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Lotus Europa Review & Road Test

Rating: 6.0
$109,990 Mrlp
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From any angle, the Europa SE looks like a supercar.

Model Tested:

  • 2009 Lotus Europa SE; 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol; six-speed manual; coupe - $109,990*

CarAdvice Rating:

I'm heading towards the outskirts of Sydney to collect the Lotus Europa SE, the so called luxury or GT model in the Elise family.

I've read the specs and they are impressive to say the least, 165 kilowatts and 300 Newton-metres in a super-light composite body; it should be quick.

What's worrying me is the description in the media release, words such as, “…more appealing and accessible to a broader audience”, “…more equipment”, and “...designed to appeal to those who are more style conscious”.

While the heavy hitting Exige S and even the budget priced Elise S, will cause you to re-calibrate your perception of what constitutes fast cornering speeds and high grip levels, I'm concerned that despite the Lotus badge, the Europa SE might be a little too soft.

That's the problem with perceptions they are so often wrong.

From an unusually early age my father indoctrinated my brother and I, with the belief that the Porsche 911 RS 2.7L was the Holy Grail, and nothing could out corner a Lotus.

These were sweeping statements for sure, but mostly, he was on the money.

With an astonishing seven Formula One Constructors' titles and six Drivers' Championships, Team Lotus remains one of the most successful Formula One teams of all time.

They also wrote the book on ground effects aerodynamics with their unbeatable Lotus 79, the first F1 car to feature venturi tunnels, and went on to decimate all other cars in the field, during the 1978 Formula One season.

Racecar like handling is what Lotus DNA is all about, what they learned on the track was to some degree, dialled in to their exceptional road cars.

The original Lotus Europa from 1966 was no exception. Its four-wheel independent suspension was so similar to Formula racing cars of that era, that motoring journalists at the time, described the car as the closest thing to a racing car for the road.

Nothing has changed Lotus is still building exceptional sports cars, which can out corner some purpose built race cars, and you still need to be youthfully agile to climb into the cockpit without regular chiropractic adjustments.

It might be trimmed in leather and have a slightly more compliant ride than its stripped out siblings, but the 2009 Lotus Europa SE is all Lotus underneath the luxury façade.

Let me be specific, the so-called GT Lotus has just annihilated 11-kilometres of tight, snake-like bends at racetrack-cornering speeds, without so much as a blip.

As you feel all 300Nm pulling hard at 4000 rpm through every shift, you quickly realise that this thing is a point-to-point weapon, despite its more conservative styling.

I say conservative but only in the company of the Elise and more extreme Exige. Park it next to most other sports cars including those from Porsche and Maserati, and it's the Lotus that commands all the attention.

From any angle, the Europa SE looks like a supercar. From the integrated deep front splitter and side air intakes to the impossibly low stance with dual centred exhaust tips, it sends a warning to all other performance cars – don't mess with me, especially in the twisty bits.

Take a look under the car, if you can get your head low enough on the tarmac, and you will see a completely flat bottom, as you would on only the world's quickest supercars.

It's not just the extra muscle from the larger 2.0-litre turbocharged powertrain that will put a grin on your face either, the short-throw shift allows for lightning fast gear changes with minimal effort.

Lotus claims zero-100km/h in 5.3 seconds and a top speed of 235km/h and without a track test, I for one, won't be questioning the numbers.

But, it's not just the straight-line acceleration that impresses, it's the sheer speed the Europa can carry into and out of a corner that will forever change your perception of what a real sports car is capable of.

The grip levels are so extreme (although less than the Elise S), that on the run back up the hill climb, I found myself at full throttle more often than not, without ever needing to grab fifth, due to the increased torque this engine makes.

My only grumble is that the steering has fractionally too much play either side of dead centre, but beyond that, the usual race car like steering inputs and the extra pull, are enough to make you want to list that investment property, and at a discount if it will help get you into a Lotus quicker.

Mind you, the Europa SE shares the same steering rack as the Elise, so the difference might be the Goodyear F1 GSD tyres, which have been designed to provide slightly more compliance and less-road noise than the Yokohama's on the other Elise based cars.

There's also slight understeer on turn in, but only when you're on the ragged edge, but that characteristic is easily controlled by simply backing off the throttle ever so slightly.

The extra weight of the mid-mounted 2.0-litre turbocharged engine from the Astra SRi Turbo, combined the light front end, is one reason for the gentle understeer, the other, is that Lotus have engineered the car's geometry to do just that, it's safer that way.

When you do need to jump on the brakes, there's a set of AP-Racing four-piston alloy front brake calipers biting down on 308 millimetre discs, that will reign in the Europa faster than Dreamworld's Tower of Terror ride. Brake fade was non-existent too with the Ferrodo DS52HP pads.

Back to luxury side of things, apart from the leather trim, which even includes the tailgate-inner and battery cover.

With lower side sills, you'll have an easier time getting yourself into the car compared with the Elise, and believe me, that is a luxury, particularly if you're wearing a dress.

The leather-clad Momo steering wheel (with airbag) is a simple art form with all the right contours although; it would be nice to see a flat-bottom version on this car.

The ProBax seats in the Europa look more like pure bred racing buckets, but I highly doubt you'll be complaining about back pain, no matter how long you're in the car.

These odd-looking pews were designed with input from several leading vascular surgeons, and the benefits listed in the brochure read like an excerpt from the British Medical Journal: Maintains correct curvature of the spine; Eliminates reverse pelvic tilt; Minimises pressure under the coccyx; Manages the ischial pressure points and is effective for 95 percent of the population.

The wooden gear knob looks strangely familiar to the one in the original Europa and there's an Alpine audio unit, which I didn't bother switching on.

The air-conditioning controls look like a retro-fit job from the '70's, but it worked well enough, even when the temperature in Sydney climbed to 30 degrees a couple of weeks ago.

The Europa SE is certainly less frenetic that the rest of the Elise/Exige stable, and with the additional torque output from the 2.0-litre engine, you have the option of sitting back and cruising in a taller gear ratio, if you so desire.

Peak hour madness is also more tolerable in the Europa SE than any other Lotus, and weekend getaways with more than a toothbrush are now possible, with enough room in the boot for a large size soft bag.

There's also ample leg and headroom, which I put to the test with a well- fed mate, who is just shy of 185 centimetres and while it was only a short drive, it was comfortable enough for both of us.

One of the standout benefits of the Euorpa's lightweight construction is its frugal fuel consumption even when you're hard on the right pedal, as you frequently tend to be in a Lotus.

Even with a small 43.5 litre tank and driving with some serious intent, the published 9.8L/100km (combined) is achievable without highway kilometres.

The problem with driving a Lotus, any Lotus, is that it ruins you for life. No other affordable production car can provide that same race car like experience in a street legal car, which can double as your daily drive.

The Europa SE is just that little bit more refined.

Expect a full review of the new Lotus Evora in January.


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    *Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer.