The first glimpse is a revelation. In the half-dark of a small warehouse the M250 stands, extending its desirable tail towards the driver. This is it then, the Lotus of the future. Not as spaced-out as the florid 340R, not as fanciful as the Elise. But instead sublime, elegant and nevertheless full of dynamic strength. This car is a seducer par excellence.
The idea for this breath-taking coupé arose at the Lotus development centre. Here dream sports-cars are not only sketched: they are put on the road. When the concept car was seen by the public for the first time at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the response was so powerful that the first customers wanted to pay five-figure deposits before even leaving the stand. And at that time the dream sports-car consisted only of clay, and there wasn’t even an interior yet. Progress has been made since then. While there is still no name for the former concept car (it will definitely begin with “E”) and future production car, it is certain that the design of the handsome M250 will be 90% adhered to.
It really speaks for itself. The eye glides ecstatically over the clear, simple lines, absorbing the elements of typical Lotus styling. The radiator outlet vent in front of the windscreen, the side air ducts and the restrained rear spoiler integrated with the engine cover. Everything has its logic, everything its purpose. The car is to be fast, light and good-looking. The rear wing serves simultaneously as a handle for opening the enormous engine cover. In the huge maw the gleaming engine is revealed. A 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit putting out 250 bhp. The name for the design project was derived from the power output.
Since development of its own engine would have been too costly for Lotus, the intention is to buy in an outside unit and refine it according to Lotus requirements. Who will supply the power unit to Lotus is still unclear. The power pack from the Renault V6 currently has the best prospects, but an Opel unit is also being talked of. For the planned US launch it is important that the engine complies with the exhaust standard there. Prototypes of the M250 are currently being put through their initial paces with both engines.
The M250 will enter the contest for customers’ favour between the Esprit (with eight cylinders) and the Elise (with four). Between 3,000 and 4,000 vehicles a year are to be built. Orders accompanied by deposits can already be placed with selected dealers. From spring 2002 the first coupés will come on to the roads. With the declared objective of making things hot for some Porsche 911s. While with its 300 bhp the icon of sports-car building will have distinctly more power than an M250, in the duel the Porsche will probably see only the tail lights of the Lotus. For the dynamic British-made car is intended to pass 100 km/h in under five seconds. In another six seconds it will reach its maximum speed of 250 km/h. Only then will the 911 have the chance by virtue of its higher top-speed (plus 30 km/h) to make up lost ground.
Theoretically the M250 too could be driven in a speed range significantly above 250 km/h. But more speed would require at the development stage too many compromises in chassis and gear ratios. After all, this English sports-car is intended to be not a motorway racer but a perfect driver’s car. A car therefore in which sporting pilots get the greatest possible driving enjoyment. To this end it will have, according to Lotus boss Graham Peel, “the best handling characteristics of any sports car we have yet built”. Speed is measured not on the straight, but on bends.
The equipment for a testdrive is largely complete. The basis is a frame of adhesive-bonded aluminium sheets which is extremely light and at the same time enormously rigid. This concept has proved its worth outstandingly in the Elise; with altered dimensions it is now to be applied to the M250. The chassis, which Lotus are buying complete from the Swedish company Hydro-Aluminium, is to weigh about 75 kg. The frame is spanned by a 4,137-mm long, 1,817-mm wide and only 1,166-mm high body made of composite material. Together with the wide-opening gullwing doors the body must weigh just about 40 kg. The eye-catching door concept is to be retained in order to facilitate getting into and out of the low seat-well.
Theoretically the larger body would have allowed the construction of a 2+2-seater coupé. But Andrew Hogg, responsible for the project at Lotus, was against this. According to Hogg a second bench-seat is only “excess extra weight” in a sports car. So those in front were given more room, a compartment for two golf-bags was made in the back and further space left in the engine compartment. So after the V6 an eight-cylinder unit might be put into the M250.
The M250 is to meet comfort and safety expectations with an equipment level lavish by Lotus standards. They are after all taking on Porsche & Co. So it is to be given at least two airbags, ABS, air conditioning, electric windows and central locking. For an additional charge there will even be a satellite navigation unit. Lotus promises to keep the weight below the magic 1,000 kg limit. For comparison: an Elise 111S with 143 bhp weighs 714, but the Porsche 911 already 1,320 kg.
The small sports-car builder’s special attraction is lightweight construction, which sets its cars beneficially apart from mass-produced sports-cars. This combination of low weight and extreme rigidity is the 50-year-old marque’s hallmark. Only in this way, according to Lotus, can “a suspension tuning be found which makes perfect flexibility and agility possible”. Anyone who in an age of ever heavier vehicles has ever had an Elise underneath him knows what Lotus means by this. To everyone else a test-drive is recommended.
The driving experience is to be the M250’s characteristic feature along with the eye-catching design. All kinds of electronic aids to driving dynamics are therefore consistently renounced: faith is put in the customers’ skill. Should his direct driving sensation tell him that the margins are being crossed, he must react with practised hand.
The price for this travelling work of art of aluminium and carbon fibre is to be in the region of £35,000. This would make the M250 significantly less expensive than a 911. Moreover you get a car which (to quote from the Lotus press kit) “is so beautiful that you’d like nothing better than to sit all day in the M250 and take pleasure in the lovingly formed details”. That says it all.
Англичанам давно пора отправить на покой флагманский Esprit, выпускающийся с 1980 г. Ветерана за компоновку и клиновидный кузов называли «Lamborghini для бедных». Lotus M250 тоже сделан по схеме «трансверсаль», но аналогом послужила маленькая Elise, а «зубильные» обводы уступили место, скажем так, производной от «новой грани». По апробированным на пользующейся огромной популярностью Elise технологиям выполнен и кузов — несущей конструкцией служит склеенная (!) из армированных углепластиком алюминиевых труб пространственная ферма, наружные панели алюминиевые и карбоновые. Результат получился впечатляющий, Сх всего 0,15, снаряженная масса менее 1 т — и это при габаритах 4137х1817х1166 мм.
Новый 3,0-литровый V6 мощностью 250 л.с. обеспечивает превосходную разгонную динамику, не более 5 с до 100 км/ч, менее 11 с до 160 км/ч, максимальная скорость ограничена 250 км/ч. Впрочем, все «Лотосы» всегда были шустрыми, но в ущерб комфортабельности. У «M250» очень элегантный салон, отделанный кожей и алюминием, и, как говорится, с «полным фаршем», от кондиционера до сервоприводов сидений. А справиться с мощной машиной помогают независимые подвески, 320-миллиметровые вентилируемые диски, АБС, тормоза и рулевое управление с усилителем — последним раньше пренебрегали в первую очередь, считая, что сервоприводы отвлекают от вождения. В общем, теперь Lotus M250 правильнее называть «Porsche для бедных» — если, конечно, в качестве аналога брать Carrera GT. Стоить «250-й» будет 40 000 фунтов, производство в количестве 4000 штук в год начнется в начале 2002 г.
По материалам: www.classicdriver.com; Владимир Матвейчук, Большие ожидания в «Большом туризме» (Журнал "АВТОМОБИЛИ", 1-2001)