Simplify, Then Add Lightness

Trying to understand the Lotus Eletre.

Front elevation. Can you guess what it is yet? Image: Lotus Cars Media

Even I have come to accept that sports car marques can barely survive, and certainly not thrive, without having an SUV or crossover in their portfolio. Indeed, it seems that even developing a saloon car is not worth the R&D these days, given the news that Mazda will not be replacing the Mazda6, although its new FR platform, RWD, straight-sixes and all, looks tailor made for that job.

Not that I am trying to claim that production of the MX-5 makes the Hiroshima-based firm a sports car marque. No, the brand I have in mind is Lotus.

Amid much brouhaha, Lotus unveiled the Eletre at the end of March. Previously known by its model code, Type 132, this is the much-anticipated SUV from the fabled ex-Formula 1 brand, which is enjoying a(nother) renaissance, this time care of its majority-shareholding ownership by Geely. The clever thing that Lotus has achieved here is that, whilst the Eletre is a competitor to the likes of the Cayenne, or even the Bentayga, DBX, Urus, and forthcoming Purosangue, it is (as its name suggests) only available as a full BEV.

The Eletre will be built in Wuhan, China, which is about as far away from Hethel as the design and engineering of this SUV is from that of the new Emira sports car. I think the truth is that it’s a Geely car and the majority shareholder is simply using the Lotus badge to be able to sell it at a premium. Fair dues, they invest £millions in new facilities, new models, new everything for Lotus, so they get to decide to use the badge on a thumping great new BEV SUV. Right?

The strip rear light glows green when the car it charging, which is kinda cool Image: Lotus Cars Media

Let’s have a closer look at the new Eletre. It is 5,105mm long, 2,131mm wide and 1,630mm tall, with a long wheelbase. It uses a ‘skateboard’ format, part of what Lotus calls its Electric Premium Architecture which can be scaled up and down to underpin a range of BEV vehicles. This is a full-matrix approach, with different battery and motor types, as well as other components available to Lotus to create a diverse range of offerings. Lotus admits the Eletre is of a scale to help it to appeal to Chinese and US markets, but it still expects strong sales in Europe, with starting prices below £100k. This is far less than a Urus, which it matches or betters in so many ways.

The Eletre will come with a battery capacity of more than 100kWh and power upwards of 592bhp. Maximum range is either 348 or 370 miles, depending on where you source your information (to be accurate, the original claim was 348, but, on realising that the BMW iX can better that, Lotus said it was aiming for in excess of 370 miles). A full recharge will be possible in 18 minutes from a 350kW charger (if you can find one). Claimed performance is suitably mental, with the somewhat puerile aim being to hit 60mph in 3 seconds or less, on the way to a 162mph top speed. I think that will make it the fastest accelerating Lotus ever, but a Tesla Model X Plaid (if they do such a thing) will be faster still. So, so what?

Air suspension, active aerodynamics and active ride height will be standard, while options will include active dampers, active rear-axle steering and torque vectoring via an electronic limited-slip differential. So much for simple. Lotus is said to be targeting a weight of 2 metric tonnes, which is not bad for a large electric SUV, but is not exactly lightweight. Hence, I am not sure whether I agree with those motoring journal editorials claiming that ACBC would approve.

Styling-wise, I had really hoped for something elegant and clever.  And, in some ways, it is clever, but will surely never be described as elegant. The exterior is peppered with proper functioning ducts, splitters and subtle spoilers to smooth the flow of air around the body, create downforce and cool various components. These create some commonality with the other post-Geely new models, the abovementioned Emira and the Evija BEV hypercar, but there the aesthetic thread breaks.

Squashed Lexus RX L meets Lambo Urus. Image: The Verge

Design spokesperson for the Eletre at the press launch was studio director Ben Payne. He claims that the SUV references Lotus’s mid-engined heritage, despite being a different kind of product. He says that this helps one subconsciously understand the car.  Hmm. I’ll concur with what he uses as a valedictory statement, that being that it does not share the long bonnet of Aston’s DBX, but I still don’t think ‘Esprit’ when I look at it, not even in the darkest depth of my subconsciousness.

So, what do I see?  From the side, I see a shallower version of Lexus RX L’s DLO sat atop what could easily be the bodywork of the Urus, especially when painted yellow. The vehicle (I struggle with anything with this much visual heft being called merely a car) appears poorly proportioned from that elevation, with the bulk of the rear overwhelming the form at the front. I’d have thought that over-the-shoulder vision will be awful, courtesy of that rear pillar set up, but few seem to care about that anymore.

