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Lotus Evora 414E Hybrid review (prototype)
What - Lotus Evora 414E Hybrid
Date - October 2012
Where - Hethel, UK
Price - £1 million plus
Available - Never, in this form
Experimental range-extender hybrid Lotus sports car showcases British engineering talent. But it's a long way off any production reality.
This is an odd one. The Evora 414E is a long way from being a production reality. But certain aspects are so leading edge that they will make their way through, though it may be years yet before you get them on your road-going Lotus.
The UK government's Technology Strategy Board Award has put up £19 million to help the UK motor industry push ahead with the development of advanced electric vehicles. Lotus, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Xtrac and Evo Electric have bought into this and match the government funds with their own.
So there is a scurry of activity at the moment. Jaguar has its electric XJ, Nissan and Infiniti have their own projects, and Lotus has the Evora 414E. Lotus Engineering, a separate company from the sports car manufacturer, has plenty of the right credentials. Many leading car manufacturers use its expertise - it built the electric Rolls-Royce, for example.
the 414E's weight has risen by 377kg. The batteries are a major issue
What we have here is a "range extender" vehicle. Which means it always runs on battery power, and when the battery runs down, a petrol engine starts up to power a generator to provide more electricity for the battery and/or the motors. The car is never powered by the petrol engine directly.
And this is one very clever engine, the first in the world to be developed specifically as a range extender. The Vauxhall Ampera, in contrast, uses a straightforward Corsa supermini engine. The Lotus unit is 1.2 litres with three cylinders, very small and very light.
Not that this Evora is lightweight. Even the base V6 Evora is a bloated 1,382kg. Despite ditching that huge Toyota V6 engine and transmission, the 414E's weight has risen by 377kg. The batteries are a major issue.
The 414hp output is impressive enough but the 738 lb ft (or 1,000Nm) of torque is twice what a BMW M5 used to produce not so long ago. And with a fully charged battery, the Evora 414E simply pounds down the test track. No hesitation, no gear changing, just a relentless surge forward with a sensation like no ordinary car you've ever driven.
There are paddles on the steering wheel that, at the moment, do nothing. But Lotus has plans to increase driver involvement in the future with a momentary "torque interrupt" as the pedal is squeezed to mimic the gearchange on a regular car. On paddle downshifts, engine braking from the motors can be stepped up too.
Electric cars are usually very quiet, but the Evora isn't for very long. The petrol engine just over your shoulder (there is no rear seat any more because the rear is filled with batteries) kicks in to provide a bit of generative boost to help extend the range of the battery. Soundproofing isn't something Lotus has had time to manage, as yet.
And there is another issue. When the battery is exhausted, you are left with that small petrol engine to generate the power for the motors. Even with rose-tinted specs, performance is going to be pedestrian.
Ride and handling
A 27% weight increase isn't likely to do any favours to the handling of any car, but Lotus has managed to keep the distribution within the chassis pretty much as it was before.
There is no doubt it feels less responsive at the wheel and slower to turn into corners, but the basic Evora package is such a great one that the Lotus remains up there with the best. Even the drastically re-engineered steering retains its feel and precision.
The ride is one area we can't comment on. On the billiard smooth Hethel test track it was terrific. But we'd expect that in almost any car.
Today's electrically powered cars are so far removed from the old milk floats there is almost no relationship whatsoever. A milk float used lots of regular lead-acid car batteries and huge DC electric motors. The Evora - and others - are sophisticated beyond recognition.
The Evora's two motors, one on each rear wheel, are three-phase AC devices, which means a bulky inverter for each and 400 volts running through bright orange cables. The lithium-iron-phosphate battery pack alone weighs 250kg.
That gives a range on electric power of around 30 miles. Want 300 miles instead? Well, reckon on a battery pack weighing 1,300kgs. And you'd need to stick it in a trailer because there wouldn't be room in the car.
Inside, the Evora 414E is the same as a regular Evora, with superb bucket seats and a genuine sports car ambience. Only the central display is obviously different, given over to information on the state of the battery charge.
Lotus has taken an unusual approach to the battery management. Charge the car up at home from your domestic electricity supply and you'll get a claimed 30-mile range.
It's terrific to see a British company once again at the forefront of a technology race
But as the battery level drops, there's increasing help from the little 1.2-litre petrol engine which, through the on-board generator, provides extra electric power for the motors.
In this configuration the battery doesn't get fully recharged on the move. Lotus reasons that the optimum solution is to use cheap electricity at home. That's taxed at just a few per cent, unlike the obscene fiscal levy we all pay on petrol.
The MSN Cars verdict
It's terrific to see a British company once again at the forefront of a technology race. The Evora shows just how advanced Lotus is in this new era of hybrid cars.
We remain somewhat perplexed, however, about the drop off from supercar performance in full electric mode to that of a modest hatchback when the battery has been depleted after just 30 miles. We look forward to the evaluating the next stage of this Evora's development.
Read more Lotus car reviews
MSN Cars' best sports cars to buy
First drive: Lotus Evora S
Need to know
Engine: 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol, + twin electric motors
Power, hp: 414
Torque, lb ft: 738
0-62mph, secs: 4.4
Top speed mph: 133
Mpg, combined: n/a
CO2, g/km: 55
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