There is a new Lotus position. There have been many since the visionary, mercurial Colin Chapman built his first car in a garage in 1948. “Simplify, then add lightness” was his most celebrated maxim, a policy espoused on 1962’s epochal Lotus 25, whose “fully stressed” monocoque chassis made it the template for all Formula One racing cars thereafter. Chapman was one of the English garagistes derided by Enzo Ferrari, but he could play the Old Man at his own game and his name and engineering retain a powerful brand equity in 2019.
The company’s new majority shareholder, Chinese behemoth Geely, will be hoping to leverage that immutability and the company’s emotional pull as it sinks billions into Lotus’ latest turnaround plan. The new boss is Phil Popham, a former Jaguar Land Rover board director and recent CEO of Sunseeker, lured back into the automotive firestorm armed with a ten-year product master plan for a British sports car company that should be selling rather more than 1,600 cars per year.
“There is a real passion and desire for the brand,” he tells GQ. “Awareness is high, whether it’s via Bond movies, Colin Chapman’s legacy or F1. Lotus means different things to different people, but familiarity with what we do today is fairly low. People who have visited us here before ask if this is another false dawn, but the new hypercar is a huge statement of intent. It’s low volume, yes, but it’s extremely high-tech. It showcases what Lotus can do and it isn’t a cheap programme.”
It’s called Evija, which loosely translated means “the first in existence”. It’s a cool name and follows the company’s established nomenclature (Elite, Esprit, Elise et al), but as a mega-horsepower, pure electric car it’s also the latest entry in the new performance car paradigm. Like Pininfarina’s lovely Battista or the Rimac Automobili C Two, the Evija’s power output is almost but not quite 2,000bhp, an absurd figure that’s made possible by the torque vectoring possibilities of a motor on each wheel and the energy generated by an enormous bank of batteries. The powertrain is being codeveloped by Williams Advanced Engineering, so it’s blue chip.
It’s also uncommonly beautiful. Lotus is rarely given the credit it deserves for its visual daring, but in the Evija the team has pushed the boundaries to create something that balances showbiz spectacle with classical proportion. It’s made entirely of carbon fibre, which helps promote chassis integrity while minimising weight, but also gives the designers room to manoeuvre. With a cabin set well within its bodywork, there are references to classic endurance racers, there’s a race-bred inboard suspension and an intriguingly sculptural surface language. Given its performance potential, its aerodynamics have been finessed using F1-standard CFD (computational fluid dynamics, since you ask), the air flowing not just over and around it, but also through it. The Evija’s rear is especially striking, achieving a form that’s akin to a Barbara Hepworth sculpture. Not an analogy you make every day.
Lotus chief designer Russell Carr is also having fun with the interior. “We machine into the carbon fibre fractions of a millimetre, inlay metal and lacquer over the top. It’s 21st-century marquetry and positions us in the lineage of British craftsmanship. The Evija sits at that junction where motorsport and aerospace meets Savile Row.”
Need to know: Lotus Evija
Powertrain: Around 1,960bhp pure electric all-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph, less than 3 secs; top speed, more than 200mph
Production run: No more than 130
Price: Around $2.5 million