Paris 2010. The aficionados of the car world zoomed in on the Lotus stand, eyes wide with incredulity and excitement. There were proposals for five brand-new models plus a low-emissions city hopper, all paid for with a $1.1 billion check from Malaysian parent company Proton. Skeptics said it was a pipe dream, but flamboyant CEO Dany Bahar kept insisting that the future product portfolio on display -- an intriguing mix of front- and mid-engine sports cars designed by Donato Coco (who, like Bahar, had defected from Ferrari) -- and the required U.K.-based infrastructure updates were fully funded. Six months later, however, facts had caught up with fiction. It was clear by then that the implementation of the proposed lineup would take much more time. Lotus would have to turn the Elise and the Evora (which originally were unloved by the new management) into vastly improved lifesavers, and the available funds would at best cover only one new product, namely the Esprit that's due to be unveiled at the 2013 Geneva show.
The auto industry moves too fast to fully appreciate the cars it builds. We haven't even driven the 580-hp Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and the mere announcement of a 650-hp Ford Shelby GT500 has already hijacked the Chevy's supercharged, eight-cylinder thunder. We typically wouldn't take issue with such a competitive market that consistently leads to faster, more efficient, or simply better replacements, but when the Lotus Elise and the Mazda RX-8 left the U.S. market for 2012, there were no replacements. And that's a problem.
The Lotus Evora is essentially a stretched version of the no-longer-sold-here Elise and Exige. Designed for touring rather than track days, the Evora is roomier, more comfortable, and marginally more practical than the Elise and Exige. However, it's still a Lotus, which means that outstanding driver feedback, sublime handling, and spot-on driving dynamics all come standard. A mid-mounted, Toyota-sourced 3.5-liter V-6 provides 276 hp in the Evora; tacking on a supercharger helps the Evora S put out 345 hp. Power is transmitted to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. There is a new automatic, dubbed Intelligent Performance Shift, that can be manually operated via steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The automatic is available only with the normally aspirated engine, but Lotus purists should really stick with the manual gearbox. There is a long list of changes and tweaks for 2012, including the trickle-down to the base Evora of some items that were previously exclusive to the Evora S, such as a noisier exhaust and a close-ratio transmission. Standard equipment is pretty much limited to such things as power windows and locks; options include touch-screen navigation, a backup camera, heated seats, and seven different wheel designs. The Evora can be specified as a two-seater, with a small bench behind the driver's seat, or a two-plus-two, but the rear seats in this case are exceptionally tiny. Now that the Elise and the Exige are no longer sold here, the Evora is the only way to get behind the wheel of a new Lotus.
It's a challenge for anyone to keep up with the constantly changing roster of cars on dealership lots. For car lovers it's an even tougher task, because beyond knowing that a certain model exists, you need to know where it fits in the automotive firmament. That's why we've gathered every new model due by the first half of 2012 and categorized them, not alphabetically or by some government-defined size class, but by their relevance to buyers, enthusiasts, and the companies that build them. Some cars thrust automakers into new segments, while others drive just like last year's model. Some cars protect the sanctity of the manual transmission, while others advance performance with the latest technology. Some cars address rising fuel-economy standards, while others disguise obscene speed in stealthy sheetmetal. Here are the 85 new arrivals shaping the automotive world for 2012.
A contemporary Lotus will never win a comparison test that values practicality. The sills are too wide, the pedal box is too cramped, and the switch gear is too finicky for daily use. So even though the Evora is the most livable model in Lotus's narrow lineup, it's only a daily driver if your commute consists of descending the stairs from the tower to pit lane. Porsche's Cayman, by almost every measure, is a much more accommodating everyday sports car.
If you didn't notice the more pronounced rear diffuser, matte black door mirrors, and single exhaust, then it's this Evora's S badge that gives the game away. The S, of course, means this Evora wears a supercharger atop its mid-mounted Toyota-sourced V-6 engine.
At board meetings, on test tracks, and in design studios, decisions are being made today that will influence what you drive tomorrow. Automakers are hard at work creating the next generation of automobiles -- cars that are faster, sexier, more efficient -- while trying to keep their development secret. Like you, we are nosy as hell. Unlike you, we have a vast network of snoops, gossips, and disgruntled former employees who have helped us uncover the information we present here. Our annual Sneak Preview feature contains the industry's future products -- as far out as 2019 -- that are worth saving your milk money for.
It's a tough time for yesterday's heroes. With the current automotive zeitgeist increasingly focused on economy, weight has become more relevant than sheer power, mechanical and electronic advancements have had an increasing effect on driving pleasure, downsizing has grown in importance, and design and engineering are guided not only by performance but by efficiency issues. That's why even the two newest members of this group of four performance coupes -- the Nissan GT-R and the Lotus Evora -- have, for different reasons, already started to show their age. The V-8-engined BMW M3 introduced in 2008 and the Porsche Cayman, which first came to market in 2006, are even longer in the tooth.
There's no arguing that a Lotus Elise is one of the most simple, pure sports carsv presently on the market, but apparently, it too can be further simplified. Lotus's new Elise Club Racer model, destined to debut at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show next month, promises to be a stripped-down, hardcore take on the company's beloved sports roadster.
