A more expansive Elise or a Norfolk Cayman? Lotus themselves seemed a little unclear.
Lotus hasn’t a great track record when it comes to recycling storied nameplates. Elite, Elan, Esprit – the originals have tended to be more memorable. This no-exceptions policy seems to have extended to 2006’s Europa S too, cynics deriding it as a re-bodied Opel Speedster. Similarities between the cars are undeniable of course, sharing as they did the same Elise-based extruded aluminium chassis and GM sourced 2.0 litre Ecotec turbocharged engine. Others have suggested it was a still-born Lotus consultancy project re-purposed and shoehorned in to broaden the model range. Originally said to have been built in Malaysia by Lotus’ Proton parent, instead assembly took place at Lotus’ Hethel manufacturing facility in Norfolk. Either way however, the Europa S proved something of an orphan.
Compromise seems to have been etched into Europa’s being from the off. Aimed at customers unwilling to put up with the stinging privations dictated by Elise/Exige ownership, the Europa was marginally taller, wider, more accessible, and fitted with decadent items such as air conditioning, soundproofing and carpeting. The car’s chassis balance was also recalibrated to err slightly towards suppleness and refinement, at least within hardware limitations anyway. Heavier than its junior siblings, yet powered by a less free-revving power unit, the Europa S was critically mauled, firstly for not being as focused as its stablemates while simultaneously deemed too uncivilised to rival machines like Porsche’s default-choice Cayman. Falling between stools might have been less of an issue had the Europa’s styling been deemed attractive, but here too it fell short of ideal. Required to appear upmarket from the lower-priced Elise, yet simultaneously disguise its origins, the Europa’s styling – (carried out in-house) – while neat, came across as slightly half-hearted. Certainly the detail style left something to be desired.
Sales were disappointing, resulting in Lotus chassis engineers carrying out a major redevelopment of the model resulting in a faster, more handling-biased, yet plusher SE model in 2008. In reality, the Europa was something of a stop-gap to give the Hethel concern something to offer until such time as the more fit for purpose Evora was ready to enter production. Europa sales came to a close in 2010 with about 450 cars sold – a tiny fraction of those being the later SE models.
A four year lifespan and a production run shy of 500 cars doesn’t really amount to much of an epitaph and to be fair, the Europa isn’t a car that really lingers in the mind. But I suspect it’s probably better than the [there’s no pleasing some people] automotive press made it out to be. If a secondhand Elise is just that bit too raw and an Evora too polished, this might just be the thing – assuming you can find one. Now of course the Elise is prettier and more nimble while the Evora is considerably more rounded and capable, so it’s very much a case of horses for courses. Or I suppose you could simply illustrate your lack of imagination by taking the default route via Zuffenhausen.