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Car reviews - Lotus - Europa - S coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Acceleration and flexibility, more compliant suspension, forgiving handling, styling, Lotus badge
Room for improvement
Getting in and out, bump steer, engine note, turbo whine, vibration at idle with A/C on, ventilation controls, no armrest, price

28 Feb 2007

THIS is an historic year for Lotus, being the 50th anniversary of Lotus road car production as well as the 25th anniversary of the death of the company’s charismatic founder and inspiration, Colin Chapman.

One hopes that the new mid-range coupe due to be revealed at the Frankfurt show in September is a worthy vehicle for such milestones, considering the number of enthusiasts who still love and admire the British marque.

What’s more, we hope that the all-new Esprit puts Lotus back up on a pedestal with its supercar rivals because, to be blunt, the new Europa S will not be a milestone in Lotus’s often rocky but always colourful history.

Proton rescued Lotus financially and wisely seems to have left the British engineers to it, but the Europa seems like a fast-track hole-filler and it suffers by being based on the Elise.

Porsche provided the example to follow by turning the open-top Boxster into the Cayman coupe, but the little Elise is no Boxster and the Europa is consequently no Cayman.

While the Lotus marketing folk say the Cayman is not really a Europa competitor, its price and concept say otherwise. Unless you have British Racing Green blood running through your veins, you could not argue the superiority of the Cayman, or the cheaper BMW Z4 for that matter.

Lotus has often battled the image of being just one step up from kit-car manufacturers and the rudimentary switchgear and ventilation controls inside the Europa S only tend to reinforce this image. A rough idle, especially with the air conditioning turned on, does not help either.

But the real problem for the Europa S – given its aspirations to be the more user-friendly Lotus, suitable for daily use and not just track work – is the racing-style tub with high sills that the driver and passenger must clamber over.

Sure, the sills are a little lower than the Elise, and the roofline is a little higher as well, but getting in and out of the Europa is a tricky affair – and something of a nightmare for women and the ageing baby-boomers that are prime sales targets for this car.

Once inside, the seats are very comfortable and supportive, the steering wheel is purposeful and the view out over the front guards is certainly an attractive one that puts the driver in the mood to point and go.

However, with a racing car seating position that puts your knees above your hips, little space to move your legs and the lack of a proper armrest, long-term comfort is an issue after a spell on either side of the cockpit.

As with other Lotuses, to fully appreciate the Europa S you need to get out on to a windy country or mountain road to fully appreciate the car. It may be softer than an Elise, but the Europa is no tourer in any sense.

This is a car that wants to be driven, snicking down through the gears, hooking into a bend and jumping on the throttle with the rear wheels grabbing for maximum bite. And it is then, as the turbocharged engine races through the power band, that the exhaust note improves from its harsh bark at lower revs.

The handling remains the car’s strong suit, despite the softer suspension. It may not possess the ultimate grip of the Elise or Exige, but you can slide this car and it feels progressive and forgiving.

Ride is quite good over anything but the sharpest of road bumps, but we were quite startled by an alarming amount of bump steer – enough to almost rip the steering wheel out of your hand as the front suspension rises and falls over undulating roads, especially where one side changes more than the other.

Is it worth $40K more than the Elise? We don’t think so. Is it worth $20K more than a BMW Z4 Coupe? Hardly. Does it compare to the Porsche Cayman? Just don’t go there.

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