Lotus' gave us an in-depth look at both what the company wishes to become and how the cars it builds will drive them there. In our previous installment we looked at the Lotus Group as a whole. Here we'll break down the vehicles Lotus hopes will make it a global success and discuss the two cars that are conspicuously absent from Lotus' next great renaissance. Follow the jump to find out what they are and how Lotus' line-up is set to undergo a massive evolution.
Whither the Exige and Evora?
Lotus plans to have a full range of product from 2015 onwards, but two of the cars – the much-loved Exige and recently introduced Evora – haven't featured at all in the 2015 spotlight. With talk of Lotus' enthusiast audience painting the automaker into a corner we wondered if these other E-cars might be left to wither.
"It would be wrong to abandon the Lotus customer," said CEO Dany Bahar. "There will always be an Elise and Exige for that Lotus customer, and the Evora will always have its place."
The company is working on a new Exige and hopes "to have something to announce soon." There are two life cycles planned for the Evora at three-year intervals, as well as different variants, so the horizon for that coupe extends to about nine years out.
The New Lineup
In terms of size, the five new cars run from smallest to largest in this order: Elise, Elan, Esprit, Elite, Eterne. Their exterior design is where the company started, attempting to create a new corporate face for Lotus that carries the company's aspirations and wedges their way into the wallets of sports car and supercar buyers.
Lotus design chief Donato Coco made the move from being Ferrari's design head and before that he had a two-decade tenure at Citroën.
He said the question of a new direction was, "What were we going to do with Lotus, that had been living for the last 20 years with products that have not really evolved?"
His team sketched out ways to give the brand's designs "more strengths" while maintaining Lotus' traditional values. They took inspiration from and the 2D grille opening of the old Lotus Elite, which still lives in the face of the current Elise, and the 3D graphic of the shovel nose of the 1972 JPS F1 car that Emerson Fittipaldi drove, which Donato said inspired the original Esprit.
In back are slightly different treatments on the horizontal containing the quasi-floating taillights, and variations of bold diffuser designs.
After that they had to go big, since going home wasn't an option. In design-speak the growth was to "change size perception to gain dignity, authority on the road," and yet "remain light and compact."
The new Esprit, for example, is seven inches longer, four inches wider, and three inches higher than the model that disappeared in 2004. The coming Elise is almost nine inches longer and 3.2 inches taller than the vehicle currently on sale.
The cockpits will be tailored to the intentions of each car in form, texture and material, from the highly mechanical look of the Elise's long dogleg gearshift lever that juts between two floating center console spars, to the Esprit's patterned cloth, carbon fiber and aluminum laced mission-control ambiance.
Lotus also plans to lead the way in in-car interaction. The dash cluster is 12-inch screen that is left whole or broken up into sections depending on the application. In the Esprit, for example, there are three pods, the one on the left being entertainment, the center displaying tach, speedo and warning lights, the right hosting navigation. The screens will be configurable for driver preference.
The HVAC controls for the dual climate zones are mounted on each door, while the center console is lorded over by a huge red button to start the engine, beneath which is a pad with a few directional keys. Control of the car's major functions is managed by the buttons on the steering wheel, the few buttons on the IP to the right of the dash cluster, like ESP, and the directional keys on the console.
Only the design of the Esprit has been set, since it will be out first and rather soon. The other cars, both outside and inside, could evolve based on events over the next five years.
When Lotus Chief Technical Officer Wolf Zimmerman asked, "What is a Lotus?" the elongated answer plastered across his presentation slide was: a lightweight structure for an extreme power-to-weight ratio with high performance, high efficiency engines, hybrid technology and double-clutch transmission technology providing two-pedal solutions for driving dynamics, and fully integrated car and information control systems. That DCT will be a seven-speed unit.
The Lotus frame is fastened with structural bonding, and body panels will be carbon fiber except for closures like doors and hood, and where sharp angles best achieved with aluminum superforming are needed.
Zimmerman wouldn't be drawn out on the hybrid solution Lotus is developing, other than to call it "innovative." It uses batteries that will be mounted in the trunk, and in the case of the Elite he said it provides a 40-percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to its non-hybrid equivalent.
Suspensions will be feature computer-controlled variable-rate dampers, and stopping power can be provided by optional ceramic disc brakes.
The range represents five well defined entries with which sports car buyers can experience the brand, from the £35,000 Elise to the £120,000 Eterne. Of the five brand new cars the 316-horsepower, 2,409-pound Elise is the only one to claim a six-speed manual. The Exige and Evora will live in the price gap from the Elise to the £75,000 Elan, while the £110,000 Esprit occupies the middle ground as far as price is concerned, but at 3,190 pounds and 612 hp it is the quickest of them all with a 3.2-second run to 62 miles per hour. Get the details on each below.
Six-speed manual - 0-to-62 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds - 168-mile-per-hour top speed
£35,000 on-the-road - Production in early 2014
We got the feeling that the Elise was the hardest car to deal with, Bahar saying "The Elise has a bit of a wide space to fill. This new one is 20 centimeters longer, and it still has to outperform today's Elise. Big OEM's are getting into this segment, so the car should slide into a wider segment, and be more feminine."
The feminine bit is meant to be especially noted with the interior, which remains mechanical in look but is softened up by veneer and materials treatments, "technical but more suggestive of lightness and sportivity."
Seven-speed DCT - 0-to-62 mph in 3.5 seconds - 193-mph top speed - CO2 emissions of 215 g/km
£75,000 on-the-road - Production starts Summer 2013
Described as a two-seater with best-in-class performance and superior dynamics and versatility. Design inspiration said to be from Mario Andretti's 1979 Lotus F1 car, "particularly the concave section in the rear to suggest that there were just the essential bits of the car to protect the occupant and make the car work." Has an Esprit-like cockpit with a bit less sophistication.
0-to-62 mph in 3.2 seconds - 205-mph top speed - Optional KERS system - CO2 emissions of 250 g/km
Convertible option - £110,000 on-the-road - Production to begin end of 2012
0-to-62 mph in 3.7 seconds - Hybrid transmission with epicyclic hybrid gearbox with integrated electric motors - 215 g/km
£115,000 on-the-road - Production in early 2014
A 2+2 GT coupe with retractable hardtop, this one was also qualified as a difficult effort. Coco said, "Doing such a car for Lotus you have to be very careful. Your competitors have reached a very high level, and this seems to be a rupture for the Lotus brand but the 2+2 has been a part of Lotus history. The car had to look different than a DB9, 599 or California, and a Jaguar."
The interior has a cockpit treatment for the driver that practically closes him in, and which we'll probably see more of – "I believe that with this car we have reached a personality that belongs to Lotus."
0-to-62 mph in four seconds - Five meters long (16.4 feet) and five doors
Hybrid transmission with an epicyclic hybrid gearbox with integrated electric motors
£120,000 on-the-road - Production in early 2015
A "four-door super saloon" to take on the Panamera and Rapide – "We just tried to make the best thesis between those two products" – that appeared quite late in the planning and so is still being fleshed out.