The cars we loved.
Lotus is known for its light weight cars. For as long as Lotus has been building cars, it’s founder Colin Chapman’s philosophy has been it’s golden rule: make it light and simple. This principal applied to one ff the smaller cars Lotus sold in the late 60’s, the Europa. It was one of Lotus most comfortable GTs. The mid-engine GT coupe had an exotic love it or leave it shape, but was fun to drive and much faster than many cars with far more power.
Today’s Lotus line circa 2012 is made up mostly of derivatives of the popular Elise. From this little skate –like sports car has come the Exige and the larger Europa S /SE in 2006. Of the trio, the Europa is perhaps the most appealing aesthetically and from a creature comfort point of view. While the Elise and Exige looked cramped and compressed in their proportions, the Europa has a larger trunk and appears from some angels like a little Ferrari 355, especially from the back). The added size comes from enhancements to the chassis that lowers the sides, allowing easier egress. That combined with a higher roof-line makes the Europa easier for bigger people (Americans) to get into (more about an American connection later).
Mechanically the Europa is similar in concept to its parent. The rear wheel drive, mid-engine design aids in stability and contributes to an ideal front to rear weight ratio. The GM sourced 2.0 ECOTEC four-cylinder engines were the same in some Saab 9-5 and European bound Cadillac BLS. In those cars it was merely adequate motivation. In the 2,194 lb Europa it was a recipe for go cart-like get up and go.
Initially, the press complained of the mixed messages the S model sent. It was fun to drive, but in a rough sports car like way. Calling it a GT might have been a stretch because the interior was considered too spartan to be comfortable and the ride was rough. Some polish was needed for the Europa S to compete with more refined products from competitors like BMW and Porsche.
Unfortunately, sales of the Europa S were low with just over 400 coming from the UK factory at Hethel, Norfolk. Lotus responded by making improvements in 2008 and renaming the car Europa SE. The SE model had a considerable number of improvements over the old S model. Most importantly, 20 more horsepower was found by revising the turborcharger. The interior got a slight makeover with higher quality leather and surface bits. The “Luxury Touring Pack” improvements were now standard and were optional on the S. The ride was improved with larger wheels and tires jumping from 15 to 17 inches. Brakes were enlarged with special cross drilled rotors while the ABS system was re calibrated for the bigger wheels and tires.
The improvements were enough to win the Europa SE approving reviews from the European press. Lotus now had a GT car that could handle as well as any Z4 or Cayenne, although it might not have been as expensive or as fast. About 48 of the SE models were built and even fewer made their way to America. Speaking of America, the Europa became the basis of the yet to be produced (as of 2012) Dodge EV concept car in 2010. It’s unclear if that concept will see the light of day now that Chrysler’s union with Fiat might produce other donors for an electric car. The link with Chrysler may have justified further variations of the Europa. Around the time production ended in 2010, rumors and later drawings of new Lotus models were circulated in the press. By auto show season, a trio of new 2014 concepts was making the rounds. No Europas were among them but a similar themed car, the Elite may be its spiritual successor.