2022 Lotus Emira V6 First Edition review: International first drive

Things we like

  • Terrific chassis
  • Punchy powertrain
  • Everyday usability

Not so much

  • Deliberate gear shift
  • Doesn’t feel as solid as a Cayman
  • Resale values unknown

The Elise is the reason Lotus is here today and able to bring us the 2022 Emira V6 First Edition that is the subject of this test. Launched in 1996 when Lotus was owned by Italian businessman Romano Artioli and fighting for its life, the Elise re-introduced the world to the idea of a pure, ultra-light, driver-focused sportscar, the sort of sports car Lotus founder Colin Chapman himself might have conceived.

Although the Elise may have saved Lotus, it – and the closely-related Exige and Evora variants – also typecast Britain’s famously iconoclastic car-maker. For the best part of 30 years, Lotus cars have been regarded as brilliant to drive but spartan and cramped; cars that are best kept in the garage for sunny days when you have nowhere to go, and all day to get there.

The Lotus Emira V6 changes all that. The mid-engine Emira is designed to move Lotus out of the hardcore, hair-shirt enthusiast milieu of the Elise and its barely more hospitable Exige and Evora variants, and into the daily-driveable premium sportscar segment dominated by Porsche’s Cayman.

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The Emira is key to plans to boost Lotus sales from 1500-1600 cars a year to 4800 cars a year, worldwide. And the Emira V6 First Edition shows how it will be done: This Lotus is bigger, plusher, quieter, more comfortable, and more lavishly equipped than any car from Hethel in decades. It’s a Lotus you could seriously consider using every day. But it’s still a hugely engaging drivers car with unique character and charisma.

In other words, it’s still a Lotus.

The Magma Red V6 First Edition shown here is one of the last pre-production Emiras off the new assembly line at Hethel. The First Edition badge means it comes fully equipped: Standard goodies include gloss black forged alloy wheels, black Alcantara roof lining, heated seats, and a KEF premium audio system.

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In addition to trim, convenience and styling upgrades that are optional on the regular Emira V6, the First Edition also gets the Lotus Drivers Pack, which includes a Track Mode setting for the ESP, a limited-slip differential and the choice of touring or sports suspension, the latter also available with grippier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres instead of the standard Goodyear Eagle F1s.

The First Edition V6 is powered by the same Toyota-sourced supercharged 3.5-litre V6 and six-speed manual transmission as used in the Evora (a six-speed automatic is available as an option), though the peak power output has been dialled back from 310kW to 298kW to meet tougher emissions regulations. Peak torque is 420Nm.

The first thing you notice when you slide behind the wheel of the Emira is the interior room. Unless you’re built like an AFL ruckman, you won’t need to run the seat all the way back to be comfortable behind the height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel. There’s even a small shelf behind the seats, wide enough for a couple of soft bags and some coats.

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It’s also far from spartan. Almost every surface you can touch is covered in leather or Alcantara. There’s a digital dash and a decent-sized central touchscreen, both with crisp, clean graphics. The Emira also has air-conditioning, sat-nav, a sound system, drive modes, USB ports, cup holders and power windows. For today’s sportscar buyers, these are the basics.

The manual Emira is an immersive experience from the moment you fire up the supercharged V6. The clutch requires more muscle than in a manual Cayman, and the shift gate isn’t quite as concise, either, which makes it best not to rush second-third and fourth-fifth upshifts. The relationship between the brake and accelerator pedals is perfect, however. Snappy heel-and-toe downshifts are a breeze.

Lotus claims the manual Emira V6 will sprint from 0 to 100km/h in under 4.5 seconds on the way to its 290km/h top speed. And it doesn’t take many kilometres to appreciate that 3.5 litres and a supercharger are a good combination, delivering an abundance of mid-range torque and quick throttle response, useful tools in a car weighing less than 1500kg.

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In third gear, the manual Emira will pull cleanly from 25km/h – little more than 1000rpm – all the way to 160km/h before hitting the 6750rpm rev limiter. Though the revs build with noticeably more urgency above 3500rpm, the power delivery is nonetheless smooth and linear, and precisely adjustable via your right foot. The result is a car that is effortlessly quick on any road.

Turning into a corner requires little more effort than a roll of the wrists. The response from the front axle is immediate, and while there’s more body roll than in a Cayman, it’s much easier to sense the increase in loads through the tyres and into the suspension and thus understand how to adjust the chassis balance.

Torque and traction will initiate mild understeer if you go to power early. To tighten your arc, lift off and the weight transfer will make the front tyres bite again, initiating a smooth transition to mild oversteer that’s easily controlled with the throttle as the load comes off the rear axle. On the track, with the ESP turned off, the Emira V6 First Edition is as pure and playful a mid-engine sportscar as has ever been built.

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The Emira V6 has that lovely lightness of being that’s long been the hallmark of the best Lotus sportscars. It dances down the road on suspension that’s much more supple than the taut set-up you find in a Cayman, and the dialogue through the hydraulically assisted power steering is richer and more meaningful.

A trio of drive modes – Tour, Sport, and Track – change only the throttle mapping, exhaust note, and the level of ESP intervention. The steering and suspension are, thankfully, left alone.

What’s most impressive about the way the Emira V6 First Edition drives, though, is that it doesn’t have to be pushed to be pleasurable. It’s alert and agile at low to medium speeds, but it’s also quiet and comfortable, with low levels of impact harshness and tyre noise penetrating the cabin.

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Unless you plan to spend every day at the track, the standard touring suspension is a terrific all-round set-up.

Of course, great driving dynamics are not what will ultimately determine whether the Lotus Emira is a success. It’s the stuff that Lotus, frankly, hasn’t always been all that accomplished at – comfort and convenience, fit and finish, durability and useability.

The stuff consumers live with every day. And on first acquaintance, the Emira V6 First Edition is a big step in the right direction.

Things we like

  • Terrific chassis
  • Punchy powertrain
  • Everyday usability

Not so much

  • Deliberate gear shift
  • Doesn’t feel as solid as a Cayman
  • Resale values unknown

Saturday June 11, 2022
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