The frontal aspect is generic, aggressive SUV, and for some reason (it could be my subconscious) reminds me of the Lynk & Co 01. If anyone can see anything Lotus about that front-end I would be genuinely interested in hearing from them.

Rear 3/4 view. Probably its best aspect and those ducts are for real. Image: Lotus Cars Media

The view from the rear three-quarters is, I would argue, the most successful. One can better appreciate the sculpting and ducting down the flanks, as well as the relative cohesion of the way the rear light strip bisects the ducts which stem from the rear inner wheel-arches. This provides the clearest visual link with the Evija. It also has a novel spoiler above the rear window, like that on the Jaguar i-Pace, but without the central blade.

Inside, it looks like a cutting-edge hotel lounge, with a mix of tech hardware and environmentally friendly, fabric-clothed, soft furnishings – including pads on the top of the dash. I particularly like the way the fabric on the armrests of the front doors looks like it has been peeled away and up from the door-cards. However, the doors are so deep and the windows so shallow that an averagely sized person is likely to feel hemmed-in: maybe people like that sensation?.

There’s a narrow strip of an instrument panel in front of the driver, otherwise instrumentation is projected onto the inside of the windscreen. It is complemented by a now-customary, large, central infotainment screen and I read of analogue controls for the HVAC, as well as voice-recognition. The Eletre provides one nostalgic flashback to the early ’70s in the form of its quartic steering wheel. The Allegro as a 21st Century stylistic trailblazer, who knew?

Small screens at the edge of the dash, along with the external door-mounted cameras, replace the usual door mirrors. These screens are dimmed until another camera detects the driver’s eyes flicking in their direction, when the brightness level rises to 100%. That’s clever, and yet ultimately pointless. I am yet to hear any arguments as to how this arrangement provides any real advance on reflective glass: surely it only adds complexity and weight?

Modish hotel lounge looks. Image: Autocar

The boot’s capacity of 400 litres is surprisingly tight for such a large car (a trait is shares with the Citroën C6), not really offset by a ‘frunk’ which adds another 70 litres of storage space. The Eletre comes as either a four or five-seater, although rear space seems more compromised than one might expect.

Overall, on one hand it’s easy to be seduced by this vehicle. It’s dripping in the latest technology (there are even LiDaR cameras to facilitate Level 4 autonomous driving), has an impressively modish and comfortable looking interior and accelerates faster than a stabbed rat. We’ve never seen a Lotus blessed by so much investment before. On the other hand, I can’t shake off the feeling that the Eletre should have been so much more than it is. I have read it described as ‘A Lotus like no other’, which it clearly is but, at the same time, it’s too much a large SUV like many others, except for the fact that it’s a BEV.

I guess I had hoped that, somehow, Lotus would produce something different; a more intelligent interpretation of an SUV enabled by its BEV platform. Instead, I feel that my hopes and expectations have been reality-checked by the truth of the EPA-based cars being engineered by Geely and merely dressed by Lotus. The clues were long-time Lotus engineer Gavan Kershaw being cited as leading the chassis engineering team and Colin Chapman’s son featuring in an official teaser video put out on social media in the lead up to the launch event. Both smack of protesting just a little too much that the Eletre is, at heart, a real Lotus. Honest, guv…

As an aside, another rather depressing thought is that recent evidence suggests, if one wants to buy anything larger than a sub-compact BEV, it will have to come in an SUV or crossover format. Moreover, it is starting to look like the traditional ICE and/or BEV sub-compact hatch is being swallowed up by the compact crossover or SUV. (Witness the 2008, Mokka, Puma, Arona, Kamiq, Captur, T-Cross, Yaris Cross, DS3 Crossback, etc.)

As I wrote earlier, Lotus is not the first and nor will it be the last sportscar marque to follow this path. The recently renascent Alpine, with which Lotus is collaborating on a new BEV sports car ultimately to replace the A110 and Emira, is now expanding its reach via development of a BEV SUV/crossover.

And if it must, then Lotus could do worse than study Porsche, which has shown how it can be done rather well. I remember how few were convinced by Porsche’s first SUV effort, the Cayenne, and yet now the Macan and Taycan (in particular) are accepted as successful reinterpretations of the marque. So, maybe there is hope that the promise of special things from Lotus will yet come good.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

40 thoughts on “Simplify, Then Add Lightness”

  1. Good morning, S.V. Surely an Evija is faster than this. Not that the Eletre is slow, of course.

    I agree the rear three quarter view is best. The real interesting thing is that at 2,000 kgs no one will call this a light car. When you realize the lightest ICE powered X5 weighs more ore less the same and a BEV like a Model S Plaid is heavier still, the Eletre seems actually not bad. But still these are hard times for people like me who enjoy a good feather weight.

