2023 Lotus Emira First Drive Review: Lotus Grows Up, and Just in Time

The 2023 Lotus Emira is a car on a mission—well, two missions to be precise. One, to see out Hethel’s ICE age with a proper sendoff encapsulating a half-century of lightness and underdog spirit and a whole lot of good (if troubled) times. And two, to convince sports car buyers that Lotus is a realistic, mature, completely viable alternative to…just about anything with two seats north of $75,000.

And okay, let’s call it Mission 2.5: to stop people from asking, “But why didn’t you get a Porsche?”

It’s an important car for Lotus. It’s an important car for mankind. And if it’s going to squash that question with limited time on the piston-power doomsday clock, it needs to get it right from the start. 

2023 Lotus Emira Specs

  • Base price (as tested): $77,100 ($93,900)
  • Powertrain: 3.5-liter supercharged V6 | 6-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 395
  • Torque: 310 lb-ft (manual), 317 lb-ft (auto)
  • Top speed: 180 mph
  • 0-60 mph: 4.3 seconds
  • Seating capacity: 2
  • Cargo volume: 12.6 cubic feet (combined)
  • Curb weight: 3,097 pounds
  • EPA fuel economy: TBA
  • Quick take: A finale Lotus should be proud of, and enough to stir up second thoughts about that Cayman. 
  • Score: 8.5/10

All photos by Alex Goy

Emira vs. the World

Goodness. Let’s take stock of Lotus in 2022: With the Elise, Exige, and Evora now all gone, and the days of stripped out, compromised sports cars a memory, the Emira is Lotus’ only model for mere mortals. And it is well and truly the last of its kind, as Lotus only has all-electric cars in development from here on out (the Eletre SUV and the Evija hypercar). It makes sense to play the hits, then—the Emira uses a similar bonded aluminum chassis and the same supercharged Toyota V6 Lotus has employed for an age, paired with a six-speed manual or torque-converter automatic. Eventually it’ll come with an AMG-sourced four banger, and that one gets a dual-clutch automatic.

As for the required lightness, its slimmest form clocks in at 3,097 pounds, so while it’s not the featherweight its predecessors used to be, it hardly needs to go on a diet. Lotus, at first glance, is mixing much needed new with a good dash of the old.

The biggest difference you’ll spot is the look. The Emira is a handsome car, with shades of the Evija in the places that matter. The hood vents, sharp leading edge up front, and vents at the rear are all sub-$100,000 facsimiles of the limited run halo car. The upshot of this is that it gets looks from, well, pretty much everyone. Pedestrians will crane their necks, kids will point, and other drivers will veer towards you while they’re trying to figure out what it is they’re looking at. One Uber driver, late at night beckoned me to wind my window down and shouted “The new one’s so much better than they used to be…” before whirring away in his Prius. The V6 sounded better. 

The outside in all its composite-paneled glory (it’s still a Lotus, remember) is a warm up to the interior. There are screens that look as though they’re supposed to be there, switchgear that doesn’t look suspiciously like it crawled in from another car, nice leather, proper cabin trim… and it doesn’t smell like glue. Basic stuff, yes, but all things that could’ve been said about Lotus cars at one point or another, all the way up to the excellent Evora GT that just went out of production.

There’s an exposed gear linkage in the Emira as a nice nod to the old, but otherwise it’s all modern. The 10.25-inch central touch screen controls a few key things like HVAC functions, though its response can be a little haphazard. (Thankfully, there are physical knobs as backups.) But hey, it’s even got CarPlay, which feels like a strange thing to say about a Lotus. And the 12.3-inch instrument cluster screen is smartly designed.

Those who consume liquids will appreciate the cupholders, even though their presence is bound to irritate others looking to criticize the Emira for not being a stripped-out track special approximately six people would buy. Practicality—it’s what sells cars. The queue is already forming at the nearest Lotus dealer as the people learn about the whopping 7.3 cubic feet of storage behind the driver and extra 5.3 cubes in the trunk. You can get by with less cargo space than a Golf. Honest.

