Evija: Lotus’ newest entrant in the electric hypercar space
To make ripples in any industry you need to make a splash. This is our splash.’ The words of Phil Popham, CEO of Lotus Cars, and his splash is the Evija, the first all-new Lotus for over a decade, the first since Chinese conglomerate Geely was handed the keys to Potash Lane in 2017 and the first all-electric British sports car. But will this latest four-figure-horsepower hypercar with a seven-figure price tag sink or swim? Does the world need another electric hypercar costing well into the millions and with a power output all but unusable on the road and not exactly exploitable on track?
We’ll find out next year when the first deliveries are made, and yes, it does sound incredibly ambitious for a company currently selling fewer than 2000 cars a year to develop and build its most technologically advanced car ever in such a short period of time. But the Evija was in fact placed on Lotus’s future product plan when Jean-Marc Gales was brought in to replace Dany Bahar and when Proton still owned Lotus. However, a huge volume of water has passed under the bridge since then. Gales returned Lotus to profit, and Geely bought Proton and therefore Lotus, while Gales has since left Norfolk for Essex to clean up the mess left by Derek Hood at JD Classics. Only 12 months to bring the Evija to market, though? Well, billionaires aren’t known for their patience, not when Rs 17.2 crore (price in UK, excluding Indian taxes and duties) electric hypercar announcements are as frequent today as news of a new VW Group SUV, and they also won’t tolerate half-baked toys.
What brought about the Evija?
Lotus’ plan is to deliver a carbonfibre-tubbed, carbonfibre-bodied hypercar that worships at the alter of aerodynamics in some very clever, very innovative ways. It’s pure Lotus and hugely appealing in this respect, despite the thread of cynicism you might have detected so far. It is also very un‑Lotus, too. Colin Chapman was a genius and he employed equally talented people, and the company continued to do so after his death. It is why for years Lotus has been the go-to place for car companies that discover the ride and handling engineers they initially hired aren’t up to the job. It’s why it’s not uncommon for drivers to step out of a McLaren and suggest that it feels like a bigger Lotus.
And Chapman, and Lotus, had a principle where lightness, innovation and simplicity were at the heart of a great performance car. The Evija weighs 1680kg in its lightest trim, has an electric motor fitted to each wheel and also features a complex driver mode system that will allow you to switch between power outputs depending on the kind of tarmac you find yourself on. It’s a Lotus, but not as we know it.
‘It’s been a while since we’ve been given a clean sheet of paper to design a new Lotus. And it’s the first time we’ve ever been asked to design a Lotus hypercar,’ says Russell Carr, the firm’s design director. ‘But this freedom came with huge responsibility, because no matter what the powertrain, this car had to still be a Lotus. Not only the way it looks, but also how it drives. Anyone who has driven a Lotus has to see this car and immediately be able to get a sense of how it will drive. The purity of a Lotus design has to reflect the purity of the driving experience.’
But this is no replacement for an existing model, so it also provided an opportunity for Lotus, Carr and Popham to demonstrate what Lotus can and will be in the future. ‘We wanted to take that Lotus DNA and add a sense of luxury to it, which isn’t something we are known for,’ Carr explains. ‘Purity and simplicity sit at the heart of everything we do, but the Type 130 project gave us the opportunity to build on these and add more elements.’
The Evija’s inspiration
Inspired by the flowing form of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, Carr and his team worked with aerodynamicists to enable the Evija to reach its remarkable claimed performance: 0-100kmph in under three seconds, with 299kmph arriving in less than nine. This has resulted in the smallest hint of Exige in the front haunches and nose, and an incredibly detailed overall design that’s as sophisticated as it is striking. The LMP1-influenced cab-forward layout is new for Lotus, and while the Evija remains a halo car, it does, says Carr, give a strong indication of what the next generation of Lotus series models will look like.
Active aero in the front bumper above the splitter channels air through the front wheelarches before it exits along the door. With no need for a radiator in the nose, the opportunity was taken to manage the airflow through, up and over the car, assisted by air channels running under the two-piece front bonnet. At first glance it looks a little plain – it’s only when you bend at the knee and have those LED headlights in your eyeline that the design makes itself clear. It’s intricate without being fussy, function matched with elegance.
Deeply sculpted doors keep the air flowing smoothly, dispersing the unwanted turbulence as quickly and efficiently as possible while funnelling what is required through the large openings in the rear quarters that run through the bodywork – large enough, incidentally, that you could ask a child (seven to eight years old would be optimum) wrapped in a microfibre onesie to climb inside them when it’s detailing day. As the air exits these channels it meets more of the same substance, which has raced under the Evija before being spat out through a rear diffuser of considerable complexity. A final aero element to point out is also the one that is most overt when it comes into play – the active rear wing that acts as the Evija’s Drag Reduction System (DRS).
