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Lotus Evija Design Analysis: Antithetical, Sure, But Also a Grand Gesture

Our design expert evaluates this sublimely silly anti-Chapman EV supercar.

This is not a Lotus. The Evija may have the badge, but for those who knew and admired the work and design philosophy of controversial Lotus founder Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, it's not a true Lotus—it's too big, too heavy, too complicated. Chapman was a brilliant, imaginative creator and an innovative engineer. He was also a noteworthy wheelman, dicing with Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, and other stars, frequently winning at the wheel of one of his own ultra-light (and distressingly fragile) 1,100cc sports cars but also in Jaguar sedans. I knew Chapman pretty well, visiting his little factory in North London often in the '60s, so I feel safe thinking it unlikely that he'd have countenanced this curious, complicated, and convoluted 1,972-horsepower "science experiment," so far is it from his famous design ethos.

Chapman left this world under a dark cloud 37 years ago, and his plucky little company has since endured many crises and scandals during ignominious periods of diverse and at times bizarre ownership by Romano Artioli, General Motors, Toyota, and Malaysia's Proton, so there's little left of Chapman's intellectual legacy in Hethel today. China's Geely, a solid industrial entity, now owns more than half of Group Lotus, so there may well be a future for the Evija. Despite the car's having little to do with the British marque's past, it is an extremely intriguing development in its own right. Seeing it on the concept lawn at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance this summer, two things struck me: Chapman's intrinsic minimalism is absent, and its styling is excessively elaborate.

Yet I immediately sensed it would be great fun to draw pictures of it. Old friend Bruce Meyers, he of Manx dune buggy fame, used to teach drawing classes, and he has always spoken of the importance of "gestural lines," the shapes you create by moving your pencil- or brush-holding arm freely. That approach created the graceful shapes for the superb catamaran he built in the '50s and those of his seminal buggy. I suspect the Lotus design team must have really enjoyed itself executing the Evija's forms and inscribing graceful gestural lines over its entire surface. I certainly would have.

Just as I really enjoyed sitting in the elegant and well-thought-out cabin. The use of a separate "plank" across the cockpit just ahead of the steering wheel leaves a big space between the base of the windshield and the instruments, resulting in a sense of spaciousness. The strut coming back from that transverse member to the tunnel is festooned with multiple switches in three rows, less intimidating than the long line of commands in the C8 Corvette. Evija's profile is classical mid-engine supercar, but instead of an internal combustion engine, its batteries and controllers amass behind the cockpit. Big air intakes in front and on the sides exist because the powerplant must be cooled, whatever the energy source. Indeed, there's nothing about the Evija's look that outwardly conveys its purely electric propulsion; it could easily be mistaken for yet another auto show special with extreme performance and an extreme price tag. Which, finally, is exactly what the Evija is.

1. The downforce-generating wing is active, popping up when required. It's quite simple in form and disappears as a discrete element at rest.
2. Pay attention to this little black triangle at the base of the A-pillar: It allows the side glass to descend into the very thick and very contorted door.
3. A sweeping gestural trapezoid outlines an area of the hood depressed into the form, providing an air intake intersecting the inner part of the front fender and outlining the headlamp opening.
4. A slight cuff turns up at the base of the windshield, directing air over the roof, standing forward of the glass to provide a slot for the windshield wiper to be effectively invisible.
5. At the very center of the front end, the hood surface ends in a sharp blade form that overhangs the massive lower air intake, itself split into three sections athwart the form.
6.  Outer inlets are separated from the center portion by these horizontal blades derived from the two vertical splitters that repeat the lower leading edge of the fenders in opposite directions.
7.  The horizontal blades resolve into a sort of pedestal for the fender edge then turn into a shelf.
8.  The shelf here starts at the front and continues along the sill at the bottom of the body.

1. The sharp transverse line across the front angles upward on the side, pointing to the upper edge of the massive side opening, which then establishes the rear fender profile.
2. The overall roof form is as pure, elegant, and aerodynamic as possible, very nice indeed.
3. This upward joggle of the window sill line then bends over to parallel the roof centerline.
4. From the weak section about half the door panel length, this rib thickens as it moves aft.
5. The tail, in the form of the movable wing when retracted, protrudes significantly from the hard vertical ending of the rear fender side…
6. …with other straight lines defining the rising arch over the diffuser, also delimited by a straight line.
7.  The true bottom of the body is concealed in shadow behind the end of the lower side rib.
8. Interestingly, the door completes the wheel opening.
9. The ends of the lower shelf establish a plane, which then shifts upward slightly, providing a base for the front fender skirt.
10.  A curious detail is that the lower shelf protrudes farther than the upper rib, meaning there's no bumper protection at all at standard height. A show car, then, not fit for the street.

