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April 13, 2024

The Lotus Eletre is the best electric SUV you can buy right now

From the magazine: Under new Chinese ownership, Lotus has produced a futuristic model that somehow manages to be true to its lightweight pedigree – despite a 650kg battery

By Mark Walton

I think this may be the most futuristic car I’ve ever driven. There’s no single element that makes it feel so advanced – I mean, yes, it’s electric, but then big deal, so is my toothbrush. It has a dashboard dominated by huge touchscreens, but again, they’re so ubiquitous these days I think my toothbrush has those too. It has gimmicks galore, such as tiny aerodynamic cameras instead of door mirrors, but Audi has been offering those as an option for a couple of years. 

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No, it’s the way all these technologies come together – the package as a whole – that makes the new Lotus Eletre feel like you’re driving something from a sci-fi movie. 

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The badge is a big part of that. It’s a Lotus! And Lotus, to most people, evokes little British sports cars – spartan, lightweight, raw. There’s something so unexpected about this car, theatrical even, as though it’s a concept car built for a Hollywood movie set in the year 2050. If you climb in expecting bare aluminium and 1970s plastic switches, you’re in for a shock. The materials inside are all exquisite, a beautiful blend of natural-feeling fabrics, Alcantara and rose-gold switch details. It feels premium, expensive and serious. It’s unlike any Lotus I’ve ever sat in, and everyone who climbed into the passenger seat alongside me offered the same reaction – they all said: ‘Ooooh.’ And I think we all know what they meant. 

Lotus Eletre: start of a new chapter

The Lotus Eletre
The Lotus Eletre feels theatrical, as though it’s a concept car built for a Hollywood movie / Image: Lotus

This leap forward is largely thanks to Chinese owner Geely, which bought a controlling share of Lotus in 2017. It also has significant holdings in Volvo, Polestar and Smart, with shares in Aston Martin and Mercedes. Despite the prominent Lotus badge on the bonnet, the Eletre feels like it owes more to a muscular corporate effort than British pluck and ingenuity. It feels multinational – and it’s built in Wuhan, not in a little factory in Norfolk.

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For many purists, this new direction feels like blasphemy. Lotus founder Colin Chapman had a fertile engineering mind and a Quaker’s approach to weight, trimming every gram from his cars in search of performance. In contrast, the Eletre’s battery alone weighs around 650kg – more than a whole sports car in Chapman’s day. The Eletre is also huge – at 5.1 metres it’s longer than a Range Rover, and it makes the average UK parking bay look like the outline of a napkin.

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But I think the purists are wrong, for two reasons. First of all, Chapman was obsessed with weight, true – but he also liked money. He bent and shaped Lotus into whatever venture might him earn a crust, including re-engineering the Ford Cortina in the Sixties, supplying engines to Jensen in the Seventies and getting involved in the ill-fated DeLorean project in the Eighties. If he were still alive today and Geely offered to pay him millions to engineer an electric toaster, Chapman would have said: ‘Sure – how many slices?’ So a big, luxurious, electric SUV that goes like stink? He would have loved it. 

And that’s the second reason the purists are wrong. The Lotus Eletre does go like stink and it drives brilliantly. It’s fast, it’s refined, and on the road it feels surprisingly light, even though it’s not. Lotus has pulled off the same trick Porsche did with its Taycan – disguising its size and the presence of that heavy battery to create a car that feels agile and wieldy. 

The simplest things done right

There are three versions of the Eletre: the ‘standard’ model and the S are mechanically the same but the S costs £15,000 more (at £104,500) as it’s loaded with extra equipment. Under the skin, they share the same 112kWh lithium-ion battery, the latest, super-fast 800-volt charging, twin electric motors producing 603bhp and active air suspension. The R model, which costs £120,000, gets a more powerful rear motor, an eyeball-scrabbling 905bhp and a ‘dynamic handling pack’, which includes intelligent anti-roll control and rear-wheel steering. 

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It’s easy to get bogged down in the complexity of all this tech, but thankfully Lotus gets the simplest things dead right. We drive the S model, and as soon as we pull away the throttle response and steering feel beautifully calibrated. Too often the instant torque of electric cars can lead to quite a jerky, unsettled drive (and no, it’s not all down to the klutz behind the wheel), but the Eletre delivers its pace smoothly, making the relationship between the throttle pedal and your acceleration feel intuitive. It’s like you’re driving a powerful V6 petrol engine, rather than an on-off light switch. 

That doesn’t mean the acceleration won’t punch you in the kidneys if you ask it to. Pin the accelerator to the floor and the Eletre isn’t stupid-fast by super-EV standards, but it’ll still take you by surprise when this huge 4×4 monster catapults down the road like a supercar. The S has a claimed 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds and a 160mph top speed. 

 The Lotus Eletre does go like stink and it drives brilliantly / Image: Lotus

The best on the market

The best thing about the Eletre, though, is the steering. If there’s any last vestige of old Lotus in this decidedly new world, it’s the relationship between the steering wheel and the nose of the car. The steering feels lively and responsive, and the front end changes direction accurately, with a nimble willingness that feels – yes – light. This giant electric bus tips the scales at more than 2.5 tonnes, so it really isn’t light, but you can kid yourself that it might have a scrap of Colin Chapman DNA when you fly down a winding road and actually enjoy the experience. 

So, the Eletre is much more than a badge-engineered Chinese EV; it’s the reinvention of an amazing brand. For enthusiasts like me, it’s also a welcome addition to our car landscape; and if you just happen to be in the market for a £100,000 electric SUV, the new Lotus is also the best one you can buy right now. Yep, you read that correctly – the best right now. No need to wait until 2050. 

This feature first appeared in Spear’s Magazine: Issue 91. Click here to subscribe

Spear's Issue 91: cover image
Introducing Spear’s Magazine Issue 91 / Artwork: Diego Abreu

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