Imagine you had around £33,000 to spend and a penchant for sports coupes. Would you go for the Mercedes Benz CLK200, perhaps an Audi A5 2.0TFSI S-Line, or even a BMW 325i M-Sport?
All are fast, comfortable and loaded with technology, which is no bad thing but here's one for the purists - the Lotus Europa SE. Priced at £32,995 plus all the bits and pieces, what it lacks in perceived social graces, it more than makes up for in fun, seat of the pants driving.
I say that it's one for the purists but unlike the Lotus Elise, Exige and totally manic 2-Eleven, the Lotus Europa is quite a softy and is placed at the end of the scale marked 'armchair' sports car, in the Lotus scheme of things. It is an unfair label as the Lotus Europa is a far cry from an armchair on wheels. But then, all things are relative, although the traditionalists might not appreciate the electric windows, carpets, air conditioning and, shock-horror, an audio system with a form of Satellite Navigation.
What Lotus mean is that the Europa is more suited to everyday use. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, and take a look at the shapely exterior. Although the styling is not quite as extreme as some of the others from the same stable, it bears all the right hallmarks to verify its ancestry.
The broad, concave bonnet flares out to form the wheelarches that house the new, Fondmetal, high-performance, 17 inch alloys at the front (18 inch at the rear). The valley between frames the road ahead in an almost sensuous way as you sit in the low seat and it bears a non-aggressive face.
By contrast, the rear end is somewhat truncated with the centrally-placed, twin tailpipes forming a focal point and grille strips contained within curved design-lines. These are below the chunky tail-light clusters positioned at the outermost edges of the broad shoulders. In between is a spoiler, which forms part of the boot lid.
Yes, the Lotus Europa has luggage space worthy of the term 'boot'. But only just, as the 113-litre capacity will hold little more than a small suitcase or a holdall. For smaller items, there are three pockets each bearing evocative buckle fasteners one of which carries the handbook because there is no room inside for it.
Lifting the boot hatch also extends to cover the engine bay, which can also be seen through the closed rear windscreen. It is separated from the boot and cabin by strong bulkheads and a Perspex screen serves to reduce the noise into the cabin while allowing for some rear-view visibility, but not at night when the double reflections cause a distraction.
Because of the positioning of the engine, it needs a lot of cooling, as it doesn't have the immediate benefit of air being forced through the front grille. There is a front grille, but it needs augmenting by strip grilles within the air dams located rearward of the doors, on the bonnet and in the roof although the latter has a tendency to collect leaves.
Because of the low roofline, the Lotus Europa looks wider than it is. You come to realise this during parking manoeuvres, which are surprisingly easy to accomplish and, at the same time, town driving suddenly becomes a little less fraught. That said, during the test week, I did try to find an end bay in the multi-storey car park because the wide doors need quite a bit of space.
Getting in and out of the car requires a certain amount of athleticism and cannot be achieved with any decorum. It is a little easier for the passenger as they don't have a steering wheel to contend with. While getting in is relatively easy, getting out is at least a two-stage manoeuvre; one leg out, heave yourself onto the very broad sill, which is a good six inches higher than the seat squab, and try and look nonchalant as you stand up.
he inside of the cabin is sparse but not Spartan. As I said, there are carpets, a leather-covered fascia and snazzy, black and white striped leather bucket seats with matching panels on the doors. And they are bucket seats. Apart from fore and aft, there is no adjustment whatsoever - even the backrest doesn't move. The steering column is fixed; so one size fits all.
Once ensconced in the hard but hugging seat, you are suddenly aware that the sills take up more room than anticipated and your passenger has become your closest friend. Luckily there isn't much of a centre tunnel between the seats and, save for a bulge where the 6-speed manual gearbox is sited, it is no wider than the handbrake lever.
Interior storage is at a premium and amounts to no more than an open parcel shelf and another satchel-ette beside the gear shift. There is a little room behind the seats but not enough to warrant too much of a mention.
Once in, you realise just how close to the road your behind is, a feeling that will be familiar to those who have driven a kart. It is a little unnerving at first but also reassuring, as the cabin forms a cocoon around the driver. In front are two white-faced dials set into a small nacelle and a sporty steering wheel, that you feel should be made of wood like the gear-knob and not leather covered.
As mentioned, there are few frills and even the door mirrors are manually adjusted…from outside. Furthermore, there is no power steering as you find out when you pull away and slow speed manoeuvring is as effective as a Bull Worker. Safety measures run to ABS with servo-assisted Brembo brakes and that's it. As far as I can tell, there are no airbags and traction control isn't even an option.
So, why would you want to put yourself through all of this when there are a good few, more luxurious sports coupes on the market? Well, for a start none of them carry the Lotus badge that conjures up racing images, renowned engineering resulting in excellent ride and performance along with a sense of no-nonsense, serious fun.
And all of this is yours as soon as you press the start button and hear the engine fire up behind your head. It is not a large unit but the 4-cylinder, 2.0-litre, turbo-charged power plant does pack a punch. The power and torque outputs of 225PS at 5,700rpm and 300Nm at 4,000rpm, together with the 995kg bodyweight allows a top speed of 146mph and a 0-62mph sprint time of 5.4 seconds. It feels very much faster when you are that close to the ground.
The Lotus Europa's sporty suspension has been revised for even better handling and ride quality and, although it is firm, it isn't as brutal as some of this ilk and it takes speed bumps surprisingly well. Both the Lotus Europa and the Europa SE have race-car derived double wishbone suspension Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs - two more evocative names, that promise excellent control and behaviour.
The performance is delivered smoothly but is impressive nonetheless and the agility cannot be doubted as the car moves through fast corners and remains flat and composed. You just want to drive it.
The fuel consumption is pretty reasonable, too. The official figures are posted as: 21.1-, 36.7- and 28.8mpg for the urban, extra-urban and combined, respectively while 229g/km of CO2 is emitted from the tailpipes.
And that is what the Lotus Europa SE is all about. Impractical as it is, the Lotus Europa is a car that you could drive every day without getting tired of the snuggness of the cabin or the effort of getting in and out. A good entry into the world of Lotus, it is easy to drive in a relaxed manner and still take it to a track day at the weekend.
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