We already know the Lotus Emira is a good car, but what happens when you pop an AMG-sourced 2.0-liter inline four in there? After all, Lotus’ heritage kinda rests on small, light four-cylinder cars, so it should be a good fit, especially given how much potential that motor has shown in Mercedes’ own cars. An eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox in place of a manual will upset purists, sure, but they've not driven it yet…
Lotus is mid-transformation at the moment. The days of selling small plastic cars with no sound deadening and few creature comforts are gone. Lotus knows the market wants a car that can do everything. While the brand is slowly, but purposefully, moving towards electrification, the Emira is a final crack at what made the company’s name: a damn fine sports car.
With a supercharged, Toyota-sourced V6 in the middle, the 2024 Emira is a fantastic time, but also a very grown-up one. A German four-cylinder midship might seem like an odd choice, but it makes the Emira feel wonderfully different.
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|2024 Lotus Emira I4 First Edition
|Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4
|360 Horsepower / 317 Pound-Feet
|Eight-Speed Dual Clutch
Gallery: 2024 Lotus Emira I4 First Drive Review
The smaller-engined Emira has been much touted since the car was unveiled in 2021. It promises better fuel economy, blunted (but still pretty good) performance than the more expensive car, and a new-to-Lotus dual-clutch gearbox. Other than that, the Emira has the same shape, the same size, and the same interior. Even the exhaust still has the same tiny Lotus logo lozenges milled into the tips. The deal here is that you don’t lose anything bar a few horsepower (you get a tiny bit more torque, in fact) if you choose to have four cylinders rather than six.
As a consequence, Lotus' small but sweet touchscreen infotainment system is unchanged – it runs pretty much everything in the car from Apple CarPlay, to the A/C, to drive mode selection. While the removal of buttons in most cars is something to fight against, the Emira’s cabin works rather well with minimal fuss. Thankfully, the user interface itself is slick, and doesn’t ask you to dig through layers of (nicely designed) menus to find anything important.
The cabin is decently sized and not too high off the ground, which means normal people should be able to avoid doing their backs a disservice when they get in. Lotus' design team helpfully remembered that people who buy sports cars tend to come with plenty of stuff and need somewhere to put it. The door bin pockets are large, as is the center console bin. Of course, there are cup holders too. The seats are supportive, if a little stiff. Up to this point, it’s almost a sensible car until you take a look at its 5.3 cubic feet trunk and realize that while having an engine in the middle is good for handling, it rather eats luggage space.
Lotus Life Goals
But practicality shouldn’t really be at the forefront of your mind when it comes to cars like this. Fun should. Its 2.0-liter turbo four puts out 360 horsepower and 317 pound-feet, enough to get it to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds and up to 171 mph. It’s a touch off the pace of the V6, but not enough to be slow. Having a smaller motor means it’s lighter than the V6, though likely not enough for the Lotus purists. Lotus says First Edition I4 cars weigh 3,188 pounds – not the chunkiest monkey in the world, but hardly a featherweight either. Airbags, air con, and a KEF stereo that handles numerous podcasts with ease are worth the weight.
As with the V6, there are two chassis setups to choose from. Sport gets stiffer springs and summer-biassed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, while Touring cars get a more road-friendly suspension set up and come shod with smoother Goodyear Eagle F1 Supersport shoes. Buyers have to pick which they want at the time of purchase, as there’re no tricky damper switches to play with on the fly: Your springs are fixed.
If you’re keen on heading to the track and staying there, Sport will suit you down to the ground, but for anyone else the more pliable Touring car will probably be just fine. The softer of the two doesn’t corner quite as flat as its sportier sibling, but it rides over rough roads far better. I did notice that it got a little bumpy in places, but I didn’t get out of it cursing its very being.
The First Edition car comes with three drive modes: Tour, Sport, and Track. Tour is the Emira’s most inert setting, and it keeps things as normal as you can reasonably expect from a Lotus. Sport adds a bit more noise and makes the power delivery more urgent. Track takes Sport and throws a little more anger at it, while giving the traction control a little more slip.