Carbonfibre construction retains the Colin Chapman ethos of adding lightness, but with an electric car there’s always one sizeable elephant in the room: weight. At 1680kg the Evija has the unfortunate accolade of being the heaviest Lotus road car ever, predominantly down to its battery pack. Developed by Williams Advanced Engineering (which also manufactures the batteries for the cars in Formula E and developed the hybrid flywheel system for Porsche’s 911 GT3 R hybrid racer), the 70kWh battery is going to be good for outputs of 1972bhp and 1700Nm of torque. This makes just one of the quartet of motors more powerful than any other Lotus road car.
Torque vectoring will be at the core of the Evija’s chassis control, with each motor capable of working individually to manage it. While the powertrain and associated hardware – and software – will be new ground for the team at Hethel, the Evija will, according to head of vehicle engineering Gavan Kershaw, drive and behave like a Lotus: ‘It needs to feel like a Lotus no matter what the amount of performance you use. But we know having all that power and torque available all of the time will compromise this, so we’re developing four driving modes: City, Tour, Sport and Race.
‘In City mode you get the most range [Lotus says 400 kilometres], and Sport and Race will let you run at over 300kmph for ten minutes without a drop-off in performance.’ To date, the driving experience is still to be mapped out on a simulator, with Kershaw and his team not expected to get behind the wheel of a running prototype before the summer is out.
Lotus Evija interiors: The belly of the beast
Slip inside the Evija and the first thing that strikes you is how easy entry is. There’s a wide sill but there’s no ungainly tumble as you slide your backside into the seat and swing your legs into the footwell. Ergonomically it feels very Lotus. There’s a sense of space, of the environment being clutter-free, and there’s a great line of sight looking forward. A minimalist instrument binnacle incorporates a TFT screen allowing for multiple display options, the square steering wheel suiting the aesthetic, although all the controls normally found on the instrument stalks are on the wheel along with the driver mode control switch. Between the driver and passenger hangs a glass panel with haptic auxiliary controls. It feels modern, with a level of attention to detail never before seen in a Lotus. And there’s not a single piece of Vauxhall switchgear.
Details play a considerable part in the Evija’s make-up: the dihedral doors form a (small) part of the glass roof, the electric mirrors that hide away inside them are reminiscent of those on McLaren’s Speedtail (‘We couldn’t believe it when we saw the McLaren last year,’ an exasperated Carr said when he introduced evo to the Evija back in March), and the rear LED light units that ring those vast rear openings are delightfully executed. Using the ‘T’ on the Lotus badge on the rear of the car as the reversing light is plain cool, the high-intensity light in the rear diffuser very F1. And the centre-lock, 20-inch magnesium wheels are refreshingly simple. Below the rear Lotus badge is where you’ll find the Evija’s charging socket.
Yet the Evija is anything but simple – in its design, construction and what it means for Lotus. With Geely funding, these first two points aren’t of concern. The redevelopment of Hethel continues at a remarkable rate, and while the 130 Evijas will be built on site, this will happen in a new, unique facility that Lotus plans to use for further high-value special models. It’s what the Evija means for Lotus that presents the biggest challenge for Britain’s oldest sports car firm. Its first eight decades have seen it survive every high and low imaginable for a car company, and yet still produce some of the very best driver’s cars to grace a road. Cars that have been simple, light, compact (the Evija is nearly four-and-a-half metres long and two metres wide…) and above all, accessible. For the last decade the company has survived off a stream of Elise, Evora and Exige special edition models. Models that are still some of the very best, and capable of bloodying the noses of performance cars regardless of their pedigree. We won’t see any indication of what the replacements for those cars will look like for another 18 months.
However, each new model will take inspiration from the Evija, be it its carbonfibre construction or its electrified powertrain, although internal combustion engines will remain. In the interim, the Evija will take the headlines, hopefully attract enough `2.15 crore deposits and build on the foundations put in place before Geely took ownership.
For evo, the Evija is a car we admire. A Lotus we are fully behind because of what it could lead to in the future and what it says about the commitment from Geely. But it’s another car from a sector that leaves us cold. One that, on face value, puts straight-line performance and exclusivity before driving engagement and enjoyment. But if anyone can inject a personality and character into cars that appear more like extras from Tron than stars of Ronin, it’s Lotus.