2022 Lotus Emira review: International first drive


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With a reborn and reinvigorated Lotus looking to a new and very different future, is the Emira the first excuse-free Lotus?

  • Huge pace
  • Analog driving experience
  • Handsome design
  • Gearshift and brakes still not perfect
  • Marginal practicality
  • Low speed ride on Sport chassis

Getting a sense of déjà vu? Me too. It’s only three months since I visited Lotus’s HQ at Hethel to drive a prototype version of the 2022 Lotus Emira on the company’s 3.5 km test track. Now I’m heading back to Norfolk to experience the finished car on road.

The location might lack the exoticism of many flashy sportscar launches, but it couldn’t be more appropriate. Ever since Lotus moved to Hethel in 1966 the local roads have been extensively used for the development of new models.

The challenging corners and contours of the local topography, much of which is basically medieval lanes, is responsible in large part for the supple driving manners most associated with the brand.

While the basics haven’t changed since the prototype drive, some important details have. Like the pre-prod version, this Emira uses the supercharged Toyota V6 engine, basically the same one that powered the previous-generation Evora and punchier versions of the Exige.

This has been retuned to deliver new peaks of 298kW and 420Nm, with these working against a claimed mass of 1430kg to give a power to weight ratio almost identical to that of the Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0. The car I drove had the standard fit six-speed manual gearbox, although the V6 will also have the option of a torque converter auto.

A four-cylinder Emira will launch shortly after the V6, this using AMG’s turbocharged 2.0-litre unit making 270kW and working exclusively with a twin-clutch transmission.

The significant differences between the car you see here and the prototype are the fact this one sits on the firmer Sport suspension while the e
arlier car had the plusher Tour tune, so stiffer springs and dampers. The production car also rode on the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres instead of the regular Goodyear Eagles, the track-biased rubber being road legal but definitely not suited to marginal conditions.

I’m glad it’s nice and dry and the day of my drive. But this is as hardcore as the launch-spec Emira gets.

As a Lotus sportscar the Emira’s dynamic purity is unsurprising. It has a simple mechanical limited slip differential rather than a torque-biasing one, and also sits on passive dampers. That means that the decision about which chassis tune to go for is going to be an important one in terms of defining the car’s character.

Within a few hundred metres of passing through the factory gates and onto the real world it’s obvious that Sport is on the firm side of comfortable. Ride isn’t harsh – that really would be an unforgiveable sin in a Lotus – with both large bumps and high frequency stuff handled without drama, but there is a busy edge over low quality surfaces at lower speed, something which active dampers often filter out.

2022 Lotus Emira V6 Sport
Seats Two
Length 4412mm
Width 1895mm
Height 1225mm
Wheelbase 2575mm

The V6 is effective, but definitely misses the character of the zingy Cayman GTS. My test car had a slight dead spot at the top of the throttle travel, noticeable when trundling, but once boosting the supercharger gives across-the-board muscle and lag-free, linear responses. A 6750rpm limiter might sound a bit utility grade in what remains a higher revving part of the market, but there is enough mid-range urge to ensure this never feels like a limitation on road, with short shifting well short of the redline barely diminishing acceleration.

The Emira’s gearchange has a nice weight to it, plus the compelling sight of its mechanism working through a mesh panel below the centre console. But the test car’s change had a slightly stubborn action when hurried across its planes as the prototype’s did. The brake pedal also felt wooden under gentle use although bigger pressures bring solid retardation and improved feel.

But the Emira’s steering is beyond reproach. Lotus has stuck with pure hydraulic power assistance instead of switching to an electrically-aided rack on the basis of feel, and the tuning is subtle enough to allow plenty of low-level feedback to reach the rim even without big chassis loadings: the Emira is happy to chat about surface texture and small camber changes, the kind of details EPS often removes.

Once turning, the steering’s reactions are proportional with weighing building progressively as lock is added. Over really gnarly surfaces there was an occasional bit of steering kickback, but this seems entirely tolerable given the sense of dynamic connection.

Grip is huge, to the extent the Cup 2s felt over-spec for road use. The combination of huge front-end bite and the ability to stick to a chosen course makes the Sport-suspended Emira feel both enormously quick and secure when thrown along a twisting road.

Yes, there is discernible roll – a deliberate Lotus trait to help orientate a driver to increasing loadings – but there is so much adhesion the chassis felt slig
htly inert at the sort of speeds that are realistic on public roads.

So although cornering line can be broadened or tightened instinctively using the throttle, this is broad brush stuff – without the finesse I enjoyed in the softer prototype on a slippery surface. Returning to the track at Hethel in the Sport confirms it is hugely fast on circuit, and that higher speeds and bigger loadings do indeed wake up the chassis and reveal a rear-biased handling balance.

If the car’s on-board G-meter was accurate the Cup-shod Emira managed to deliver a peak of 1.7G of lateral acceleration, a colossal amount for any road car without significant aerodynamic downforce.

2022 Lotus Emira V6 Sport
ANCAP rating Untested

So the Emira definitely drives like a Lotus, it’s the everything else that’s changed most. The cabin is finished to a standard unknown to any of its predecessors, with sturdy feeling materials and lots of evidence of ergonomic thought.

It is easier to get into and out of that the Evora thanks to bigger door apertures and narrower sills, the driving position has a good range of adjustment and although the Volvo origins of much of the switchgear are obvious. Any Emira buyers coming from an XC90 will feel right at home.

The digital instruments and 10.2-inch central touchscreen are bright, crisply rendered and easy to operate. Luxuries like power operated seats, radar cruise and a UI system capable of seamlessly integrating with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto feel very novel in a Lotus.

Key details 2022 Lotus Emira V6 Sport
Engine 3.5-litre supercharged V6 petrol
Power 298kW @ 6500rpm
Torque 420Nm @ 3500rpm
Drive type Rear-wheel drive
Transmission Six-speed manual
Power to weight ratio 208kW/t
Weight 1430kg

Practicality is the weak area, and one place where it feels well off the standard set by the packaging miracle that is the Porsche Cayman. The Emira lacks storage space under its bonnet.

Luggage space is instead divided between a tiny REF-lit compartment behind the engine – this getting very hot when the motor is worked hard – and the gap between the seats and the rear bulkhead. Few Emira buyers are going to be choosing one to use as a beast of burden, of course – but even carrying enough for a two-up touring holiday is going to be a challenge.

That aside, first impressions of the Emira are overwhelmingly positive. My personal preference is definitely leaning towards the softer Tour chassis and the less grippy standard tyres, but selecting Sport suspension and the Cup 2s creates an absolute track weapon.

Regardless it’s going to be much harder for cynics to find excuses not to take Lotus’s final combustion sportscar seriously than with its quirky and often shonky predecessors. The big question now is whether AMG four-cylinder power will suit it too.

Table of Contents

Ratings Breakdown

8.6/ 10

Interior Comfort & Packaging

Infotainment & Connectivity

Mike Duff

Our bloke in the UK has been writing about cars since the late ’nineties, and served time on the staff of CAR, Autocar and evo magazines. These days he combines his duties for Drive with being European Editor for Car and Driver in the ’States. He loves automotive adventures and old Mercs, sometimes experienced together.

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