A yellow Lotus. I should know a thing or two about this, given I’ve owned one for the last couple of years.
Nothing could be further from the truth, it turns out. The colour and badge are familiar but this car is unlike any Lotus in history. Perhaps any car, full stop.
Lotus calls it the Eletre, a “Hyper SUV” that represents the first step on an ambitious sprint into an all-electric future for the British brand – a reset triggered by a gigantic investment from Chinese automotive powerhouse Geely.
We can expect a saloon and a more compact SUV to come riding on the Eletre’s new Electric Premium Architecture (EPA), followed by a two-seater sports car – all by 2026. By the end of 2030, Lotus aims to be selling 150,000 cars a year worldwide.
That’s a hundredfold increase on its recent best volume.
Achieving those numbers obviously requires a totally different approach to the one that has kept Colin Chapman’s company (barely) afloat for the last 75 years.
For one, no longer does Lotus see itself as an anachronistic example of British cottage industry. The new mantra is “born British, raised globally.” The company has its design HQ in the UK, a technical center in Germany, plus further R&D and a mega-factory in China. The sheds at Hethel have been revitalized to create a modern facility that builds the Emira and Evija, and will remain the home of the company’s two-seaters.
Second, the Eletre is a massive – figuratively and physically – departure for the brand. It is Lotus’ Porsche Cayenne moment, but even more dramatic: the biggest, most complex, and heavyweight model ever to come from a company whose founding principles were “simplify and add lightness.”
“There’s no denying it’s the heaviest Lotus ever made,” admits PR manager Richard Yarrow. “But it is still a true Lotus.”
How so? According to the official blurb, “It takes the heart and soul of the latest Lotus sports car – the Emira – and the revolutionary aerodynamics of the all-electric Evija hypercar, and reinterprets them as a hyper-SUV. It delivers class-leading ride and handling, steering and aero performance – areas of automotive design and engineering where Lotus has both pioneered and dominated throughout its 75-year history.”
These are bold claims and, over the course of two days driving in EV-friendly Norway, I have the chance to test them all.
Lined up in the car park of Oslo Airport are around a dozen Eletres, mostly Solar Yellow, with a couple in Galloway Green and Kaimu Grey, and despite sitting in isolation, they look huge. At 5.1 metres in length, 2.2m width and 1.6 m high this thing could eat an Emira and still have plenty of room for seconds.
In silhouette there’s nothing too radical going on design-wise, but look closer and the Eletre reveals a network of channels and ducts that help it cheat the air. Lotus calls this “porosity,” and by carefully managing airflow under, over, and through the bodywork the Eletre achieves a drag coefficient of 0.26. Further tricks include a lower grille with flaps that only open when cooling demands, adding ten miles to the range, and tiny rearview cameras in lieu of door mirrors (more on this later). Even the wheels (available in 20–23-inch sizes) have been designed to reduce lift and drag. A three-position rear spoiler deploys at speed to provide downforce alongside the fixed rear diffuser.
All this results in an almost total lack of wind noise when underway. The fitment of double-glazing in the windows and an electronic anti-noise system combine to make the Eletre eerily silent—the quietest car I’ve ever driven. I imagine it would take a Rolls-Royce Spectre to better it.
Lotus engineers considered, and even experimented with, assorted fake noises, but ultimately decided against any artificial enhancement.
Given the almost total absence of sound from the drivetrain, tyres, and airflow there’s a danger that any misfits in the cabin construction could make themselves heard, but no, this is definitely the best screwed-together Lotus I’ve ever driven.
It’s also the most plush, and by a considerable margin. Neatly stitched leather, Alcantara, and recycled materials are deployed to great effect in a cabin that, for the most part, strikes the right balance between tech and tactility. The dashboard essentially comprises three zones. Ahead of the driver is a narrow strip displaying key information, (along with a head-up display), and a “blade of light” that changes color to alert the driver to factors such as battery state of charge. The display and blade are mimicked on the passenger side where the co-pilot has access to infotainment controls, while in the centre is a 15.1-inch OLED high-definition touchscreen.
That display is the nerve centre of Eletre, where Lotus’ in-house Hyper OS software is used to control all onboard systems, including navigation, audio, climate control, and the intricacies of car set-up. Speed is of the essence so – IT nerd alert – Lotus employs two Qualcomm 8155 Snapdragon processors to run it. Unreal Engine technology is used to render real-time 3D animations on screen.
It does indeed work fast, although not without a few bugs that Lotus promises will be fixed with Over-The-Air (OTA) updates before customer cars are delivered. If you dislike touchscreens then there are beautifully machined switches to control cabin temperature, while a “virtual personal assistant” responds to natural speech requests. The system, wisely, will recognize whether it’s the driver or passengers speaking and respond accordingly (only raising a window or adjusting the climate control for the occupant who made the request, for example).
In fact, one might argue that the best seats belong to the passengers. (A sentence never uttered about any prior Lotus.) The rear legroom and headroom are exceptional, and those who opt for a four-seater setup get their own touch screen, wireless charging, and cupholders, along with more supportive seatbacks.
