The Eletre, Lotus’s new battery-electric SUV feels like someone at Lotus just wanted to take care of as many firsts as possible in one vehicle: It’s Lotus’ first SUV, first five-door car, first non-sports car, first Lotus built in China, first car of any kind with deployable LIDAR, and, yes, it’s also the first Lotus with a feature called “Children Presence Detection (CPD)” which I’m pretty sure is a safety thing and not something, you know, creepy. This is an extremely significant car for Lotus, so let’s dig in.
I guess I better start with the Children Presence Detection part, since I let myself have fun with that in the headline, and, if I’m honest, it’s kind of confusing. I saw it in the big feature list, not far from where Lotus was talking about the inclusion of LIDAR sensors, and I thought this might be referring to some advanced system to detect children around the car, in blind spots immediately to the front or rear of the vehicle.
If that were the case, how would it identify a child, as opposed to, say, other small, moving objects, like a dogs, rogue Roombas, or even me? Does it detect levels of childlike joy in the heart, perhaps with lasers?
No, it’s nothing that cool. It’s not even unique to Lotus. That CPD feature just refers to those systems that use some combination of sensors to determine if you’ve left your kid in the car because you’re an overworked new parent with too much to do and too little sleep. Here’s a link to a demo video of one system which uses a creepy doll to demonstrate how it works.
Of course, the CPD feature is a major deciding factor for precisely zero potential Lotus SUV buyers.
Anyway, let’s talk about the very idea of a Lotus SUV. In the past a Lotus SUV would have been considered an oxymoronic idea, like a Bentley hatchback city car or a Jeep limousine. The essential Lotus character is small, nimble, quick, incredibly well-handling, visceral cars, with all of that business about “adding lightness” and how you’re more likely to see them in packs carving canyon roads with sportbikes than you are in a Target parking lot.
The Eletre, being an EV, adds no lightness at all. In fact, that substantial 100 kWH battery pack adds negative lightness, or as a non-idiot would call it, weight, and lots of it. Sure, it’s mounted low and carefully, but this has to be the heaviest Lotus ever, even if Lotus’ press release somehow omits any weight numbers.
A Lotus has always been a car for purists, people who are willing–possibly even eager–to accept the inherent compromises that owning one involves: most people have to origami themselves a bit to get in and out of them, carrying luggage or shopping in one requires years of playing Tetris to be able to visualize how to make the most of the limited space, and overall a Lotus has never been a car about ease, where you just toss your bags in the back and plop in the seat, beverage in hand, for your drive.
But the Eletre is different, and I’m not going say that’s a bad thing. If these past pandemic years have taught us anything, it’s that it’s nice to be free of the tyranny of Hard Pants and just wear soft things all the time. Maybe it’s okay for our cars, even our legendary sports cars, to be similarly undemanding, comfortable, and easy?
Is it so terrible that a Lotus now exists with more doors than you have nostrils and a lot of room inside? I think Lotus will always have a place making those pure, concentrated driving-thrill, lean sports cars, but if some of that Lotus character can be transplanted into something, well, easier, then who the hell am I to judge? It’s okay to just enjoy things, right?
And, to Lotus’ credit, they have managed to make an SUV-like vehicle that feels at least somewhat Lotus-like, and is genuinely fast as hell: the 4WD machine makes 600 horsepower and can go from static to 62 mph in about 2.8 seconds, which I suspect will feel incredible.
They’ve done a good job on the look, giving it some of what we expect of the design vocabulary of a modern Lotus, re-cast on a larger form. I think the rear-quarter view is especially effective, with that really appealing air-exhaust duct just aft of the front wheelarch, crisply following the line of the body panel and letting the door sink inward, like the flank of an animal, just past its ribcage.
There are lots of interesting visual surfaces going on, but minimal ornamentation, so it looks clean. The black lower body panels and rear bumper keep it from looking too dumpy at the bottom, and those sunken pockets at the rear sides that admit the full-width ribbon taillight (which, I’m told, has scrolling turn indicators) make for a really striking look.
The unusual split spoiler above the window is unexpected and novel, and houses some interesting equipment, which I’ll get to soon.
In profile, it’s interesting to see how Lotus’ designers effectively cut the roof off, visually, making it black and contrasting with the color of the body. The result is a dramatic reduction of the vehicles’ visual height, giving it a (false) profile that feels a bit more in line with Lotus’ traditional offerings. It’s almost a wedge, kind of.
I think a lot of this will be lost in colors with less contrast; look how much more conventional-SUV-like the Eletre looks if you’re too chickenshit to pick a real color, like that yellow up there:
See? It’s just not as good, is it?
I’m also not sure how I feel about the front end. I like details, like the clusters of glowing hashmarks that make up the light units, and the appealing diamond pattern on those active grille shutters, and the way there are actual gaps through which you can see sky through the grille and out through the wheelarches.
There are a lot of interesting things going on, but the problem is that, as a whole, looking at this car’s face all I can see is this other famous face:
It looks like noted Muppet amphibian Kermit the Frog, when he’s making his disgusted grimace-face. This car has a face that looks like it just saw you eating a big, juicy booger, and it’s absolutely revolted.
That’s not the expression a Lotus should have.
