The AMG-engined Emira i4 is the last new internal combustion engined Lotus sports car, and it’s one of the best.
This is the last new internal combustion engined Lotus sports car. The last in a line that started with the Seven, captured the world’s imagination with the Elan, hit the silver screen with the Esprit and turned to the Elise for Lotus’s salvation. And it all ends with the four-cylinder, AMG-engined Emira i4.
Developed alongside the Toyota-engined V6 Emira the i4 takes the Mercedes-AMG turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and gearbox fitted to the A45 hyper-hatch and squeezes them into the middle of the Emira, requiring a number of changes from the B-pillar back. These included a new, 12kg lighter aluminium subframe, new sheer panels, uprights, wishbones, wheels and electronics.
When fitted into the nose of an A45 S, the turbocharged four-pot produces 310kW making it the most-powerful four-cylinder engine in the world. In the Lotus the peaks are lowered to 268kW and 430Nm giving it a 134kW/litre output and 189kW/ton. That’s still good enough for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.4-seconds and a top speed of 290km/h. It goes as well as it looks, then.
The eight-speed double clutch transmission (no manual is offered unlike with the V6) has, like the engine, been mapped by AMG to Lotus’s requirements. The revised engine power and torque characteristics work with a retuned shift strategy that includes everything from when it should change up – and down – in auto mode to delivering the quickest shifts speeds in Track mode.
As a powertrain package it punches as hard as you’d expect for the numbers it turns out. It gets off the line with a great energy that builds as the revs climb, with the 2-litre motor delivering a strong hit across the board. Surprisingly for a turbocharged engine it’s not all about the torque; there’s a buzz and athleticism to its power delivery, too, the motor extracting every last morsel of power near the top end of its rev band.
However, for all its performance it’s not the best sounding engine. In fact it’s quite coarse, and only when you switch to Sport or Track mode does the exhaust note pick up to mask some of the mechanical thrash.
The fitment of an e-diff in the rear axle is another differentiator to the V6. Lotus and Bosch worked together on its development and the car’s sophisticated electronic systems to create an Emira that delivers the engagement expected of a Lotus and the safety nets expected by those new to the brand. It’s why, with a heavy handed approach you can enter a tight second to third gear corner that’s wearing the results of a decent summer downpour, apply full lock and open the throttle to its stops and still head in your intended direction without the systems shutting everything down. And why, when your hams are replaced with the delicate touch of your fingertips the ESC and traction systems sync with the diff to aid you through and out of quicker turns, where your commitment levels are tempered with barely noticeable adjustments.
This level of confidence the Emira inspires allows you to climb deeper into it’s talents, exploring both yours and its ability. On the road it means you build momentum and flow, making quick progress without making a nuisance of yourself. On track you push yourself harder, lean on its traction, work with its balance and saviour how it transitions through a corner from the moment you guide the nose into the apex.
Our test car was equipped with the stiffer Sport chassis, which includes springs and dampers in the region of six to seven per cent stiffer than the Tour pack fitted. On the road it results in a firmer ride than many will expect from a Lotus as its locked down chassis forgoes the float and fluidity Lotus is known for in return for more precision and poise when the pace picks up. It doesn’t have the pliant qualities of Alpine’s A110, but neither does it feel as locked down as a Porsche Cayman GT4 or GTS with their dampers in their firmest settings.
On track, however, the Sport chassis is firmly at home. There’s enough movement in the body to feel the car adjust to your inputs and allow you to adapt accordingly. Its balance is neutral and any understeer or oversteer genuinely comes at your command, with messages clearly telegraphed back to you. Retaining a hydraulic steering set-up (with an electric motor to power it) is key and was a crucial decision in the car’s development, one that Gavin Kershaw – the man responsible for how every Lotus model drives – insisted on. It meant removing the electronic power steering that runs off the AMG engine and integrating the hydraulic system from the V6.
The more miles you cover the more the Emira comes to you, showing its talents and encouraging you to enjoy it. There are some foibles, however. The small steering-mounted shifters, which you’ll want to engage with, are switches rather than paddles (and the steering wheel spokes they are fixed to are set too low on the rim). The seat still isn’t right either, and like the V6 model it lacks shoulder and hip support; the more you enjoy the car the more you find yourself bracing yourself against the seat. A sports seat would fix this, and a pair of 3D printed proper-sized paddles would work wonders.
The four-cylinder Emira operates in a small – incredibly small – sector with only the A110 and Cayman as genuine competitors before you start heading down the used supercar route. In each car you have three different characters and personalities, the A110 the agile but edgy one, the Porsche the controlled and predictable one with the Emira sitting sweetly in the middle.