2023 Lotus Eletre review – onwards to superstardom

Four years is an awfully short amount of time to be making a car from scratch, much less an ultra premium SUV, and a high-performance fully-electric one at that. Both are uncharted territories for Lotus, a brand known mostly to have made incredibly raw and engaging sports cars for hardcore enthusiasts.

Outside of that circle, few share the same reverence for the British carmaker, which at some point in its 75-year history can be mentioned in the same breath as Ferrari. This refers specifically to its illustrious motorsports endeavours – Lotus won the Formula One World Championship seven times, and came ahead of Ferrari to become the first marque to bag 50 Grand Prix victories.

That’s no mean feat, but if we’re honest, its past successes carry little to no significance for the modern day folk looking to buy their next flashy new electric car. Vicious and unrelenting; such is the pace of the car market today.

Lotus understands this full and well, which is why it pulled all the stops to make the Type 132 a reality. Enter the Eletre (or Project Lazarus, if you catch our drift), Lotus’ first-ever SUV, and probably the largest and heaviest car it will ever make.

What is it?

2023 Lotus Eletre review – onwards to superstardom

The Eletre is first and foremost, an inevitability. Its existence is as strategic as it is an impetus for a corporate rebrand, one that serves to springboard Lotus well into mass market appeal. It’s a tale we’re all too familiar with, a fate similarly shared with the industry’s preeminent brands.

Spanning about 5.1 meters-long and over two meters-wide, the Eletre is a behemoth, its size dwarfing that of the Ferrari Purosangue and Porsche Cayenne (both a tad over 4.9 meters-long).

A clever mixture of soft lines, streamlined sheetmetal, short overhangs and cab-forward design make the SUV look smaller in pictures than in real life. But the difference makers lie in the positioning of the LED headlamps (at the corners of the black gaping frame), the blacked out pillars, steeply raked windscreen (at 27 degrees), and the slim digital side mirrors (dubbed the Electric Reverse Mirror Displays). These altogether give the Eletre a clean, almost minimalist finish.

While Lotus may be new to the SUV scene, its grasp on the principles of aerodynamics is anything but. The Eletre is a masterclass on form and function, with ducts and vents on the bonnet and behind the wheel arches to smoothen airflow. There are air blades on the D-pillar as well, plus a split spoiler on the roof (this also reduces weight while remaining functional) and a largely flat underside.

But perhaps the most significant feature, at least visually, is the active front grille that is comprised of seven individual apertures, each featuring six triangular petals. These petals open and close seemingly at random, and can be quite therapeutic to observe.

The active rear spoiler also automatically adjusts between three positions to add or reduce downforce. The Eletre boasts a drag coefficient value of just 0.26. By comparison, the Tesla Model S and X have a Cd value of 0.24. Impressive.

All new cabin, and a slew of firsts for Lotus

Stepping inside evokes an unusual sense of awe and bewilderment. Never before has a Lotus looked so swanky, what with jewellery-grade stainless steel, full-sized electrochromic glass roof, ambient lighting system, and a Dolby Atmos sound system. More on that, later.

There are no corners cut in making the cabin feel truly premium, and you couldn’t tell that the majority of materials used are either made from recycled textile or sustainably-produced synthetic goods. They all feel appropriately upmarket, the finishing substantial to the touch and completely rattle-free on the move. Even the Ultrafabric polyurethane seats (also known as man-made leather) feel nearly as supple as full-grain Nappa.

In some markets, the Eletre comes with a staggering seven displays – the main 15.1-inch OLED panel in the middle, a slim 12.6 inch-long OLED instrument panel (plus another for the front passenger), a 29-inch head-up display with augmented reality, a nine-inch touch display at the rear (eight-inch for the five-seater), and two high-definition six-inch displays for models equipped with the digital side mirrors, which I couldn’t possibly get used to in two days. Mirrors over cameras for me, anytime.

KEF, British maker of top-end HiFi systems, makes its first automotive debut here with two offerings; a 15-speaker 1,380-watt surround sound system, and the flagship 23-speaker, 2,160-watt setup with 3D surround sound.

The good news is they both have official Dolby Atmos support, but the bad news is you really want the 23-speaker setup. I won’t pretend to be an audiophile, but the experience is moving, and quite literally second to none. Truly next level stuff, and better experienced than explained.

Another highlight here is the main infotainment display. Functionally, it is far more immersive than what most of us are used to, which presents a learning curve that can be mildly irritable (at the initial stages, at least) for those accustomed to switches and toggles. To simplify user experience, Lotus designed its proprietary Hyper OS to make sure you needn’t tap more than three times to access any vehicular/multimedia function, and will continually refine the UI/UX over time.

That aside, the display is gorgeous, graphically and physically. It’s only 10 mm thin (rests on a rather ornate curved hinge) and is mighty responsive, thanks to twin, air-cooled Qualcomm 8155 Snapdragon chips. This provides enough firepower for the Unreal Engine to render graphics processing in real-time, and navigating the 60-frames OLED panel is a treat on its own.

An embedded SIM with 5G connectivity is standard from the factory, allowing full over-the-air software updates. Some of your favourite audio/video streaming services can also be consumed through the main display, if not now then in the very near future. Apps developed in-house by Lotus – such as its telematics feature – will also continue to grow.

It’s every bit desirable so far, but is it a real Lotus?

The Eletre weighs just over 2,500 kg, while the R starts from 2,640 kg. It seems like the deeper we dive, the further we stray from the good old “simplify, then add lightness” ethos first coined by the late Colin Chapman. There’s no defying the laws of physics, so here we are in Norway to see just what sort of trickery Lotus has got up its sleeves.

