A spirited drive: The Lotus Emira’s power-to-weight ratio gives it great performance and the car has impressive levels of front-end grip and high-speed cornering stability.
C.olin Chapmannthe founder of Lotus, had a brilliant idea: make a sports car with a low curb weight and combine it with a powertrain with relatively negligible power output, but give the car in question a power-to-weight ratio that ensures it . punches well above his weight.
Sounds like an overly simple recipe that won’t necessarily produce a delicious cocktail, right? Not quite. On the contrary, in fact. My first drive in Chapman’s creations was in 2006, initially in the Elise S, then the track-honed Exige S, packed with semi-slick tires.
The former proved to be a delightful road car: light and agile with a humble but revving 1.8-litre 20V VVTLi from the early 2000s Toyota RunX RSi.
He enjoyed being beaten up to 7,800rpm, with the hot cam buzzing around 6,000rpm, so I found myself wringing his neck every chance I got and enjoyed every moment.
Of course, the Elise was anything but ergonomically sound. She had an excruciating in-and-out setup, where she almost had to crawl on all fours to get out of the ultra-low seating position.
Then there was the tin construction and sparse interior that looked like it had been bolted together by an overzealous teenager from Brakpan, wielding nothing more than an angle grinder and screwdriver.
In 2010, I drove the Exige S towards Mpumalanga and the winding roads of Hazyview. I have yet to drive anything with such prodigious levels of grip. I got out of the car that day with sore forearms and neck muscles from the G-force put on my body, and I didn’t care one bit. The Exige S proved itself to be a road go-kart, and I still fondly remember that car.
However, the subject of this article is the latest installment in the story of the mid-engined Lotus sports car, the Emira. Succinctly replacing the Elise, Exige and Evora models, this is the next generation of Lotus sports cars and likely the last combustion-engined car from the brand as it transitions to a full portfolio of electric vehicles.
In fact, we’ll be seeing its first SUV EV, the Eletre, at Mzansi in a few months’ time.
Getting back to the Emira though, the brand seems to have pushed the envelope when it comes to build quality in particular, with the model feeling better put together than anything before it, including the Evora.
The Emira is somewhat attractive, thanks to a supercar silhouette and taut but simple design lines, with the rear end sporting a Ferrari-esque look, which isn’t a bad thing. Overall, the style is friendly and draws the attention of viewers, who mostly nod in appreciation.
Sliding into the cabin is where one finds the most extensive improvements. It’s mostly luxurious and has high-quality materials that add a positive tactile feel to the package.
The milled metal manual shifter and exposed gear linkages add an air of freshness, while the square hydraulic steering wheel is not only ergonomically solid but feels good by communicating what the front wheels are doing.
The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch infotainment screen bring minimalist, digital cues to the cabin.
At the same time, the manual gear stick and three pedals in the footwell are a nod to old-school analogue driving.
And driving is what the Emira is all about. There’s a starter button located under a red metal flap that, with a bang, wakes up the engine. The boot is in default Touring mode, while there are Sport and Track modes (it slightly neutralizes the ESP).
The latter two modes also release the exhaust system buzzer.
The clutch action takes some getting used to, as the initial bite is slightly higher than one anticipates, though familiarity quickly settles this.
That 3.5-litre supercharged V6 cranks out 298kW and 420Nm, which aren’t numbers to get excited about, but with the Emira in V6 form weighing in at 1405kg, the power-to-weight ratio gives it impressive performance.
Like previous Lotus sports cars, the Emira requires you to grab it by the neck to get the best out of the sublime engine and chassis.
Our test vehicle had the Touring suspension (you can also opt for the stiffer sport suspension), which offers an exemplary compromise between comfort and dynamic performance.
Sports is the go-to mode for spirited highway driving, as it keeps exhaust noise in the “exciting” zone. It’s a nice thing to exploit.
I found that short shifting from first to second isn’t Emira’s forte, as the timer doesn’t like being rushed here, which means robot dice matchups will see him languish behind his opponent.
Other than that, once you delve into the car’s performance, you’re met with an impressive performer, if not quite the best.
That engine isn’t the most sophisticated, with its roots pointing to the Toyota Camry, but Lotus has gone to great lengths to give it oomph and character.
Handling remains a feather in the cap of Lotus sports cars and the Emira is no exception, offering prodigious levels of front-end grip and lateral stability in high-speed corners. You find yourself safely hauling high speeds with confidence-inspiring handling.
So has the Emira sports car done enough to steer buyers away from German brands? Well, to be fair, Lotus has always offered an alternative sports car experience, which seems to be the case here.
However, with a base price of R2.25 million, the R2.5 million Porsche GT4 RS is the car to beat at this price level, as it far exceeds its weight and easily has the most exciting engine.
In isolation, though, the Emira is Lotus’ most polished sports car in years and that might be enough for fans and those looking for something niche and a bit of left field.
Price: R2 250 000