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First drive: Lotus goes soft with new Europa

Easier access: The Europa has lower door sills.

Meet Europa: the latest Lotus that fronts up to some heavy German competition

28 Feb 2007

LOTUS has had a long and chequered history, especially in the production car field, but it plans a rejuvenation under the ownership of Malaysian car maker Proton with an aggressive new model program.

The next two years will see a pair of all-new up-market models released that should restore the marque’s former reputation, but in the meantime the company has released a car that steps gently away from its recent track-based mould – the Europa S.

Being based on the platform devised for the sporty Elise and which also spawned the even more hardcore Exige, the Europa S certainly does not move Lotus into Grand Tourer territory, but is designed to be more user-friendly for road use.

The British car-maker has moved away from its original position that the Europa would be a GT classification, now preferring the phrase "Business Class by Lotus" to indicate a level of comfort with which Elise and Exige drivers would not be familiar.

In reality, a solid roof, leather interior, slightly larger door openings and softer suspension do not quite spell Business Class comfort that would be recognised by airline customers, and nor would the sparse list of standard equipment in what remains a fairly hardcore sportscar.

Lotus plans to build only 500 Europa S models a year, with only 30 to 40 earmarked for Australia.

It is priced at $109,900, which places it a hefty $40K ahead of its 1.8-litre Toyota-powered Elise S sibling ($69,990), but mid-way between the base and supercharged Exige models ($99,990 and $114,990 respectively).

By comparison, the BMW Z4 Coupe range starts around $90K while the Boxster-based Porsche Cayman starts at around $120K, putting the Europa S in formidable company.

57 center imageLotus launched the Europa S in the UK a year ago and previewed it at the Sydney show last October, but held back the local release in order to better space its new model launches.

At the heart of the new Lotus is the turbocharged 2.0-litre Opel engine that we know locally from the mighty Holden Astra SRi Turbo, mounted east-west behind the cockpit and driving the rear wheels.

With 0.6 bar of boost, it delivers the same 147kW of power, but some tweaking of the Bosch engine management system by the Lotus engineers has resulted in a small increase in torque to 272Nm – 90 per cent of which is available from 2000rpm.

Combined average fuel economy is a respectable 9.3L/100km.

Driving through a six-speed manual gearbox, the Europa S will accelerate from rest to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds, will reach 160km/h in 14.0 seconds and has a top speed of 230km/h.

The Europa S is 115mm longer than the Elise, providing a reasonably usable boot, and is 135kg heavier due to the solid roof and extra equipment.

Getting in and out of either the Elise or Exige is something of a challenge, so Lotus has attempted to alleviate the problem by lowering the prominent sills by about 25mm and raising the roofline a similar amount, providing an overall 55mm larger opening.

Standard equipment includes dual airbags, ABS anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, leather upholstery, an Alpine audio system with four speakers and MP3/iPod connection, remote immobiliser/alarm, front driving lamps and interior carpet.

There are no options and the only specification variation is the choice of tan trim on the otherwise all-black seats.

The car rides on Lotus-designed lightweight 17-inch alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone Potenza tyres that measure 175/55 on the front and 225/45 on the rear. These tyres are somewhat softer than used on other Lotus models, in keeping with the car's more comfort-oriented nature.

The neat styling, penned by Lotus design chief Russell Carr, includes a subtle spoiler on the tail but is essentially designed for low downforce so that softer springs can be used.

Lotus Cars Australia sales and marketing chief Jonathan Stretton, who is in the middle of a two-year assignment here from the UK, said the car was designed to be easier to live with on a daily basis that Elise or Exige.

"Lotus customers will still be able to enjoy the outrageous fun and exhilaration of driving a true Lotus without having to make as many compromises when it comes to the practicality of living with their pride and joy day-to-day," Mr Stretton said.

"We have retained the purity and simplicity of the Elise and the Exige while recognising that for some the experience from these cars may sometimes be just a little extreme."Lotus last built a Europa from 1966 to 1974, when its unique slab-sided rear end styling earned it the nickname of "the bread van". No doubt the cash-strapped British marque will be hoping the latest version will earn some ‘bread’ for its benevolent new owners in Malaysia.

2007 Lotus Europa S pricing:
Europa S $109,900

GoAuto can help you buy a new Europa

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