Back up front the seats perform a neat trick in addition to be being fully adjustable every which way. Switch to Sport mode and the side bolsters inflate, providing a gentle hug to hold you in place. In this mid-range £104,500 Eletre S, it also makes all 603 horsepower available. Not that there’s much chance to use it. Norway’s country roads are perfectly paved and picturesque, but they have very low speed limits, which are rigidly enforced and fines are quite costly.
Such velocity aversion might be one of the reasons why EVs have been embraced so heartily in Norway. Last year, 80 percent of new cars sold here were electric. As they trickle along at 40 mph, they’re likely at their most efficient.
Lotus claims that its 112-kWh battery packs should give a range of up to 373 miles under Europe’s WLTP system, but in the real world 300 seems more likely.
There doesn’t appear to be a huge gulf between Tour and Range modes, though driving in Sport will see you headed to a charger sooner. On that topic, the Eletre uses an 800-volt architecture and can charge at up to 350kW, allowing a top-up from 10 percent to 80 percent in 20 minutes in ideal conditions.
Juggling between drive modes also adjusts the Eletre’s attitude, raising or lowering the ride height to aid with aerodynamics or to add extra ground clearance in the Off Road setting. The degree of regenerative braking can be selected, and there’s the option to combine the different performance, ride, and regen settings in a custom program.
At Norway’s leisurely pace Touring seems to work just fine, offering up exemplary ride comfort, tight body control, and still plenty of performance for overtaking. The S model, for the record, takes 4.6 seconds to reach 62mph. There are EVs that do the same sprint more dramatically, but it’s the Eletre’s ability to go from 50mph to 75mph in under two seconds that is impressive to the point of alarming. (Especially when there’s the prospect of a massive price for being caught over the limit.)
The Eletre isn’t one of those cars that shrinks around you. It always feels its size, and judging width in particular isn’t that easy with the rear-facing cameras. You have to look at the displays in the doors, which are just that bit lower than where the mirrors would be, and despite the crisp images, it takes getting used to.
The route we take isn’t especially twisty, but the unusual squircle-shaped steering wheel turns in fast and with accuracy, requiring only 2.5 rotations lock-to-lock. It’s an electro-mechanical system, which Lotus has rigid-mounted for optimum feel and it only saps power on demand. The turning circle is unexpectedly tight for such a big car, even without the optional rear-wheel steering installed.
There will be buyers who care less for this sort of involvement and prefer to let the car do the work, which is where the Eletre’s suite of deployable LIDAR detectors, radar sensors, and array of cameras come in. In theory, the Eletre is capable of Level 4 autonomous driving, but, as so few countries allow it, the car will launch with a Level 2-plus system. Essentially that means a Highway Assist feature, which will keep the Eletre in-lane and at a safe distance from the car ahead at speeds from 20–90mph.
Lotus does imagine a time when the car could fully take control, leaving driver and passengers to enjoy big-screen entertainment, so the car has been future-proofed with an optional 2,150-watt Dolby Atmos surround sound audio, powered by 23 Kef speakers (the standard system has 1,380 watts and 15 speakers). The definition and totally immersive quality of music is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Listening to remastered classics gives the feeling of being at the heart of a live show, while new music engineered for Atmos sends beat drops spiralling around the cabin.
Another way to take your breath away would be to opt for the £120,000 Eletre R instead. With 905 horsepower available, together with an additional Track driving mode, it performs in very un-SUV-like fashion.
Lotus has wisely hired an airfield to allow the R’s combination of brutal acceleration and baffling agility to be experienced, albeit briefly. First, there’s a high-speed slalom course, where the Eletre R nimbly sweeps between cones, with barely-there body roll, even on an effective hairpin. There’s tyre squeal, and a smidge of understeer on this tight turn, but you’d never know you’re managing the inertia of over 2.5 tonnes of mass.
Next is a launch in Track mode from 0–100mph. It’s as simple as putting one’s left foot on the brake and right foot fully to the floor on the accelerator and then releasing the left. The Eletre is catapulted forward, forcing me back into the seat as it passes 62mph in 2.9 seconds and simply doesn’t let up.
The only time I’ve ever felt this kind of acceleration before was during a reverse-bungee, where I was fired up into the sky over London. That’s an experience I never want to repeat, and I’m not convinced that Eletre R owners would want to hard launch their cars more than once, either.
It is, however, a remarkable demonstration of engineering. And that is what Lotus has always been about.
2024 Lotus Eletre S/R specification
• Price: £104,000 / £120,000
• Powertrain: 112-kW lithium-ion battery; twin permanently magnet electric motors (one per axle)
• Horsepower: 603 / 905hp
• Torque: 524 / 726lb-ft
• Layout: All-wheel-drive, four-door, four/five-passenger SUV
• EPA-Rated Fuel Economy: TBC
• Range: 373 / 304 miles (WLTP)
• 0–62mph: 4.5 / 2.95 seconds
• Competitors: BMW iX, Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV, Audi Q8 e-tron
Highs: Insanely swift, surprisingly agile, awesome audio, feels high-quality throughout.
Lows: Could be prettier. Despite masking its mass well, it’s the heaviest Lotus ever.
Takeaway: An entirely new chapter for Lotus, the Eletre is an extremely competent all-rounder EV with class-leading gizmos.