Complicate, then add weight: Is the new Eletre SUV a *real* Lotus?
It’s raining in Norway. It wasn’t a gentle patter either, more like a deluge wrapped in heavy rain, the sweet smell of petrichor drowned out by the sheer volume of water cannons shooting from the sky. The forest carries a bleak edge, a sweaty legend, and feels like a thousand dark bedtime stories, shady, dank clumps of spruces and alders conspiring with Norway pines. However the roads are good. Incredible, even. Two lanes of blazing tarmac that twist and turn across the landscape following the lines of the lakes, rising and falling like breathing. Aside from the unsettling drag of puddles of standing water, the drive doesn’t get much better than this – a Lotus doing what it was born to do – attacking an interesting, twisty road that’s lively, engaging and fun.
Except this is not your usual Lotus. It’s a 2.5-tonne electric SUV wearing a Lotus badge, probably a sheep in wolf’s clothing, big and yellow enough to look like someone cut off a sliver of the sun and dropped it on a road somewhere outside Oslo. Recalibration is needed. This is the Lotus Eliter. This is not what we are used to.
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Of course, according to the court of public opinion, the Lotus Illiter should not exist. Primarily because it is not a sports car. Worse still, it’s an SUV, heavy on electricity and technology, and produced in Wuhan, China rather than in the UK in Hethel, Norfolk. Therefore, according to some sections of the intellectual bin of fire circulating on social media, it is a quack with 22-inch wheels.
Photography: Johnny Fleetwood
But ignore all that for a second. Because the Eletre may be a full-sized electric SUV that has as much to do with traditional Lotus values as a canoe does with a cruise ship, but it still has a Lotus in it somehow somewhere. Maybe it’s the direction – direct, talkative, quick. Maybe it’s the dual-chamber air suspension that soaks up bumps without removing any feel, or the torque vectoring and rear-wheel steering that manages the neat trick of appearing natural while still quickly controlling grip and cornering. It’s the proverbial swan – calm at the top, angry electronic blasphemy at the bottom. You may not like it, but you can’t argue with the results: The Eletre is the most Lotus-like electric SUV you can imagine. Although this seems like an oxymoron.
Saying that, it still makes you stop. Since Eletre is so far away from Lotus’ usual orbit, it may also be in another galaxy. A four- or five-seater electric SUV with two motors, all-wheel drive, a 112 kWh battery and a kerbweight in the lightest version of 2,490 kg. Yes, two and a half times the weight of something like Elise, a ton heavier than Amira. But if you’re going to take steps to ensure Lotus’ survival into the future, you need to take big steps – and in the current climate, that means an electric SUV.
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Which means we have a ‘bespoke’ Lotus platform emerging from the generous bank account of Chinese parent company Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, with a specific effort made to apply Lotusology to a car that otherwise would not have been a hit with hardcore fans. At launch, there are three models – Eletre, Eletre S and Eletre R – all visually almost identical, and all featuring the same 112kWh battery pack, 650kg, 800V charging equipment and air suspension. The Eletre and Eletre S are mechanically identical and produce just over 600 horsepower with a 0-62 mph time of 4.5 seconds, and the R makes just over 900 horsepower and a sprint time of 2.95 seconds. You’ll see a perfectly respectable 373 miles of WLTP range from the lower-powered cars, and just over 300 miles for the R.
Is this beautiful? Well, no. As large SUVs struggle to look thin, even within the massive natural wonders of the Norwegian forest, they still look chunky. It is eye-catching with its “air-sculpted” design, with much more detail than it appears at first glance. There are more gaps in the aero, channels and voids that allow for new perspectives and streams of projectile spray, some interesting twin spoilers, lots of little turrets and angles for advanced driver assistance systems, and a dashing set of Rubik’s Cube petals in the front grille that shutter the front of the car for air. Or cooling. Less massive than a Lamborghini Urus, and less massive than a Tesla Model
Interestingly, even the max Attack R version is a bit sleepy. It has no extra wings, no shiny black wheels and a surprising and surprising absence. But the R is about what you can’t see. It has the same battery and 302-hp front motor as the other cars, but gets a larger unit (where the others get a duplicate front-to-rear cluster) and a two-speed box for the rear axle to deliver just over 900 hp and 727 lb-ft of torque. The two rear axle ratios provide lung pressure onset and a measure of efficiency when cruising. Perhaps more practical use would be to go from 50 mph to 75 mph in less than 2 seconds. Blink, maybe gone.
