What's this – a slightly bigger Elise?
Kind of. Lotus claims the Europa delivers the majority of the Elise and Exige's driving thrills while offering a load more practicality and comfort – 'business class by Lotus', says the blurb. It's a bit longer than the Elise, a smidge wider and a good deal heavier (995kg versus 860kg), but sticks with the Norfolk firm's trademark mid-engined, rear-wheel drive layout. The bonded aluminium chassis will be familiar to Lotus fans too. You'll pay £32,995.
Europa? Don't I recognise that name?
Quite possibly. Colin Chapman first released the frog-eyed, pick-up-like Europa in 1966 – his first mid-engined road car. Understandably, Lotus' design department opted for a clean sheet this time. Even so, it still doesn't gel quite as well as the Elise or Exige, looking more like the offspring of a Noble M15 and Vauxhall VX220. Credit where it's due, mind, the Europa turned heads constantly while we blasted through East Anglia.
Grand tourer? I take it it's softer and more comfy...
Well, that's a relative term here; the Europa is still a Lotus, your legs still stick out at a near horizontal angle in front of you and the entire cabin fizzes with energy when you blip the throttle. Lotus even makes a song and dance about the Europa's carpets, as if they're the height of luxury. Steady on. There are ergonomic issues too: slot sixth for a leisurely cruise and the gearlever jams against your leg, you have to reach to the opposite side of the cabin to activate the passenger's electric window and the light switches are somewhat Heath Robinson. The Europa is less claustrophobic than its stablemates, though, and there is more storage space and lower sills to help you clamber in. However, the base Porsche Cayman isn't a millions miles off at £36,220 while BMW's 3.0-litre Z4 Sport just undercuts it at £32,925. Both offer far more creature comforts.
But the driving experience makes up for it, right?
Absolutely. The Europa feels alive. Sure, there's only 197bhp (from a GM-sourced 2.0-litre turbo) to play with but throttle response is instantaneous, the turbo spooling up subtly and whipping the gears round to the redline. It steers like only a Lotus can – direct, meaty, reassuring – the brakes bite early with plenty of feel – the ABS regularly reminding us of its presence in the wet – and the six ratios are ideally spaced to work the 2.0-litre engine.
And how does it ride?
Lotus has tuned the Bilstein shocks and Eibach springs for greater comfort, but it's still a very focused ride with minimal roll. Torrential rain plagued our test day, and the Lotus nudged into benign understeer at the limit – though not before reaching some extremely impressive cornering speeds. The chassis balance is very well judged, the road surface beautifully transmitted through the steering wheel, the driver clearly sensing the tyres' movements.
We like the Europa; it stays true to Lotus' driver-focused roots, valuing lightweight and immediacy above huge horsepower and scale-tipping gimmicks. As a result, the driver is refreshingly connected to events at ground level. However, the Lotus Elise and Exige do that already, and the Europa doesn't bring enough to the party to tempt coupe fans from their Porsches and BMWs. Yes, the Europa is more practical, but it's still a raw driving machine. Expect buyers to either embrace the Lotus philosophy entirely and plump for the Elise or Exige, or eschew Norfolk altogether and buy something more civilised.