New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman recently sat down with Dany Bahar to discuss the Lotus's new direction. It got a little ugly.
One of the many questions hanging over Lotus since it revealed five cars at last fall's Paris auto show has been where it would find engines for these ambitious new models. Toyota? BMW? Somewhere else? The answer, it seems, is Lotus, as the English automaker is developing its own range of six- and eight-cylinder engines.
While the Elise was available for some time in Great Britain, it only came to US shores in 2004. It's certainly not a car to be driven every day; it's purity of design makes for a very Spartan, minimalist interior. Its suspension is tuned for the track and even ingress and egress from the cabin requires a fair degree of agility. And at full throttle, the cacophony from the engine bay and the exhaust will soon leave you unable to hear anything else.
The Evora is the antithesis of the Elise. Lotus has designed the Evora to be a more mature, more everyday friendly car. Not a dedicated two seater like the Exige and Elise, this is a 2 plus 2 configurations, large enough for two full sized adults to ride comfortably in. Thank in part to its' more softly sprung suspension, it is more comfortable to ride in especially over imperfect pavement. Entry and exit is much less of an exercise than with Lotus' other models. Lotus has muffled the engine on the Evora as well, making one occupant able to hear another while driving.
Released in 2006, the Exige is basically a hard top version of the Elise. With an aluminum frame chemically bonded together and weighing only 150 lbs combined with a composite body and lack of occupant amenities, Lotus is able to keep the weight down to nearly that of the Elise, at around 2100 lbs. The Exige maintains the Elise's lack of daily driver civility, both in its sparse, loud interior and it's sometimes unnerving difficulty to get in and out of.
Lotus unveiled a lot of future products at the 2010 Paris auto show, but the City Car concept is the most puzzling. This tiny plug-in hybrid or full electric vehicle is slightly larger than a Toyota iQ and uses the powertrain we first saw in the EMAS concept at this year's Geneva auto show.
One could argue the Elise is the most delicate car in both Lotus' current and future portfolios. Some critics will compare every future Lotus product to the current Elise while ignoring the fact that Lotus has never turned a profit while the Elise has been on sale. For reference, the Elise went on sale in 1996. That's a long time to be losing money.
While the return of the Lotus Elite model was our first glimpse at the future of Lotus, Esprit is by far the most anticipated new Lotus. The bad news is we still have to wait until 2013 to see one on the street. As it stands, what we've seen seems to suggest the production car will be worth the lengthy wait.
Although the new Esprit will be a fitting halo car for Lotus, the revived Elan is arguably the most important product Lotus will bring to market in 2013. The Elan has far greater appeal, and a much lower price, than the Esprit and was designed to be the ultimate daily driver as well as a delight on the track.
The final slot in the revised Lotus portfolio is reserved for a four-door sports car named Eterne. There is a tenuous historical precedent for a four-door Lotus. During General Motors' ownership of Lotus, a Vauxhall Carlton sedan was sent to Lotus for a fairly intense transformation that transformed it from a stale sedan into a veritable four-door sports car. Lotus badging and wider wheel arches hinted at the Cartlton's incredible 176-mph top speed, which was made possible by a twin-turbo I-6 engine and six-speed ZF manual transmission borrowed from the (Lotus-engineered) Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1.
Lotus hopes to completely reinvent itself by 2016 and the Elite is our first glimpse at what the brand's future holds. If all goes according to plan, the production Elite will hit the streets in April of 2014 and Lotus will become profitable around the same time. New Lotus Group CEO Dany Bahar doesn't hide the fact that the little British brand hasn't made money in more than 15 years and that trend needs to be reversed immediately.
We have official information and photos on the Evora S and Evora IPS, both of which will debut at the Paris Motor Show.
It may be difficult to imagine in this day of NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow, the NHRA's tube-frame hot rods, and Formula 1's thick rule book, but racing activities once closely steered the products of many auto manufacturers. The first mid-engine racing car was the 1923 Benz Tropfenwagen, but it took decades for the layout to really catch on. By the mid-1960s, though, mid-engine cars dominated Formula 1 and Indianapolis-style racing. Not surprising to observers at the time, Lotus was one of the very first automakers to translate the concept from racetrack to production.
Once upon a time, before globalism became a favorite buzzword, cars really said something about the countries that produced them. The frugality and reliability of a Honda subcompact spoke to the ingenuity and determination of post-war Japan. The power and size of a tail-finned Cadillac convertible embodied American swagger. And so on. The automobile used to be as much an expression of culture as a country's art or food.
It's hard to believe, but Lotus' pint-sized sports car has soldiered on with only minor changes for the last 10 years. For 2011, more small changes are on the way to give the Elise a fresher look for the new decade.
While it has long been associated with British Racing Green, Lotus seems to be turning a different shade of green these days. After showing us a number of biofuel and eco-friendly Exiges, the automaker teased this image of the Evora 414E, a series hybrid which will debut next week at the 2010 Geneva motor show.