for Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious casts a long shadow. This would weigh on my mind if I were to order an Emira. The infotainment screen going dark towards the end of my three-day affair with the car started to remind me of this.
Then again, the combination of a Toyota V6 with a manual gearbox would suggest a more robust package than the highly-strung Mercedes-AMG 2.0-litre turbo unit with a multi-clutch automated gearbox, especially in our tropical heat.
The Emira however, just might seduce you to live on the edge…
Engine: 3,456cc V6 supercharged, rear-mid mounted
Power: 400hp @ 6,800rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 3,500rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual, RWD
0-100kmh: 4.3 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 290kmh (claimed)
Base price: $548,800 before COE
Photo Credits: Sean Loo (@auto.driven)