However, it also gets the Lotus Dynamic Handling Pack (which includes Intelligent Roll Control and Active Rear Steering) as standard, the Carbon Pack (fairly useless in a car of this size), custom Pirelli P Zero tires and an additional Track mode In the menus you manipulate the battery air conditioning settings and permanently open the petals of the front grille, in addition to fiddling with the force of the traction control. So, there’s a lot going on under the skin, even if those extra muscles aren’t bulging out of the bodywork.
The interior of each Eletre is quite surprising, mainly because this is not a pared-down interpretation of the usual Bauhaus Lotus luxury SUV. In fact, in photos it can look very stylish. But once you get inside, it’s beautiful. The materials are recycled and interesting, and the fit and finish are as sturdy as you could hope for. And it all works in terms of ergonomics – up front there’s a 12.6-inch driver information bar behind the hexagonal steering wheel as well as a large head-up display, a 15.1-inch OLED touchscreen in the middle, with a pair of small seats for the air conditioning. Under it. Paddles behind the steering wheel handle brake recovery (left) and drive modes (right). There’s wireless charging and enough storage space, plus a KEF stereo that’s almost worth the price of admission alone. There is a digital personal assistant (voice control) and over-the-air updates. It has everything you might reasonably expect.
And some things you don’t do. There are 34 different sensors on the Eletre that allow for generous mapping of its environment. Four deployable lidars (two in pop-up towers at either end of the roof and two on the front wings), six radar, seven cameras, and 12 ultrasound devices. It is sufficient to allow level four independence if such matters go beyond the lawyers. The thing is, among all this newness, this step change in what Lotus is supposed to be, there’s a lot to like. The main reason for this is that when you get on a good road, you’ll be able to get rid of all the shiny things and have a really good time driving it.
Obviously, if you drive the car to the limit on a twisty road, you’re going to give the kids a shock and find your dog upside down with his head in the trunk-mounted speaker. Literal subwoofer. The 600+ bhp S is quite capable of going very fast indeed, and rowing at speeds that would worry a proper sports car, although cycling through the various drive modes it feels quite front-wheel drive biased in the Tour and can do with some The most aggressive rear-wheel drive signals in the sport. The 900 hp R version with the more powerful rear engine may be the answer to that question. The real surprise is that all of Eletre’s games are fun, and they don’t have a lot of caveats either. It’s just a good laugh in context. Certainly more than most rivals, and it needs less to manage than anything less than a petrol-powered Porsche Cayenne. For a car as big and heavy as this, that’s almost genius.
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Of course, it’s not perfect. ADAS is annoying and difficult to turn off constantly. The brakes can be worryingly grippy on initial contact – perhaps something to do with the mix of regeneration – and yes, there is room for a more aggressive handling balance in the sportier modes. But as a first crack at what a Lotus SUV could be, it’s a very good effort.
So here we are. The electric Lotus SUV we don’t want to like, but we do. Feel free to get angry, but if Lotus sells enough two-seat sports cars with driving dynamics sharp enough to chop off your fingertips and a luggage capacity equivalent to a teaspoon, you won’t need a car like this. You may have a hatred for the platform, but you have to empathize with the need for it. And this is just the beginning: a saloon, a smaller SUV, and a two-seat sports car will be built from the same electric parts. In fact, some might think that when creating a car like the Eletre, Lotus has somehow sold out. But this is wrong. Lotus did not sell all of the stock, but rather bought itself time and opportunity. And Eletre will be the tip of the angry iceberg on social media when Lotus doesn’t just branch out, but tries to grow a whole new forest.