I found Tour was more than enough for most driving, throwing lumps of torque and pleasing noises at me, but Sport, on the right roads (and Lotus’ track) put a big smile on my face. The extra aggression flattered what I was able to do with it. Track is really only for, well, the track, and the extra slip it offered made me feel a bit like a hero when the back stepped out. The softer suspension of the Touring-spec car let me play a little more, too. Leave the Sport chassis for the lap time addicts.
The big ticket difference is how the motor behaves. Where the V6 has a light supercharged urgency to things, the turbo four couldn’t feel more different. Planting my foot in the carpet gave my back a decent kick, while the twin-scroll turbocharger did its thing and fired me forward. Peak torque comes between 3,000 and 5,500 rpm, which doesn’t take that long to cover when I found myself needing to make progress, which was much of the time. Ahem. When I ran out of revs a quick tug on the wheel-mounted paddle instantly leapt me to the next ratio, and then the next, and the next.
When I was calling the shots it was great, but when I left the gearbox to do its own thing it took a while to decide what it wanted do. Pulling out of a junction in Tour mode should mean a quick, smooth progression up the gears until reaching a comfortable speed, but the Emira clung on to lower gears for an uncomfortably long time before making its mind up. It made me feel a bit like I was leaving a Cars and Coffee trying to impress onlookers, except I really didn’t want to be.
Similarly, when asking the ‘box to switch from forward to reverse gears it took too long to make the switch - sometimes reverting to neutral when you’re expecting to move. During one tense moment I was trying to do a three-point turn and I was left impotently sitting mid-maneuver, revving in the street. Not a great look.
Each time I prodded the gas I was treated to induction noises, whooshing, and tuneful parps, which is hilarious fun when I was behaving like a child on roads I know well, but it was tiresome on the highway – a slight throttle adjustment to overtake or match traffic fired needless loudness into the cabin. I just wanted to blend in, and instead I felt a bit attacked. There’s a balance to be had there, and Lotus hasn’t quite found it. Even so, the combination of a light car, a quick gearbox, and a torquey motor is frankly wonderful.
The power is one thing, but Lotus’ steering remains some of the best in the business. It’s staggering how deftly it changes direction and how well it communicates what’s going on under the front wheels. I never had to second guess what the car was about to do and felt beguilingly connected to it. Being low and wide, you have to work hard to unsettle the Emira, though with Track mode’s more forgiving traction control there’s a safety net should your playing get a little out of hand. Throttle response is razor sharp, and the brakes are progressive too.
On track I found myself pushing ever harder to go faster and faster, and on the open road I found its groove quickly but found myself wanting to spend a lifetime learning how to get the best out of it.
Doing More With Less
Much noise was made that the AMG-engined Emira is the most powerful four-cylinder Lotus ever built, and that’s fair, because it very much is. While 360 hp doesn’t seem like much compared with what that AMG motor can produce, it suits the car nicely, though what’s the over-under that Lotus will squeeze some more power out of it in the coming years? Without putting too fine a point on it, the Lotus Emira, four cylinders or six, is outstanding fun – something I’ll probably be thinking about for a long, long time to come.
Without putting too fine a point on it, the Lotus Emira, four cylinders or six, is outstanding fun.
The car’s balance and poise are what make it stand out. It’ll be compared to the more tuneful, more powerful V6 car, but they feel like different beasts. You could, so long as your job doesn’t involve transporting anything large, use this daily and be just fine.
The gearbox foibles are hopefully easily fixable, as they’re almost the only thing that gets in the 2.0-liter car’s way. There’s one more thing, though, that might sting. Although cheaper than the V6, the Lotus Emira I4 First Edition starts at $99,900 before an unconfirmed destination charge. A Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 starts at under $90,000. That might be tough for some people to overlook. But skipping over the Lotus would be foolish, as while it’s not perfect, it’s a fantastic car – the sort of thing we’ll miss when it’s gone.
2023 Lotus Emira I4 First Edition