Design Analysis — Lotus

2013 is set to be a big year for Lotus — possibly the most important model year that this storied brand has seen in a long time.  Purists will argue that Lotus hasn’t been Lotus since the mid 1980s, and they are entitled to that opinion.

But, regardless of where the money comes from, this new product family honors the legacy of a man who redefined driving dynamics, both on and off the track.

The Lotus logo sports the initials of the brand’s legendary founder:  Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.  From the outset, Chapman was unconventional in his approach to designing and building cars.  He searched for ways to make his creations simple and lightweight.  This formula produced more than just success on the track;  it gave us some of the most elegant racing and road cars in history.  Consider the Lotus 25 (pictured above).  This was the first, true monocoque design; a model of simplicity that even influences today’s racing cars.  Lotus road cars of the same era, like the Elan, employed steel backbone frames fitted with clean, uncomplicated fiberglass bodies.  These cars set in motion the Lotus design philosophy for the next two decades, and in the process, changed the landscape of the world sports car market.

So, with this important context in mind, let’s turn our attention to the Loti of the future.  Do the new models unveiled last year honor Chapman’s legacy?  Speaking from a purely stylistic point of view, this designer’s answer is yes.  The 2013 Elan, pictured above, clearly points to the brand’s Formula One involvement, but that theme runs deeper than the aerofoil-inspired graphics.  The gesture of the car is clean and trim, with an almost bird-in-space feel to the bodyside.  The overall impression is one of lightness, agility and speed — all Lotus hallmarks.  The dynamic surface details blend well with the global forms and don’t upstage the main theme.  You could argue that there is more than a hint of Lamborghini’s direction in the Elan, but to be fair, the form execution here is far more sophisticated.  By comparison, the Gallardo and its siblings look almost axe-hewn.

Also arriving for 2013 will be the latest iteration of the Esprit.   As if nodding to the folded-paper heritage of its namesake, this theme offers a more severe interpretation of the new Lotus DNA.  The sweeping overall form yields to chiseled surface details, giving the car a decidedly aggressive attitude.  Since this is the top shelf model, and therefore the fastest one, the aggression is altogether justified.  Some will argue, however, that the adherence to the new design language is too rigid and that this new Esprit owes more to its competition than its lineage.  Although I’m happy with the overall design direction, I’d be inclined to agree with that sentiment.

By contrast, the 2013 Elite is far more feminine in its execution.  Sleek lines combine to form overlapping, sculptural shapes, drawing you in for a closer look.   Whereas the Esprit looks like it means serious business, the Elite looks at ease and a bit more casual.  Even playful.  If the forms were any more expressive, the theme might find itself treading on Hyundai territory — but the taut nature of the lines ensures this won’t happen.

Looking a little further down the road, Lotus plans to launch a four-door sedan in 2015:  The Eterne hybrid.  Comparisons to the Aston Martin Rapide are inevitable, but the Lotus is far superior in terms of the overall theme.  To this designer, the Rapide looks like a stretched version of a two-door Aston, which lends a cartoonish feel to its proportions.  The Eterne, while in line with the Lotus DNA, is clearly styled with the four doors in mind, and looks far more holistic as a result.

As if trotting out four new models in a two year span weren’t ambitious enough, Lotus is also planning to launch a city car.  Although I find the above concept intriguing, I worry that this strategy might stretch the brand’s cachet a bit too thin.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that the current management team at Lotus is playing to win.  The bold trajectory of their new products puts forth an air of confidence, which can be a powerful aphrodisiac.

I can’t say for certain if Colin Chapman would approve of his company’s new direction.  But I do believe, stylistically speaking, that the Lotus design team has effectively honored his legacy — while at the same time acknowledging current sports cars trends and the environment in which they must compete.  Hopefully, the foundation has been laid for a new Lotus renaissance, both in the near future and beyond.

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