Petrolheads will moan, but perhaps Lotus can make an SUV that’s really enjoyable to drive.
All aboard the SUV bandwagon! Lotus is the latest manufacturer to confirm it plans to build a sports utility vehicle, but it’s stressing that the word ‘sports’ is all important.
Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales told Pistonheads that the first prototype Lotus SUV will be ready in just 12 months. There will doubtless be much wailing and gnashing of teeth from devoted fans of the British marque, but Gales is adamant that the new vehicle will stay true to Lotus values.
“All SUVs are big and fairly heavy. We want to built a car that is lighter and faster – a true Lotus,” he said. Expect then a car built on a new steel and aluminium platform that weighs around 1500-1600kg – that’s 200kg less than the Porsche Macan, against which Lotus is measuring itself. Power is likely to come from a Toyota engine mated to an electric motor, and we can expect to see the finished product in 2019. Unlike Lotus‘ sports cars, the SUV will be built at a new plant in China, well away from the firm’s traditional roots in Hethel, UK. The design and engineering however will remain in Britain.
Initial reaction has, predictably, been vocally opposed to the new move, but that noise comes mostly from established petrolheads and Lotus fans that don’t want to see the history of lightweight, dedicated drivers’ cars thrown away. For what it’s worth, this author shares that disappointment, but asking manufacturers not to be lured by the temptation of an SUV is like trying to hold back the sea with your bare hands.
The simple fact is that SUVs are massive business across the world, and especially in developing markets. Lotus is far from the first sports car manufacturer to go down the SUV route – after Porsche brought out the Cayenne, it’s almost more unusual to find a carmaker that isn’t planning a jacked up model for its portfolio. The business case is largely unavoidable at this point, so it’s hard to blame Lotus for trying to open up a potentially lucrative revenue stream. The money that could be made from an SUV could help the small company fund more driver-focused, exciting projects in the future.
So, if we accept that it’s happening and we can’t change that, we’d better hope instead that it brings new capability to the SUV sector. The Macan is an excellent machine for what it is, with far better handling that we dare hope, so Lotus’ aim to reduce weight and therefore boost handling still further are big positives. Lotus is a company that knows how to make a car that’s fun, so could it succeed in making a genuinely involving SUV?