A Vital New Era Begins for Lotus
Five concept cars are a warning shot for its competitors.
Sorry, Lotus purists. The niche brand made famous by bare-bones, superlight handling specialists now wants to be Lamborghini. Lotus' quintet of concepts showed everything from an Aston-like sedan to what looked to be a Gallardo after a belt-sander attack — and it couldn't have been more exciting, given the stunning designs, performance specs and nod to the brand's heritage. So take heart, Lotus purists: A vital new era has begun.
Lotus Esprit Concept
What is it? A revival of the heralded Esprit name, and Lotus' shot across the bow to Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.
What makes it special? One way to turn the (relatively) inexpensive, road-hugging, ultralight, modern-era Lotus into a supercar: Throw in a 5.0-liter V8 engine from the Lexus IS F that puts out an insane 620 horsepower and a kinetic energy recovery system, based on Formula 1 technology, which captures braking energy and converts it to a driver-directed boost of power. Another way: Bump the price up to $175,000. This concept does both, of course, and we couldn't be happier. The original Esprit was more in the exotic mold to begin with, and the current midengine concept version promises a 3.2-second zero-to-60 mph time and a top speed of 205 mph.
When is it available? Late 2012/early 2013.
How much does it cost? $175,000.
MSN Autos' take? It's a stunning entry worthy of the supercar category in which it would compete, and by a manufacturer with a dignified history in that rarefied segment.
Lotus Elan Concept
What is it? A Porsche 911-hunting roadster built to show that Lotus means business. And did we mention there's an optional hybrid powertrain?
What makes it special? A possible replacement for the current Evora, the Elan fits into the something-for-everyone-rich slot in the Lotus lineup. First, assume everyone likes speed, because that's what you're going to get from the 4.0-liter 450-horsepower supercharged V6 engine and an all-new 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Top speed is 193 mph; zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. If you want a hybrid powertrain, you have the option — and one that uses the same Formula 1-derived kinetic energy recovery system as seen in the Esprit. If you'd like to turn the 2-seater into a 4-seater, Lotus can and will put two little "shelves" behind the front seats.
When is it available? 2013.
How much does it cost? $118,500.
MSN Autos' take? Lotus nailed the styling, but with such stiff competition at this price point, we'll have to see those performance numbers proved true before we call it a true contender with the Porsches and Audis already in the ring.
Lotus Elise Concept
What is it? The Elise is a much-loved name in Lotus history — it was a modern return to the lightweight sports cars of the badge's heyday — and this version is a more than worthy successor.
What makes it special? At 2,409 pounds, the Elise is a bit beefy for a Lotus. But the upgraded, futuristic interior — not a strong point in the current Elise — alone is worth its weight, and the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-banger, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission and with 320 horses at its disposal, is more than capable of throwing that extra weight into curves with abandon, in true Lotus style. The front fascia strongly resembles a foreshortened Lamborghini Gallardo — as it does on the Elan — but the panoramic windshield and roof win serious style points, and the whole thing gets an "A" for aggression.
When is it available? 2015.
How much does it cost? $55,000.
MSN Autos' take? Did they really say $55,000 for that unbelievable piece of machinery? Someone tell the Audi A5 it's time to start worrying. If there's one way Lotus will find itself a bunch of new customers, fast, it's by overdelivering this machine in a big way.
Lotus Elite Concept
What is it? A hefty, powerful, 4-seat grand tourer
What makes it special? Normally, 3,600 pounds of Lotus means multiple vehicles, but in the Elite's case it means a big, beautiful, 4-seat grand tourer that looks ready to lead the Maserati Quattroporte on a high-speed chase over a winding mountain road. And it has the power to lead: Under the hood lies the same Lexus IS F-sourced 5.0-liter V8 engine as in the Esprit, and also the same kinetic energy recovery system. It's not that such a massive Lotus doesn't look weird — it does — but as long as it still moves, we're happy. And, for the record, zero to 60 mph is reported to be less than four seconds, and the top speed is 195 mph — and that's when carrying the extra weight of the retractable hardtop that we forgot to mention.
When is it available? 2014.
How much does it cost? $180,000.
MSN Autos' take? When you're looking to increase your sales eightfold in a short time, you have to try something different. This one is close, but will need that extra bit of refinement over the next several years to stand a chance.
Lotus Eterne Concept
What is it? A hybrid sedan. Yes, you read that right.
What makes it special? Just the fact that this 4-door, 4-passenger hybrid sedan exists while sporting a Lotus badge is worth a story. That it actually seems like it could hold its own in terms of looks and specs against the ultraluxury sedans against which it's positioned is yet another shock, but true. Its top speed is 196 mph and its zero-to-60 mph time is just 4 seconds, thanks to the 5.0-liter V8 engine from the Lexus IS F supercar and the same Formula 1-based kinetic energy recovery system seen on the Esprit and Elite.
When is it available? 2015.
How much does it cost? $190,000.
MSN Autos' take? The Eterne shows Lotus isn't afraid to take chances, but competing at this level with the likes of the Panamera and the Aston Martin Rapide means flawless execution, not just great ideas. Lotus is really stretching its capabilities with this one; here's hoping it's figured it out five years down the road.
Josh Condon has covered everything from nanotechnology to champagne and caviar for the likes of The New York Times, Popular Science, Men's Journal, Cargo and RL Magazine. He recently relocated from New York to Los Angeles, and now spends way, way more time in his car.
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Not really a huge Lotus fan but these concepts are turning me into one!!!
Why is there a Japanese engine in a British Sports car. Until I see a European engine back under the hood I'm not interested. Source from Jaguar, BMW, Renault, Fiat, something with a soul.
Note I'm a former owner of a 83 Esprit Turbo.