    I am off to get some exercise and then a long morning walk. After all, if I were a car I’d rather be an Elise than an Eletre.

    1. Hi Freerk. First, yes you are right about the Evija; when I wrote that sentence I was thinking that the Eletre was faster than all those ‘proper’ Lotus sports cars from the past, in its life pre-Geely, but I did not express that properly.

      On the point about weight, you make a very good point. I read this morning a first drive test of the new DBX 707 (they really need to move on from the whole Bond obsession) and note that the weight quoted is 2.2 tonnes, 10% more than Lotus is aiming for with the Eletre. So, as you say, 2 tonnes would be pretty good for a large SUV, even more so for one carrying around a mass of batteries. Taking a further step back, though, I still maintain that such a heavy beast is hardly likely to have gained the approval of Colin Chapman.

  2. If cars have faces then my first thought upon viewing the first image was that it reminded me of my late grandmother before she’d put her false teeth in for the day.

  3. Pardon me if I’m sounding like the odd one in here, but are we absolutely sure that the average driver can handle the extreme acceleration figures boasted by the more upmarket electric vehicles?

    1. I do agree with this – the idea of such a large vehicle with such a high centre of gravity being capable of such acceleration would definitely scare me.

    2. The enormous engine out puts of some of the current BEVs are not about acceleration but about regenerative braking. The more power the engine has the more braking effect it can generate without having to use the hydraulic brakes and the more energy is converted into electricity for the batteries.

    3. I didn’t realise that – you really are an oracle of such information.

    4. I’m sure I’m missing something obvious, but aren’t the powerful electric motors using up a lot more electrical energy from the batteries? Even if regenerative braking replaces a good deal of it, there will inevitably be transmission and conversion losses in the cycle. Wouldn’t it be better simply to use less energy in the first place with smaller and less powerful motors?

    5. Daniel, the bigger your electric time, the less work your conventional brakes have to do, the more power is regenerated. And I don’t think you accelerate at full speed all the time either, so you don’t use the power all the time when you accelerate, but you do use the power when you brake.

    6. The efficiency of an electric motor is nearly independent of its load – in sharp contrast to combustion engines which are inefficient under partial load.
      Therefore the powerful but only partially loaded motors do not consume more energy than smaller motors under full load would. The only penalty of the larger motors is increased weight, something that’s negligible compared to the weight of the batteries.

  4. Good morning S.V. An insightful view of a vehicle that is, as you say, just about as far from the late Colin Chapman’s philosophy as it’s possible to get. I quite like the styling, at least the bits that are painted yellow, but the default treatment of the front and rear valances in swathes of angular black plastic is a hackneyed styling trope that will, I suspect, look cheap and nasty when seen in daylight, as opposed to the artful studio photos above. Surely it’s not beyond the imagination of car designers to come up with something more pleasing?

    Konstantinos makes a good point about the extreme acceleration of powerful EVs, which sounds like an accident waiting to happen very quickly.

    1. Completely and utterly pointless, symbolic of a total disconnect from the realities of 21st century planet Earth. I concur with Konstantinos; Mr Topley is very cruel – but spot on!

    2. The idea of sharing the road with young, rich people showing off in their new expensive 500 bhp electric toys is really charming.

    3. Frankly, the idea of sharing the road with old, rich people pretending to be young, rich people enjoying their ballistic missiles is even more charming… Let’s hope they’ll all come in signal yellow, at least you’ll know when to get off the road.

    4. I’ll let that pass, but only because my dad loved Mr Magoo. 😁

  5. I guess replacing door mirrors with cameras reduces drag and width. Reduced width brings fewer grazes against walls, car park columns, other cars etc. And I wouldn’t mind betting a camera and its associated screen is no heavier than a traditional mirror, with its glass, motor(s), heating element and all.

    1. Hmmmm – I’d need some convincing on the weight part of that argument, but I can see the point about width.

  6. Only the interior warrants comments from me. It´s the same as previously: too busy. It´s not that I want to only have one type of interior, a stark, plain one made of one single piece of burgundy plastic. It´s that this design like many others would have been better had the part and panel count been cut by a fifth. Or to put it another way: “If superlative extra pieces of interior doodads could be convincingly correlated to school-run taxi appeal among yummy mummies and hunky daddies then Lotus seems convinced of the visual superiority of a part-count bigger than Roman Abramovich´s bank account expressed in lire, notwithstanding that man´s current pauperised condition which probably also might have a bearing on Lotus´s chances of shifting their new debutant in the cross-over party season.” (translation courtesy of Tony ttrench-Continuous)

    1. “Tony ttrench-Continuous” Brilliant, and totally on-point! Well done, Richard! 😁

  7. I see a lot of Urus in there, also the front. It’s an SUV, so I fundamentally don’t care about (and for) it, otherwise it is moderately clever. I think you’re right though, S.V.: the Lotus name raises hopes of something really clever and off the wall, but the realities of time, personnel, money and knowledge dictate something less impressive. Of course, exactly that hope is what all those once-famous brands being resurrected trade on, counting on the fact that nostalgia will outweigh a more sober(ing) view.

