Lotus Europa SE (2009) review

Published:20 January 2009

Lotus Europa SE
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy

With the Lotus Evora on the horizon and getting ever closer, Hethel has chosen to update its current range-topping sports car, the Europa. Now available in SE guise, it offers more power and torque, tweaked sports suspension, bigger wheels, bigger brakes and a more luxurious cabin.

But with the sublime Elise just below it and the Evora soon to be above it – not to mention competition from the likes of Nisan, Porsche and BMW – can the revised Europa still justify its place in the Lotus line-up?

I’d forgotten all about the Lotus Europa. Where does it fit in again?

It’s the tin-top Elise that was designed, perhaps optimistically, to take Lotus into Audi TT/Porsche Cayman territory. The new SE model has some engineering mods to improve those crucial performance stats: the 0-60mph sprint time drops from 5.8 to 4.9 seconds and the charge to 100mph takes over two seconds less at 12.4sec. Unfortunately (for those of you that care about fuel figures in your Lotus), the SE emits 229g/km to the regular car’s 220, while consumption climbs from 30.4 to 28.8mpg.

SE-spec cars also get Goodyear tyres to replace the Bridgestones, which are wider front and back, and wrap around new 15-spoke alloys.  The rear wheels also go up an inch to 18s, and while the fronts are still 17s, they now hide 308mm four-piston AP Racing brakes (the rears remain 288mm). The sports suspension has been tweaked accordingly, with stiffer springs and different dampers.

>> Click ‘Next’ to read the rest of our Lotus Europa CAR review

So… how does it all work out on the road?

Brilliantly. The immediate difference between the Europa and any naturally aspirated Elise variant is that turbocharged engine. Rather than chasing the red line, you change up at around 4000rpm (where peak torque is produced) and use it to blast past slower traffic. It’s seriously quick, because although 222bhp is de rigueur for a hot hatch these days, no hot hatch has that power and weight under one tonne.

Of course, the engine isn’t particularly sonorous, but then neither is the Toyota unit, but at least the Europa treats you to whistles and whooshes from the turbo. It’s just effortless and easy.

Though never boring. No matter how big or refined a Lotus gets it’ll never be dull to drive. The Europa is alive, the steering wheel so wonderfully talkative, jiggling in your hands, sending you messages that you never knew a car could have. At first it’s disconcerting, almost scary, but then you learn to work with the steering and to understand where the limits of grip are.

The only problem is that this won’t be for everyone. Car enthusiasts love Lotuses because of their lightweight and, particularly, their steering feel. It’s a wonderful sensation to feel that lithe and alive wheel in your hands. Yet it may be too much for your average SLK, Z4, 370Z or even Cayman driver, to tiresome to be constantly told what your front tyres are up to.

And you can’t have sat-nav either, there’s lots of road noise, the ride is fairly stiff, the single wiper stays on too long after a spray from the jets, thus smudging the windscreen. The Europa is always going to be a rung below the mainstream manufacturers on issues like these.

What about all this space then?

For some it’ll never be enough to convince them to abandon their BMW Z4, but for others that extra bit of usability and practicality might persuade them when an Elise couldn’t. So yes, it is bigger inside than an Elise or Exige, but you still have to clamber over a wide sill. Then there’s only a shelf rather than a glovebox, there’s no central armrest – there’s no real space between driver and passenger – and the wide sill isn’t exactly a comfortable resting place for your right arm either. Plus the fixed-back buckets lack a little lumbar support.

But there’s also nothing like being in a Lotus, sitting low, feeling so connected to the car. And visibility is actually pretty good, you can hear the stereo as the speakers are mounted just behind you, and there’s carpet and leather where an Elise owner would be looking at bare aluminium.

>> Click ‘Next’ for CAR’s verdict on the Lotus Europa SE

Verdict

Lotus knows the Europa is a bit of a niche car. In fact, Hethel admits it’s a niche within a niche and only expects to sell 200-300 in 2009 (if that, considering the current economic woes). So of course some will question why it even bothered creating the Europa in the first place, wondering whether it could have in fact speeded up the development of the Evora.

Yet for those few hundred who buy an Europa each year they’ll be getting a distinctive car bristling with Lotus talent. Just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a precursor to the Evora or a true Cayman/Z4/370Z rival. It’s something quite different; a slightly bigger Elise with more easily accessible power and speed. And that’s very far from being a bad thing.

It’s a very good car, we’re just not sure anyone wants one.

Specs

Price when new: £32,293
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1998cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 222bhp @ 5600rpm, 221lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 4.9sec 0-60mph, 146mph, 28.8mpg, 229g/km
Weight / material: 995kg/aluminium and glassfibre
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3900/1714/1120

Rivals

Photo Gallery

  • Lotus Europa SE
  • Lotus Europa SE
  • Lotus Europa SE
  • Lotus Europa SE
  • Lotus Europa SE

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy

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