Driving the Lotus Emira

This all seems rather more mature than you’d expect from Hethel, so I was expecting the drive to jolt me back to harsh reality. It didn’t. If anything, it felt even more like an evolution. There are two suspension setups available on the Emira, and I mean suspension setups, not driving modes: Tour for softer road-biased driving, and Sport for people who want to play on tracks or drive everywhere like their faces are on fire. These are set springs you need to pick when you spec your car. Lotus slung me the keys to a Sport-sprung car, and while I was expecting to have my spine rearranged, it remained wonderfully in place. 

On the highway, unless the surface is made of nasty concrete, it’s quiet and supple. I could hear my podcast, I wasn’t being thrown around, and the A/C was keeping me cool. It doesn’t feel like a Lotus, but a sensible car. A car you can use. Of its drive modes, because of course it’s got a couple of those too, Tour is the most inert, letting you bimble around without feeling like you’re strapped to a nuke. Flip a switch just ahead of the gearstick and you’re presented with two other choices: Sport and Track.

For a fast road, Sport should be more than enough. It makes the Emira burble wonderfully, and adds suitable urgency to the power delivery. All of a sudden it’s not sensible any more, and rather more Lotus-esque. The car’s got near 400 horsepower after all, and a pleasingly meaty clutch and addictively notchy stick mean you’ll be finding excuses to switch gears at any opportunity.

With Sport springs on board, the Emira flows beautifully when the road is smooth, but potholes and other nasties make it judder rather unpleasantly. You pay a price for quicker cornering, I guess. While the four-pot is on the way, it’s worth celebrating just how wonderful the Toyota-sourced V6 is. A slight touch of the pedal and it reacts instantly, giving you a burst of torque and supercharged noise. Fire it along the right road and you’ll believe its (currently subject to homologation) 4.3 second 0-60 mph time, and that it can hit 180 mph without too much trouble. It feels quick, and doesn’t stop feeling quick until you run out of speed limit/space/bottle. 

Should you find yourself on a circuit, Track is your best friend. It gives you more noise, more urgency, and less intervention from electronics, so the car can move around a little more where there’s space to breathe. It’s here you can feel how much grip the car has, and how capable its chassis is. With little roll thanks to the springs, you push harder and harder, hoping to unstick it, yet it seems to know that sliding is the slowest way around a bend, so it’ll stay stoically planted.  And then when you do find its limit, it’s capable of massive, childish slides without issue. The memories of the sensible car that felt normal in town vanish, it’s a Lotus again.

It also must be highlighted: The hydraulic steering is otherworldly good, offering incredible feedback at every step. Few, if any, manufacturers make a system like it anymore. Experience it while you can.

Looking Back, Leaning Forward

As with the Evora before, this thing is squaring off against Porsches, and like its predecessor it comes with prestige, useful tech, and impressive looks. But this feels like a more grown up car than anything that’s preceded it. It may take some doing to unstick a few people from their Caymans, but the Emira is the first time a Lotus has been even close to on par with one on a kit/NVH/comfort level. Performance-wise, it’ll be interesting to see this go toe to toe with Stutgart’s toys. I’ll bet it’ll be a close run thing. 

Will it stop people wondering why you didn’t go for a Porsche though? If you give them a ride, yes. The inconveniences and compromises that used to define the Lotus experience are no longer there. You can do the day to day without issue, and then, at the prod of a switch, get a full-on blast of Hethel’s heritage without a moment’s notice. On the right road it’s a phenomenal sports car, and everywhere else it’s a damn fine way to get around. It’s a tall order to topple the status quo, but here at the 11th hour, at least Lotus finally has a car worthy of the task.

Alex Goy is a UK-based automotive journalist. His work has appeared in British GQRoad & Track, and more.

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