Lotus is rightly proud of the chassis-tuning expertise that has created so many fine roadgoing sports cars over the decades. Yet the British company has long been agnostic when it comes to the question of where it gets its engines. The list of previous suppliers includes Ford, Renault, GM, Rover, Honda, and Toyota. Now that list has a new addition: Mercedes-AMG, which builds the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that powers the entry-level 2024 Lotus Emira.
This is the M139 engine that is used in models including the CLA45 and GLA45, although Lotus is getting a lower state of tune. In the Emira hierarchy, it sits below the existing V-6—which uses a supercharged 3.5-liter engine from Toyota—but the gap in performance (also in price) between the two variants is small. The four-cylinder makes 360 horsepower, while the V-6 has 400 ponies, and the smaller engine produces slightly more torque—317 lb-ft versus 310. According to Lotus’s own claims, the 2.0-liter’s 4.3-second 60-mph time is just a tenth behind the V-6’s.
Complicating that comparison is the fact that the two engines don’t share a transmission. The V-6 has a standard six-speed manual and the option of a six-speed torque-converter automatic. The four-cylinder is paired solely with the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic that’s familiar from transverse-mounted AMG powertrains. The mass of the new gearbox means the four-cylinder is barely lighter than the six, with Lotus claiming a 3187-pound curb weight for the 2.0-liter car and 3212 pounds for the 3.5. The company says a new cast-aluminum rear subframe is responsible for 26 pounds of weight reduction—or one pound less than the difference.
Despite their proximity on paper, this second Emira variant possesses a very different personality. The AMG engine has huge muscle but feels less sophisticated than the supercharged V-6. At low rpm, there is noticeable turbo lag, and even at higher revs, it takes a couple of beats for boost to build in response to sudden accelerator inputs. The inline-four is also louder than the V-6, with an exhaust note that turns gravelly at higher speeds and wider throttle openings, overlaid by plenty of induction noise and whistle from the turbocharger. All of this adds to the excitement, if not the sense of refinement. When we first drove the V-6 Emira, we reckoned that its engine lacked character. The inline-four may well have too much.
As in its Mercedes applications, the dual-clutch gearbox shifts quickly and near seamlessly, changing gears much more quickly than is possible with the V-6’s manual (we have yet to experience the six-cylinder’s torque-converter auto). In drive, the gearbox alters its shifting strategy according to which of the Emira’s dynamic modes is selected. But even in the softest Tour setting, the system kicks down aggressively under modest throttle increases, presumably to help spin up the turbo. Sport mode brings an even more aggressive algorithm and a flat-out refusal to upshift into the tallest gears even when cruising. (And with eighth gear pulling 1500 rpm at an indicated 65 mph, the tallest gear is very tall.)
Fortunately, manual gear selection is simple and enjoyable, with pleasingly solid-feeling metal shift paddles behind the steering wheel. When the gearbox’s electronic brain anticipates a shift, gearchanges are delivered almost seamlessly—shifting up when accelerating or down when braking. But we did notice foibles. It was easy to hit the rev limiter when upshifting at the prompt of the digital dashboard’s upshift warning, as if the display were lagging slightly.
The transmission also often grew confused when asked to deliver multiple upshifts or downshifts close together, with a pause that was often long enough to trigger a second request and greater confusion. The main gear selector always defaults to a central position and requires double inputs to change gear. In drive, pushing it forward first engages neutral; a second push forward is needed to get into reverse. Going from reverse to drive is the same two-stage process, which was mildly irritating.
When we finally get to run numbers on both variants, we would be unsurprised to discover that the four-cylinder is the quickest Emira, thanks to both its ultraquick transmission and a launch-control function. To activate launch control in Sport or Track modes, left-foot brake from a standstill, floor the accelerator, and release the brake to launch the car. Lotus says the four-cylinder Emira has a top speed of 171 mph, which is 9 mph in arrears of the V-6. Given the similarities in output, that claim may have more to do with marketing than engineering reality.
The rest of the 2.0-liter’s driving experience remains similar to that of the V-6, delivering the sort of dynamic purity Lotus is most famous for. The Emira uses electrohydraulic steering rather than full electrical assistance and employs passive rather than adaptive dampers. Buyers of the First Edition car will be able to select from two different chassis tunes: the firmer Sport or the softer Tour. Our sample car was a Sport riding on the optional track-biased Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires in place of the standard Goodyear Eagle F1s.
On Lotus’s Hethel test track, the combination was brilliant, delivering huge grip and minimal understeer. Lotus engineers are rightly proud of the stability-control tuning that has been jointly developed with Bosch. In the Sport mode, the system allows significant rear-end slip before intervention, yet still steps in before a slide turns into a spin. Unlike the V-6, the four-cylinder Emira doesn’t get a limited-slip differential, but it never felt short of traction or discipline even at circuit speeds.
But most of our experience took place on normal U.K. roads, where we were soon wishing for the softer Tour chassis. The Sport setup feels very firm in the real world, impressively maintaining order over high-speed ridges and compressions but with ride quality becoming harsh at lower speeds over poor surfaces. Rougher roads also resulted in lots of steering kickback, the trade-off for the high-definition feedback offered by the hydraulic assistance. Given the pliancy that has characterized many of our favorite Lotus models over the years, the Sport chassis feels a little too uncompromising.
Much else is worthy of praise. The Emira’s cabin is far classier than that of any earlier Lotus sports car, with quality materials and a nice-looking central display in addition to Volvo-sourced switchgear. The audio system is powerful and impressively crisp by sports-car standards, and the Emira’s seats stayed comfortable after several hours behind the wheel. Luggage space is scant, with a tiny four-cubic-foot compartment behind the engine plus a modest amount of space behind the seats. There is no front luggage compartment, although it looks as if there should be space for one, as there is in the Porsche 718 Cayman.
Mention of the Emira’s most obvious rival brings us to the question of money. In truth, choosing the four-cylinder Lotus will not save much over the V-6. In the U.S., the fully loaded First Edition, as driven here, is set to cost $99,900 before the as-yet-undetermined destination cost is added; the corresponding V-6 First Edition is priced at $105,400. Both are significantly more expensive than an equivalent Porsche 718—those being the $81,950 Cayman S and the $96,850 Cayman GTS 4.0. A base Emira 2.0-liter will follow. We don’t know how much cheaper it will be, but will certainly cost more than the $77,100 we reported back in 2021, before production delays pushed back the Emira’s U.S. launch date.
We can also anticipate more powerful four-cylinder versions to follow, with Lotus insiders admitting that the AMG engine will ultimately become the sole Emira powerplant.
2024 Lotus Emira i4
Vehicle Type: mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door coupe
PRICE (C/D EST)
Base, $90,000; First Edition, $102,000
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 122 in3, 1991 cm3
Power: 360 hp @ 6600 rpm
Torque: 317 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
8-speed dual-clutch automatic
Wheelbase: 101.4 in
Length: 173.7 in
Width: 74.6 in
Height: 48.3 in
Passenger Volume: 46 ft3
Trunk Volume: 4 ft3
Curb Weight (C/D est): 3300 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 4.2 sec
100 mph: 10.4 sec
1/4-Mile: 12.8 sec
Top Speed: 171 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/City/Highway: 21/18/27 mpg
Senior European Correspondent
Road & Track’s man on the other side of the pond, Mike Duff lives in Britain but reports from across Europe, sometimes beyond.
He has previously held staff roles on UK titles including CAR, Autocar and evo, but his own automotive tastes tend towards the Germanic, owning both a troublesome 987-generation Porsche Cayman S and a Mercedes 190E 2.5-16.