2023 Lotus Eletre review – onwards to superstardom

For those who haven’t been, Oslo’s restrictive speed limits doesn’t quite provide the ideal setting to be sampling the full capabilities of a high-performance SUV like the Eletre. The venue is very much a novelty (it being the EV capital of the world), yet crucially provides the opportunity to savour the car as you would on the daily – plenty of stop-and-go traffic in the city, plus a small serving of spirited driving on suburban backroads.

Armed with two electric motors as standard, the Eletre and Eletre S both dish out 603 hp and 710 Nm of torque. Our tester is the latter, brisk off the line virtually all the time, leaving no hint of its heft in the process of building speed. Lotus claims a century sprint time of 4.5 seconds, and there’s hardly any reason to doubt that.

Ride is pleasantly refined for a car that ships with 22-inch wheels. There’s little incentive in upsizing to 23s, to me at least, but the option is on the table for those whose spine can take a bit more abuse. I don’t imagine the ride to be much harsher either way – the standard air suspension with continuous damping control seem unfazed throughout our stint, however varied the surface.

The Lotus brand is very much synonymous with suspension tuning, the result of which has seen Proton introduce some commendably well-handling passenger cars while stewarding the sports car maker. The same magic – however befuddling in application – can be felt here, from the base of the Eletre’s driver seat right through the electromechanical power steering (a first, too).

2023 Lotus Eletre review – onwards to superstardom

Through a combination of finely tuned electronics and cutting-edge hardware, the Eletre effectively drives and handles like a far smaller SUV. Our tester is fitted with the Lotus Dynamic Handling Pack (standard on the R, optional on the rest), which includes the third-generation Intelligent Active Roll Control (IARC) with fast-reacting electromechanical actuators to mitigate body roll as the need arises.

On flatter surfaces, these actuators will decouple for the benefit of ride comfort. IARC also ships with the active rear-wheel steering system (another first for Lotus), which plays a monumental part in making the Eletre feel deceptively agile and manoeuvrable.

All this to say, despite its weight, the Eletre handles with far more poise, finesse and neutrality than I had expected, its balance unperturbed even when pressed through switchbacks. This is also made possible thanks to its skateboard architecture, which allows battery pack to sit close to the ground. Good fun behind the wheel, this.

Two things that really stand out for me are the fast rack (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) and the brakes. The former is highly communicative (yet isn’t tiresome on long jaunts), bringing great joy by way of feedback, while the brakes feel just as natural to modulate as any other Lotuses. There is no one-pedal driving here, because the Eletre has insofar proved to be made for the drivers. Talk about separating the wheat from the chaff.

2023 Lotus Eletre review – onwards to superstardom

As a longtime aspirer to own the Elise S3, I never imagined the need to assess a Lotus from a refinement standpoint. But here, the Eletre scores high. Really high. Its slippery shell keeps wind noise well at bay, even when cruising past 100 km/h on the freeway. Tyre noise (on factory-fitted Pirelli P Zeros) is also barely audible below 90 km/h, but this could vary depending on the quality of your tarmac back home.

In all honesty, logically, the Eletre S is more than sufficient for most people. However, springing for the R is what grants you the license to bear the title of “hyper-SUV owner,” and out on the Eggemoen airstrip, we got a taste of what 905 hp and 985 Nm of torque feels like in an all-electric setup.

Exclusive to the Eletre R is the Track Mode, which is what allows you to launch from standstill to 100 km/h in just a hair under three seconds. Accelerating off the mark isn’t as violent as I had expected, but claims of a sub three-second sprint are true, as have been verified by other media through GPS-based performance meters. Watch our video to see how progressive, not explosive, the acceleration is.

2023 Lotus Eletre review – onwards to superstardom

The Eletre R in Kaimu Grey

Regardless of your pick, the Eletre ships with a 112 kWh lithium-ion battery pack as standard. It is among, if not the largest currently available in the EV market, giving you an estimated range of about 600 km (WLTP combined cycle; 490 km on the R) on a full charge. A 22 kW onboard charger (OBC) is also standard, which fully juices up the SUV in six hours. Its 800-volt electrical architecture also supports rapid DC charging of up to 350 kW (10% to 80% in under 20 minutes).

So, can the Eletre propel Lotus into superstardom?

Yes, and deservingly so. The Eletre signals the beginning of a brand new chapter for Lotus, a model that anchors its range of premium lifestyle performance EVs. There will be two more mass market models to follow, and if the Eletre is any indication of their potential, then to that we say, ready your chequebooks.

I’ll leave you with this. In 2021, Lotus sold a grand total of 1,710 cars globally (a record, mind you, in its 75-year history), to an ever-shrinking pool of diehard petrolheads and brand loyalists. But the automotive landscape is evolving at a pace the like of which is historically unprecedented, and in a sea of lumbering and rather unexciting EVs, the Eletre is the panacea this jaded writer so desperately seeks.

2023 Lotus Eletre review – onwards to superstardom

Its styling tasteful and ravishing, the cabin excellently appointed and delightfully cosy, and drives more than well, all without ever feeling like a try-hard. Orders will ship from a new factory in Wuhan, China, which has an annual output capacity of 150,000 units, so don’t worry about lead time.

With the way things are going, Lotus is undoubtedly off on a solid footing, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. It’s a sedan, by the way, and a Porsche Macan-rivalling SUV. Both fully electric, and due much sooner than expected. How Lotus took just four years with the Eletre will continue to boggle my mind. Unbelievable.

GALLERY: 2023 Lotus Eletre in Norway

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