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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Lotus' All-Electric Eletre SUV Has a Grill That 'Breathes'

SUVs don't often get called beautiful. Rugged, cool, maybe even stylish on occasion. Marketing departments like to pepper SUV launches with adjectives that tap into our primordial instincts to haul stuff or ram through forest roads, but the typical Range Rover, Toyota RAV4, or Volvo has long since left its utilitarian roots behind. Looks, as opposed to actual ability, are increasingly important with SUVs. Looks are also entirely subjective, but we'll go ahead and say it: Inside and out, the Eletre is a beautiful SUV.

SUVs are entirely new to Lotus. Even long after Bentley and Porsche brushed aside tradition and released their own first SUVs, Lotus remained a sports-car-only company. With SUVs becoming the dominant passenger vehicle type, it may have been inevitable that Lotus would eventually throw its hat into the ring. As might be expected, Lotus brought a lot of its old sports car tricks into the design and manufacturing of the Eletre.

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Light Me Up

Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, had a saying that sums up Lotus' entire 74-year history: “Simplify, then add lightness.” The essence of the perfect sports car was shared with that of the perfect racing car—and Lotus was a racing car manufacturer, first and foremost. 

Since large packs of batteries make EVs heavier than internal-combustion-powered vehicles, the Eletre pulls out a few tricks to chop as much weight as possible from the 201-inch-long SUV. For comparison, it's about the size of a Ford Explorer and a foot longer than the Ford Mustang Mach-E, another performance-oriented, all-electric SUV.

Lotus says the Eletre features “extensive” use of carbon fiber and aluminum to keep the (still undisclosed) weight down. The exterior body panels are aluminum, and all the black exterior trim pieces, such as the wheel arches, rear spoiler, and side-view mirrors, are carbon fiber. Hard interior trim pieces are also carbon fiber, and the seats are wrapped in a wool-blend fabric that, according to Lotus, is 50 percent lighter than typical leather seating. 

You can also see the tendency to subtract in the front center console, echoing the interior of the Eletre's sister Lotus EV, the much-delayed Evija hypercar, where an open pass-through between the left and right footwells also trims weight.

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A Sensory Experience

Pressing the lock or unlock button on the key fob cues what Lotus calls a “peacock moment,” when the Eletre gives off a visual flourish that exists purely for show. 

An active front grill comprises interconnected triangular panels which stay closed when the Eletre is stopped or when it needs to reduce aerodynamic drag and automatically open to scoop air to the radiator to cool the electric motors, battery pack, or front brakes when needed. During this locking and unlocking sequence, the active grill “breathes” as the illuminated flush-fitting door handles deploy, opening and closing the vented panels.

As another unique technology for a production car, four light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors mean the Eletre will have the in-built ability to support autonomous driving, although details on just how autonomous the Eletre will be are scarce. 

It's the first production car to have retractable lidar sensors, which deploy when in use and retract when not needed. There's one at the top of the windshield, one at the top of the rear window, and one above each front fender. When they're retracted, you'd be hard-pressed to notice them, except for the gaps around the flush-fitting panels.

Room to Roam

There are two electric motors—one for each axle—that provide the Eletre with all-wheel drive. The preliminary spec sheet doesn't go into detail except to say that there will be power outputs “starting at 600 horsepower.” But even the standard 600-horsepower base trim level will get the Eletre to 62 miles per hour from a standstill in under three seconds.

The Eletre's target range is a projected 373 miles. Charging EV batteries to full repeatedly degrades them faster, just like a smartphone or laptop battery, so for typical day-to-day driving you'd want to keep from running the battery all the way down or charging past 75 or 80 percent, just like you would on any EV. 

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Having a relatively long range allows drivers to use healthy charging techniques and still have more than enough range for a day of commuting and errand-running, as well as occasional road trips where it makes sense to charge the battery to 100 percent.

It also promises to charge quickly. Given the use of a high-speed, 350-kW charging station, the Lotus will juice up to a 248-mile range in 20 minutes. During unlocking, the full-length taillight strip helpfully displays one of four colors to indicate battery charge status.

A Touching Display

Lotus claims that 95 percent of the car's functionality can be accessed by three or fewer taps on the centrally mounted, 15.1-inch OLED touchscreen. Information can also be projected onto the windscreen via a heads-up display so the driver doesn't have to take their gaze off the road. Between the two rear seats, there's a 9-inch touchscreen with a wireless device charging tray underneath.

Look closely and you'll notice the side-view mirrors on each A-pillar appear awfully small. Look even closer and you'll see there are no mirrors. Rather than mirrors, each housing mounts three cameras: one for the rear-view mirror, another for the overhead 360-degree view, and a third to assist with autonomous driving. Lotus is tight-lipped about how, exactly, the side-view cameras will replace the typical mirrors, but it will likely be similar to the tech already seen in a few cars, including the first Audi e-tron. In countries that don't allow for the side-view cameras, conventional side-view mirrors will be standard.

The sound system comes courtesy of KEF, a British audio company that branched into automotive sound systems for the first time last year with the Lotus Emira. The 1,380-Watt, 15-speaker KEF Premium is the standard system, while customers who consider this somehow insufficient can upgrade to the 2,160-Watt, 23-speaker KEF Reference. 

Other technological goodies include built-in 5G capability for over-the-air software updates and the now usual smartphone app that will allow owners to access battery status during charging, remote features, location, driving logs, and other bits of vehicle information.

There's no word on the Eletre's price yet. Preorders are available now, and the first deliveries will supposedly reach buyers in the UK, Europe, and China in 2023. But given how often delivery of the 2,000 horsepower Evija has been pushed back, anyone who preorders should be prepared to wait.


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