    This car is supposed to be upper class and the weight – if they achieve it – is quite impressive, but like many others here I’m sceptical about the direction of EV design. Through its green credentials (which are real but not absolute), the design trend seems to follow that of ICE cars: bigger and brasher (and heavier). I suspect a wall coming up at some point, given that it’s increasingly clear that the only way to keep our planet livable is to use fewer resources. Of course, my hope would be for some kind of breakthrough in battery technology that will allow cars to become lighter and smaller again, but current trends, current EV technology and ever escalating regulatory demands for technical and heavy safety equipment all go in the opposite direction.

  8. So now Geely’s products come in size S (formerly known as L) with the label Smart and in size M (formerly known as XL) with the label Lotus.

    And now for the weather…

  9. Never mind the 2-tonne SUV , it has no relevance for me provided I don’t get hit by one, I’m gutted by the thought that Mazda will not replace the Mazda 6 !

  10. Car Magazine had a headline along the lines of ‘Complicate and add heaviness’. It’s okay – I mean it’s like living in a J.G. Ballard story, but I doubt I’ll ever see one.

    It’s got a lot of, er, apertures – does it come with a special sponge on a stick to clean its orifices?

    And there’s some swanky new corporate identity to go with it, too.

    1. I saw Car’s title to their story about the Eletre earlier today and immediately thought ‘unimaginative minds think alike’ – i.e. mine and theirs.

  11. I’ve been trying to work out who this sort of car would appeal to and when they’d use it.

    It’s not an off-roader, or an SUV, really. Have we accidentally somehow ended-up with what are effectively 4-door Renault Avantimes? Perhaps the moment of enormous lounges on wheels, as loved by concept car designers, has arrived.

  12. Too large. Too heavy. Too bland. What a wasted opportunity. It is just a pointless exercise in futility anyway. The market in Europe and the British Isles is fragile and likely to fail quite soon. Perhaps there may be enough export demand to make it worthwhile although eventually it’ll make much more sense to build cars for the China market in China anyway.

    People ask why the design of vehicles is becoming so uninspired and uninteresting. There are reasons. One is the dead hand of regulation. Another is that the West is failing. Europe is in deindustrialise mode now. Standards of living are collapsing. Examples of competence in leadership, let alone anywhere else, is harder to locate there. A colleague (a European ex-pat) recently said, “The winter is coming.” For the markets that these vehicles are meant to address winter certainly is well and truly is on the way.

    Yesterday I took a look at a friend’s new car. It was made in China. They are getting more common around these parts. We already have plenty of cars from Korea and Thailand already. They are OK and over time more and more market share is going their way.

    Lotus have lost their way. They’ll likely stay lost (like Jaguar is) unless they return to their founder’s engineering principles. Maybe it isn’t too late. Perhaps hope isn’t futile.

    1. Hi Charles

      My question is going to be able to afford these things? Most of Western Europe is going to be on food rationing, lined up round the block to get their weekly slops. Electricity will be super expensive, with only the lucky few able to use it to warm their bedrooms (the german government is telling its people to wear overcoats and warm jumpers to bed). Soap will be optional for bathing (too expensive). Showers or baths will be once per three weeks with cold sponge downs in between (german govt again). No worries though, all will be happy! So, given what is in play. Who is going to be able to afford these monster vehicles? Actually, the question really ought to be, who is going to be able to afford to build them?

  13. Dang; I wish I’d patented the idea of playing games with the car’s external lighting during charging, when I first implemented it circa 2010 (as a modification of my brother’s US Electricar 953A [‘80s BEV conversion of Renault 5]), as it seems now everyone is doing it! (For what it’s worth, my implementation pulses the hazard flashers while charging, and changes over to pulsing the parking lamps [as seen in video] only after it’s fully charged. And if I were actually an electrical engineer [which I’m not—mechanical by training], I would have liked to design a more sophisticated circuit that would alter the on-vs-off duty cycle of the pulsations as a function of state of charge… I’m sure some carmaker else has done that by now too, no?)

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