Engines with four cylinders are rarely very exotic, but the Mercedes-Benz M139 is a defiant exception. This hand-built, all-aluminium firecracker features a twin-scroll turbocharger, chill-cast block with motorsport-style closed deck, lightweight forged pistons, 200bar direct injection and variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust camshafts. In the 421hp Mercedes-AMG A45 S, it’s the most powerful production four-pot engine in the world.
Combining the M139’s explosive performance with sports car design and finely honed Lotus handling sounds like a recipe for success. So is the new Emira I4 equal to the sum of its parts?
It might be the entry-level Emira, but the I4’s vital statistics aren’t vastly different to the established V6 version. Maximum power is 365hp (down 41hp), 0-62mph takes 4.4 seconds (0.1sec slower) and kerb weight is 1,446kg (a scant 11kg lighter). At £81,495 in First Edition guise, the new Lotus also costs just £4,500 less than its six-cylinder sibling.
New paddle-shift gearbox
Engine aside, the key differentiator for the I4 is an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which replaces the six-speed manual or conventional automatic (don’t go there) offered with the V6. The vast majority of Porsche Cayman buyers choose the paddle-shift PDK, so this modern, semi-auto transmission should broaden the Emira’s appeal.
One thing Lotus hasn’t changed is the Emira’s styling – and rightly so. Its dramatic, angular nose draws directly from the Evija hypercar, while its sculpted side profile evokes the Ferrari 488 Pista. From behind, ‘porous’ wheelarch vents and a broad diffuser mean there’s no need for a tacked-on rear spoiler. Even in the muted paint colours seen here, this four-cylinder coupe looks supercar-special.
Prod the start button (tucked beneath a silly, Lamborghini-style ‘bomb switch’) and the engine sounds… well, a bit ordinary. Get up into the rev range, though, and it whooshes and barks with turbocharged urgency. The hubbub is hardly sonorous or spine-tingling, but it has more character than the Toyota V6. And given every forthcoming new Lotus will be electric, any mechanical melodrama seems better than none.
Handling by Lotus
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the Emira’s 365hp output falls short of the 421hp mustered by the A45 S. Coincidentally, I spent a week with AMG’s hardcore hot hatchback shortly before driving the Lotus and, frankly, the difference felt like more than 56hp. Where the Mercedes chases its 7,200rpm redline like a lunatic, the Lotus doesn’t scale quite the same heights. There’s no shortage of speed, but the detuned M139 doesn’t urge you to wring it out in every gear.
I’m sure the recalibrated semi-auto transmission isn’t as sharp in the Emira either. Again, it feels exciting in isolation, but the Mercedes seemed more alert. The need to push the gear lever twice when switching between Drive and Reverse can make parking a clunky and frustrating process, too.
If much of this sounds a bit negative, the Emira still redeems itself on the right road. Lotus offers a choice of two suspension setups: Tour and Sport. A colleague tells me the track-focused Sport is too stiff for broken British roads, so I was pleased to sample the Tour chassis, which offers a little more squidge without dampening the car’s zeal for changing direction. It turns in keenly and grips tenaciously, with a beautiful sense of mid-engined balance. As ever, this is the stuff Lotus does best.
Potential for more power
The four-cylinder Emira clearly has some untapped potential, starting with the ‘missing’ 56hp, but that’s nothing an aftermarket AMG tuner couldn’t help you with. I preferred it to the V6 I drove in 2022, even without the tactility of a manual gearbox.
That said, my £80,000+ would still go on a Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0 with few options. When it comes to exotic engines, a naturally aspirated flat-six trumps a turbocharged four every time.