BY STEVE WALKER
On paper it seemed simple. Take the much loved Lotus Elise platform and develop a car that was more comfortable and easier to use on a daily basis. The Elise is a specialist piece of machinery built around the task of lapping race circuits very quickly. There are abattoirs with more creature comforts, so making it more proficient on a trip to the supermarket hardly looked like a challenge for a company with the engineering nous of Lotus. So the Europa was born. By and large, it did what it was supposed to but the response was mixed. On the used market the idea of a softer Elise might hold more appeal.
Models Covered: (2.0 turbocharged petrol [standard, SE])
In 2006, the second generation Lotus Elise was already five years old and, with the honourable exception of its hard-topped relative the Exige, it was the only car Lotus was able to offer customers. The gap before the incessantly speculated-on Esprit replacement or the purpose-built Evora GT car arrived was inevitably going to be a very long one so in the best British fashion, Lotus adopted a stiff upper lip and worked with what it had. What it had was the Elise platform, lightweight, immensely rigid and superb on track, which it had recently adapted for use in the longer wheelbase Vauxhall VX220. This formed the basis of the Europa with power supplied by the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that came in the range-topping, and quite indecently fast, VX220 Turbo model. With the turbocharged unit making acceleration available at lower revs than the normally-aspirated Toyota-sourced engine in the Elise and the longer wheelbase serving to smooth-out the ride while increasing the space available, the thinking behind the Europa looked sold. The car was launched in 2006 as the Europa S, the S suffix serving to differentiate it from the classic Lotus Europa models of the 60s and 70s. The 2.0-litre engine originally developed 200bhp but in 2008, the range was supplemented by the Europa SE which had a 225bhp version of the same unit. By this stage, the standard car wasn't being referred to as the Europa S by anyone and at some point Lotus officially adopted plain-old Europa as the car's name.
What You Get
The styling work on the Europa was carried out by Russell Carr, the man behind the series 2 Elise and Exige shapes, so there's a degree of styling continuity between the models. The side scoop, the exposed fuel filler cap and the basic stance are all recognisably Lotus but some of the rest of the detailing is less successful. The desire to make a car that looked different from the Elise may have resulted in the fussier finishes that will doubtless divide opinion. The Europa chassis is very similar to the Elise tub with cut down sills to make entry and exit easier. What rigidity was lost in this fashion is probably gathered back with the addition of the rigid fixed roof. It's hard to believe the wheelbase is only 30mm longer than an Elise, as the Europa S looks a far bigger car. It is 115mm longer overall and the higher roofline gives it a little more road presence than the diminutive Elise and Exige models. Boot space increases from a borderline-useless 112-litres in the Elise to a tiny 154 litres in the Europa, so pack light. Although the chassis shares plenty of commonality, Lotus were at pains to stress that the Europa S isn't merely an Elise derivative, even giving it its unique chassis number, Type 121, as opposed to the Type 111 that company insiders call the Elise underpinnings. A clearer distinction can be seen in the focus for the Europa S, the Norfolk company adopting the tagline 'business class by Lotus' for the car's launch. This was undoubtedly stretching it a bit but although the cabins of the two cars are similar, the Europa did come with better quality materials and less exposed metal. Air-conditioning and satellite navigation were standard fit items.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
There aren't too many Europas to choose from but the ones you do find should be fairly robust. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine earned its corn in bigger, heavier Vauxhall Astras and Vectras so it's lightly stressed in the Europa. Avoid examples that have seen too many track days, checking tyres and brakes as a matter of course. Lotus hadn't had a lot of experience in constructing classy cabin environments so the trim can show signs of wear and tear quite quickly but the important bits are sturdy.
(approx based on a 2006 Europa) Lotus spares are agreeably cheap, as are servicing costs. The key complaint amongst Elise owners regarding replacement parts is the long wait for replacement body panels. Other spares are far more readily available. Front discs cost £90, a headlamp unit around £135 and a new windscreen is around £250.
On the Road
Given that it has a brawny 200bhp turbocharged engine to hustle it along, the Europa S isn't shy of performance. Offering the sort of low-end torque that made the VX220 Turbo such a devastating cross country car endows the Europa with similar qualities. It's no surprise to learn that Lotus claim 90 per cent of the car's 263Nm torque figure is available from as little as 2,000rpm. This gives the Europa a more muscular feel than the Exige and Elise, in keeping with the demands of prospective owners. With a power to weight ratio of just over 200bhp per tonne, the Europa will serve up proper Lotus style zip, getting to 60mph in 5.6 seconds and breaking the ton in around 14 seconds. A top speed of 146mph will be quick enough for most. If you want slightly more power, the 225bhp version can cover the 0-60mph trial in 4.8s, enough to embarrass some far more expensive machinery. The driving experience is more comfortable than in the highly focused Elise but that isn't saying much. The Europa will still become wearing over long distances with its firm suspension and mediocre refinement. The claims Lotus made about this being a grand tourer seem very ambitious after an hour or so in the snug cockpit but the Europa is similar to the Elise in more favourable ways too. The steering is sharp, the reactions are instant and there's a bundle of grip to exploit with the more accessible turbocharged performance. All told, the Europa can be an absolute hoot.
Lotus tried to kid the world that the Elise-based Europa was an entirely different proposition to its track-focused progenitor. The car is more practical and more comfortable but only a bit and it's still a good deal more extreme than other two-seater sportscars available for similar money. Think of the Europa as an Elise from the big 'n' tall department and you'll be near the mark. Lotus fans looking for a more grown-up feel and more accessible performance will love it. Buyers seeking an everyday sportscar may find it a little rough round the edges. The best news is that the used market has taken the edge off the Europa's one major flaw, its price.