Look up there; Lotuses usually look like fast little monsters, little demons of pure speed, and they want to have fun and maybe get you into a little bit of trouble. They’re not disgusted.
The real story about the Eletre, though, is the tech, of which this thing is absolutely jam-packed. There are some really impressive specs going on here. Range-wise, Lotus says this will go 373 miles between charges, but more impressive than that is this number: 248 miles, which is how much range you can get for 20 minutes worth of charging at a 350kW charger.
About 250 miles for 20 minutes is really, really good, edging close to gasoline-car refueling times, assuming, of course, you can find a suitable charger.
The Eletre has lots more cutting-edge tech, like these side-rear-view cameras instead of conventional mirrors. We’ve seen these on cars for years now, and they never really seem to make it to production–VW’s very experimental XL1 being one of the few examples I can think of, and it’s pretty generous to call that a “production” car.
At this moment, these are not even legal in America, though not long ago NHTSA seems to have started seriously considering them.
Lotus’ press release actually lists the width of the car with cameras and with mirrors, so it seems they’re hedging their bets there.
More interesting is the inclusion of LIDAR, the laser-based visual imaging system famously derided by Elon Musk but widely used by most other automated-driving companies. The Eletre’s LIDAR emitters are dynamically deployable at front and rear, and appear to be hardware that’s still awaiting the proper software to utilize it.
From Lotus’ press release:
Maximilian Szwaj, Vice President of Lotus Technology and Managing Director, LTIC, commented: “The Eletre is packed with relevant technologies … ADAS technologies such as LIDAR sensors and cameras will become increasingly common on new cars as we move into a more autonomous era, and to have the world’s first deployable LIDAR system on the Eletre is a signal of the technology vision we have for Lotus. This car has tech for today, and also for tomorrow, as it’s been developed to accept OTA updates as standard.”
What this seems to be saying is that software to actually make use of all this hardware is coming, and can be deployed to the car via over-the-air updates. Lotus already is planning to offer a whole Scrabble tile-bag full of acronyms of semi-automated driving systems for the car:
The Eletre is available with Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC); Collision Mitigation Support Front (CMSF); Traffic Sign Information (TSI); Door Open Warning (DOW); Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA); Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA); Lane Change Assist (LCA); Children Presence Detection (CPD); Lane Keep Aid with Lane Departure Warning / Prevention (LKA+); Parking Emergency Brake (PEB); Collision Mitigation Support Rear (CMSR); and Emergency Rescue Call (E-Call).
Some of these feel like fancy names for things that my parents’ 1980 Honda Accord had (Door Open Warning (DOW)? Come on) but the ACC seems like real Level 2 semi-automated driving, and a system similar to Tesla’s “summon,” where the car can drive to you inside a parking lot, triggered by an app on your phone, was mentioned.
Some of the interior displays and UX can be seen in action in this promo video:
Did you see the scrolling number animation on the speedometer display?
That’s kind of fun. I like that.
The interior looks very modern and has some nice display solutions, with the instruments on a that full-width, narrow LCD band that gives the passenger an independent display/control area as well. That’s a nice, elegant solution.
The center stack display is just kind of stuck on top of it, but in context it really doesn’t look bad.
It does appear that many, many Alacantaras gave their lives and their hides to cover the interior of the car, especially that large center console with those peculiar…drink holders? Is that what those round things are?
The rear looks similarly decadent as well, with a flat LEC display between the individual seats (which use some kind of sustainable wool), and lots of interesting patterns, color, shape, and lighting going on there.
I think Lotus had to do something like this. They had to make a car that had the Lotus name, general character, performance, and feel, without the substantial sacrifices demanded by their traditional cars. It’s where we are as a society, and I’m not even sure I feel like being judgemental about that. It is what it is.
It’s worth noting that I don’t actually think Lotus had to make an SUV for survival reasons–Geely owns Lotus, and they’re not expecting Lotus to be some kind of high-volume leader. What I think they are expecting Lotus to become is a sort of technology vanguard of the company, the flagship marque for Geely’s most advanced tech, and this SUV is a very effective demonstrator to show off Geely’s EV prowess and position Lotus as the company to look to for that.
Importantly for Lotus, they seem to have made something that still manages to have at least some of the Lotus character, even if for a Lotus it’s shockingly big and collapsed-star heavy–not compared to other SUVs, of course, but compared to the Platonic Lotus we all have whipping around on our mind’s curvy roads.
All of the advanced driver-assist hardware and (at least the promise of) software may seem counter to the very soul of Lotus, but I think Lotus could be playing a long game here. As autonomy actually starts to really happen–whenever that may prove to be–and cars become increasingly capable of automated driving, the only cars that make sense to have still human-driven will be those cars that are genuinely engaging to drive.
No one’s going to bother human driving a Camry when automated cars are common–if you’re going to do the work of driving, it’s got to be rewarding. And that’s where Lotus shines.
So let Lotus build and sell their SUVs. Not that we know how expensive they’ll be yet, but let them make their money. Because we want them around for that day, at some point in the future, when there are hardly any human-driven cars. But I think of the cars that still have a wheel and pedals, there will be Lotuses, and you’ll want to drive them.