Hethel’s Outcast – 2006 Lotus Europa S

A more expansive Elise or a Norfolk Cayman? Lotus themselves seemed a little unclear.

2006 Lotus Europa S. Image: RAC
2006 Lotus Europa S. Image: RAC

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.

Image: golftoday
Image: golftoday

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

11 thoughts on “Hethel’s Outcast – 2006 Lotus Europa S”

  1. Funnily enough I saw one of these on the roads of Leicestershire this very morning. Gone in a flash, I struggled to remember its name. A nice looking car, if somewhat muddled front to rear, its tortured lineage is hardly a surprise. I suspect it was a half hearted replacement for the Opel Speedster / Vauxhall VX220 (itself a great, underrated car) that GM pulled the plug on late in the day, but Lotus decided to push over the Hethel line anyway.

    In an ideal world, Lotus should have considered something like the Europa as a replacement for the Elise at least a decade ago: still spartan, but a bit bigger and with easier access. We all like the idea of an Elise, but the reality is that they are cramped, unrefined and with horrifically compromised ingress and egress. I know of a few people who had Elises and VX220s when they were young, but for the most part such cars are bought by people way past 30 with some disposable income. Portlier and with creaking joints, the prospect of shoehorning themselves into an Elise is nigh unbearable. Something Europa sized, or perhaps even a little bigger, and without the pseudo-Porsche aspirations of the Evora, would be spot on.

  2. A quick look at Autotrader reveals a single Europa available in the UK, a 2007 plate, for just short of £20k. It has held its money quite well. Also available, a Lotus Carlton 1ith 130k miles for £25k.

  3. Interesting stuff. I remember the lukewarm reception to the Europa at the time, but it would make a satisfying and rare purchase now, I think.

    Elise saved Lotus, but Lotus has repeatedly struggled to make a success of a car pitched above it. Europa, Bahar’s five, Evora – none was a great success. Where they have been successful is in ever more expensive and specialised versions of the Elise and Exige. It is clear what the customer wants from Lotus – a driver’s machine first and foremost, something to be cherished and enjoyed in leisure time, not used every day.

    I actually think the Evora was the wrong concept… ditching the +2 seats would have helped Russell Carr make a prettier machine and abandoned any pretence that it was anything other than a pure sports car. They could have called it Esprit.

    1. The Evora is a nice looking car, but you are right, the 2+2 is a joke. I also think there is not enough clear water between that and the Elise in terms of size or construction. Still a nice bit of kit, but who would willingly take one over a Porsche?

    2. “Bahar’s five”

      You mean the ones that only ever existed as car show display? I’m sure he’s still convinced they were a great success… By that I mean they were never anything more than fluff, and no one can beat Bahar at that game.

  4. I’d completely forgotten about the Europa. Is there an answer for Lotus to break out of their niche? By all accounts, including Eoin’s incidentally, the Evora is a fine car, but the criticism is always that it’s maybe £20,000 too expensive. But Lotus couldn’t produce it for that unless they sold many thousands, which they never will. The perception of Lotus seems to be that they should be offering us affordable niche vehicles, but most of us don’t have the money and/or time and/or space to keep such vehicles, so Lotus can never make them in sufficient quantities to get rich. The problem with niche vehicles like this is that many owners buy them, do a couple of thousand miles a year and hang on to them. So ‘loyal Lotus customers’ they may be, but only in so far as they will buy another one in 15 years time. So where does their market lie if they are to survive – I can’t see ‘thriving’ being an option for some time unless they change radically – but not in a Bahar way. Maybe they need to be more imaginative and step outside the low slung sports car stereotype.

    1. As a company I would say that Lotus are aiming too low. Producing an exotic sports car starting at £35k is a tough ask for a tiny company such as Lotus, especially in a market less and less favourable to sports cars. MX5s start at £25k and Boxsters (or whatever they’re called these days) £42k. The only way that Mazda can make money on the former is through volume; Porsche through rampant part sharing with the 911.

      The one thing I did agree with Bahar about was the need to push upmarket. That would take some convincing product however and unfortunately for Lotus, McLaren are already quite capably servicing the market for £100k+ British supercars.

    1. The Evora should never have been written off in the first place. Having driven a previous-gen Evora S, I have to say it was a revelation. I expected it to be fast. It was. I expected it to handle well. It did. I did not expect ride quality, body control and overall poise that would shame most luxury saloons. To say I was captivated remains something of an understatement.

      Sadly, I had to give it back, but I did consider an Thelma & Louise scenario for a moment or two.

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