The New Supercar: Driving’s Great Equaliser

Testing the new Lotus Emeya hyper-GT and its KEF Uni-Q™️ sound system on an ice track in Finland...

Following on from our recent Issue 126 cover feature with Lil Silva, the good folks at Lotus invited Clash to join an ice-driving experience like no other at the UTAC test centre at a closely guarded secret location near Ivalo, Finland. Given an exclusive chance to test both new Lotus Emeya and its KEF sound system on ice for the first time, we jumped at the opportunity and the results are rather special.

Stirling Moss once said, ‘There are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: drive and make love.’ Easy to say for a British racing driver who changed history by guiding his Lotus 18 to the brand’s first victory through a perilously wet Monaco grand prix, during a punishingly violent era for Formula 1. Moss altered the motorsport landscape; his competence behind a wheel was never in question. 

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As imperious as he might have sounded, it was a good observation. Driving skill has occupied a rarefied space in popular consciousness – wrapped up with masculinity and analogous of other things like leadership, control, dominance and, probably in some circles, being an assertive lover. This thinking is exactly what has made sports- and supercar ownership, by and large, the preserve of cocky new-money and old white men. A deliberately exclusive, not particularly friendly club. 

Times, they are a-changin’ though. A new era is dawning in tech and as we watch AI transform the way we interact with computers, so too will our relationship change with the robots that transport us around. As we say goodbye to combustion engines, we’re also bidding farewell to an age of driving which required us to man-handle machines. It used to be the case that ‘performance’ cars demanded just that: a performance of dexterity, physicality and expertise from the driver, to keep a complicated car stable and on course at hair-raising speeds. But that isn’t necessarily the case anymore. 

Lotus 18 might have trounced the Ferraris in Monaco, but it wouldn’t have seen Moss through the apocalypse. Emeya might. 

With brands like Lotus leading the charge, the doors have flung open for a different breed of sports car to come through. Cars for which the pressure to perform is all on the vehicle. For this new species isn’t just electric, it’s intelligent  – a supercomputer. Lotus’ soon-to-be-released Emeya hyper-GT, for example, has all the trappings of a top-end, racetrack-worthy car: an incredible 905hp, 0-100km in 2.78 seconds, a giant rear spoiler offering 215kg of downforce etcetera. But, it also has a suspension system capable of ‘feeling’ the road 1,000 times a second, adjusting for stability and comfort depending on things like road camber, gravel, slipperiness and so on.

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At the front, the Emeya’s active grill adapts to the car and driver’s needs, closing to reduce drag or opening to cool the batteries and braking system. Sensors detect real-time external surprises like obstacles, lane changes and potential collisions with enormous precision, feeding into the car’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). In other words, the car will do everything it can to keep you steady, comfy and crash-free, even when you’re flooring it. Like we said, it’s not so much an automobile, as it is a neural network.

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What’s more, it’s spent the last three years submitting itself to rigorous testing in some of the world’s most extreme conditions. It can compete with the speedy on the Nürburgring, brake quickly even on ice, remain stable through the steep mountain passes of inner Mongolia and even when popped in a fridge of -40 degrees celsius, it will still warm your seats and pop out the door handles for your arrival. Lotus 18 might have trounced the Ferraris in Monaco, but it wouldn’t have seen Moss through the apocalypse. Emeya might. 

With the spotlight intensifying on the machine’s performance and the requirement for advanced driver proficiency waning in the world of supercars, you can see why some people might feel a bit mournful. For anyone who thinks of driving as a sport, and the delicious opportunity to hone a skill, the idea that the car might as well drive itself – or at least that, it in a pinch, it might try and override you – seems a bit threatening to an age-old pastime. But that kind of thinking can easily be re-framed. 

The doors have flung open for a different breed of sports car to come through, for which the pressure to perform is all on the vehicle.

Firstly, to a varying degree depending on the manufacturer, you can choose how much you want these kinds of cars to intervene. In Emeya’s case, Lotus has ensured enormous differences between the driver modes. From the ‘Grand-Tourer’ setting’s emphasis on comfort and safety, flipping Emeya over to ‘Track’ signals that the person behind the wheel wants to have the kind of fun that comes with more handling. The car switches to rear-wheel drive and allows for greater slip angles – enjoyable when you want to drift around on a frozen lake. And actually, if you really desire control, you can pretty much turn ADAS off. So the accomplished will still get their kicks.

Consider though, what it might mean for the supercar entry threshold to know that you don’t have to be a driving crackerjack to use one. Suddenly, hesitant enthusiasts, the rich-and-curious and women who’ve not been afforded the arrogance of old white men have the chance to experience the exhilaration of sliding into the cockpit of an exciting performance car. Certainly, with starting prices in the region of £100,000, the opportunity won’t exactly be democratised, but when it comes to skill and confidence, this new spate of super(computer)cars might be driving’s great equaliser. 

This new spate of supercars might be driving’s great equaliser.

And finally, as we begin to think differently about who should be allowed in the sportscar inner-circle, we’d do well to start thinking differently about what these machines even are. The grumpiest reviews of electric supercars seem to stem from a baseline comparison to the combustion-engines of yore and yet, that’s like comparing apples to cheese. Or, a better analogy, smartphones to the telegram. We don’t have the same expectations for two completely different inventions.

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Emeya’s design might lean on the emotional poetry of driving Lotus’ most beloved sports cars, but everything else is about creating a completely new experience. Road-noise cancelling tech allows you to part completely with the outside world, the KEF Uni-Q™ speaker system and Dolby Atmos surround sound let you dive headfirst into Lil Silva’s ‘To The Floor’ like you’re at his concert, or at least a cinema showing of it. It’s got large touch screens front and back and you can also communicate with the car via app to have the temperature set to warm-but-breezy and the massage seats on full, ready for your arrival. There’s a universe inside this little pod (and with four seats, the whole family can enjoy it). It’s not a car, in the way that we used to think of them, it’s a lifestyle.

Words: Natasha Bird

Videographer: David Hale

Photographer: Mark Fagelson 

Drone: Dave Young

Vehicle: Lotus EMEYA

Sound system: KEF Audio

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