First drive: 2021 Lotus Evija prototype review

The few neighbours of Lotus’s Hethel track have grown used to the noise of high-performance powerplants being wrung out over the years, from Ford DFVs through to the supercharged Toyota V6s that power the senior end of the company’s present line-up.

But none has sounded anything like this. Inside its cockpit, the Evija prototype is far from silent, a muscular electrical hum overlaying the rumble of the track under the tyres and the chattering of the suspension working. Plus, as speed builds, the rush of the increasing air pressures on the outside of the swoopy bodywork. But from outside, it is almost freakishly quiet compared with the hypercar alternatives in this elevated part of the market, whistling past with the sound of little more than displaced air, like a high-speed electric train.

This isn’t surprising, of course – and the finished car will have an artificial pedestrian-warning ‘soundscape’ based on the noise of a Type 49 at low speed. But it does make more of a difference than you might expect it to, especially when compared with the experience of the lesser EVs, whose silence often feels golden. The Evija’s lack of sound and fury denies it much of the visceral thrill that normally comes from a four-figure power output, the lack of rising revs or gearchanges removing those “that’s quick” reference points for both occupants and onlookers.

Big engines are all about drama. Even the most potent electric powertrains are defined in large part by their lack of it. For the driver, that means the Evija’s ability to engender startling speedometer numbers in minimal time comes as even more of a surprise.

The prototype Evija definitely isn’t short on performance, even if it isn’t playing with quite a full deck. The development car for my test drive is limited to 1578bhp – the production Evija will have over 1972bhp (2000PS) – and has its top speed restricted to 140mph. It also lacks the regenerative braking, active aerodynamics, active suspension and torque vectoring of customer-spec versions, as well as stability control and traction control. Its all-wheel drive system also runs a fixed torque split – 77% of effort going to the rear, 23% to the front – but the ability to juggle this will come later. “We always get the basics right,” says Gavan Kershaw, Lotus’s long-serving handling guru and now, formally, director of attributes. “That means a base specification we then build on.”

The Evija’s engineering is certainly beautiful. There are four prototypes in the immaculate new production hall where customer versions will be built (at one time the Lotus Carlton assembly area), which enables the opportunity for a technical tour with Louis Kerr, the Evija’s chief platform engineer. The Italian-made carbonfibre tub weighs just 129kg and has been hand-built using Formula 1 lay-up techniques. It’s one of the largest ever created, big enough to have front and rear suspension mounted directly to it without subframes to dramatically improve rigidity. The pushrod-operated suspension is even more intricate, especially at the rear, where it incorporates a crank-operated antiroll bar in addition to a motorsport inspired heave damper. Sadly, this is hidden mechanical art that few Evija buyers are likely to ever see.

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However, even some way from its final specification, the Evija is hugely impressive. Lotus is still a way from selling out the maximum run of 130 cars and executives acknowledge that might not happen.

Yet they are also confident that interest will grow as potential buyers realise how special the Evija is and experience its searing performance for themselves. But the most impressive thing about the firm’s first hypercar isn’t that it’s an EV, but rather that it truly is a Lotus.