1. Follow this line through: It starts just behind the wheel opening, low down, curves inward…
2. …and makes a sharp, tight-radius turn diagonally up and forward, describing a nearly straight line as the edge of a thin wall…
3. …then makes another sharp turn, with a bigger radius, and a nearly straight line moves inboard, softened as the surfaces almost wash out in the middle of the door skin…
4. …then moves outboard to another moderately sharp radius, tighter than the front one…
5. …then turns down and forward again in a straight line in profile, but bowed outward a bit…
6. …before making a big, soft radius and resolving itself into another straight rib…
7. …pointing up into the big negative space defined by radii at points 2 and 3. Side treatment is fun to draw, but it looks something like a drawing of a big, fancy, high-tech paperclip, doesn't it
8. The rear is complicated, but the diverse holes, surface changes, big looping perimeter taillights, and diffuser elements below are all carefully contained and controlled.
9.  An awful lot is going on in the body's rear face. This straightline lamp strikes me as a good idea, though I have no idea as to its legislative acceptability. But why not?
10. This vertical line is simple and straightforward, separating side and back with a sharp drag-reducing demarcation.

1. The fender cross section is defined by profile lines that result in three distinct planes, the center of which carries the headlamp aperture then continues to make the hood air scoop outline.
2. Similar cross sections shape the rear fenders, which are simpler.
3. These corner holes are chock-full of slats, ribs, and careful ducting, with just two horizontal elements tying them together visually.
4. The central air inlet is traversed by a rib that is set back as it enters the corner inlets. It is closed by a rib across the bottom of the opening.

1. Each lower corner of the Evija's rear face is bound by an open frame with four straight sections joined by radii around the diffuser below.
2. A body-colored rib across the bottom provides a visual base parallel to the nearly flat wing section that closes off the back of the form.
3. The vertical light blade on the body centerline is a unique and striking feature that somehow gives a kind of discipline to what might otherwise be a circus-wagon atmosphere with the huge taillight loops.
4. The side tunnels run through to the back, but there's no sign of where the airflow might penetrate the body skin.
5. The fender's sharp trailing edge is straight in profile, generously and gesturally shaped when seen from behind.
6. Thankfully, there is no aping of Zagato's double-bubble idea, adopted by so many others over the decades.

1. The race car/airplane yoke steering wheel seems appropriate. Amazing that the airbag is in that tiny hub.
2. The instrument cluster is simple, clean, and easy to read, and it does not block vision.
3. Space between the IP "plank" and windshield base give an excellent impression of room.
4. As terribly clichéd British road tests used to say, "controls fall readily to hand." Indeed.
5. This would have been a good place for a shift lever, but that's obsolete technology now.
6. The seats are really excellent, comfortable, and simple in style.
7. Inner door panels are simple, and the pulls are easy to use.

1. Overall, the car has an almost circular planform at both ends, but interest is provided by breaking the wing into three separate arcs, the outer two juxtaposed to straight fenders.
2. The roof is roughly teardrop shaped in plan, but there are three nearly straight sections behind the cabin.
3. Much like the Porsche 918, the front end's plan view is nearly a perfect circle but made interesting by faceting into nine distinct arcs encompassing almost 240 degrees, since the car pinches in toward the center of the wheelbase.
4. The nose's perimeter is flattened slightly, whereas the separation line between nose and hood panel is a perfect constant arc.
5. Again, you can see a single line that links to three facets, the whole being continuous over multiple surfaces. It springs up from a slot on the front corner of the nose, wraps around the upper headlight, runs down the fender profile, across the nose, diagonally up the hood, kinks, then disappears into the fender.
6. This is the least satisfactory surface solution on the car. The complex line on the side fades to a very thin section here, the highlight widens and softens, and the line seems to break. No wonder the design team struggled with this. It's almost impossible to get right.