In theory, the Lotus Europa should have been brilliant: combine the visceral thrills of an Elise with a dose of extra usability, and there's the blueprint for a great everyday sports car. But, as we know, it didn't quite work out that way. What ought to have been something like the Alpine A110 many, many years beforehand ended up being a slightly awkward compromise. It retained a lot of the hassle that came with driving a car derived from Elise architecture, while numbing the dynamic experience with additional weight. In a vehicle arguably less attractive than an Elise. That was more expensive. The result was that just 450 Europas were made in total, and the Elise continues to this day. Because buyers that want a sports car like an Elise just buy an Elise; not a Europa, not a VX220 - not anything else, really.
Still, time can sometimes be kind, and there's potentially a lot more going for the Europa as a second-hand sports car a decade after production ended. The first attribute is that incredible rarity: it's believed that only around 100 cars exist in the UK, which is a tiny number against contemporary Elises, and even when put against the amount of original Europas that still survive. As a used buy, don't underestimate the appeal of having the Lotus that nobody else does, and also the benefit that scarcity has on residuals.
In addition, 'not quite as good to drive as an Elise' still means it's going to be brilliant, particularly with the past decade having made the vast majority of cars less driver focussed. Turbocharged torque provides the in-gear performance that naturally-aspirated alternatives won't be able to match, the steering will be lovely, the ride/handling compromise as perfectly judged as we've come to expect. And there's now nearly 15 years of specialist experience with these cars, meaning all manner of tweaks and upgrades will be available if it doesn't hit the spot as is.
Having a roof, air-con and leather, even in the confines of an Elise-based interior, should make the prospect of driving a Europa long distances - for road trips, driving holidays, a distant track day or so on - more appealing than something truly stripped out. We all make allowances for second-hand cars that we wouldn't when new, so perhaps now is the Europa's time to shine: no longer the less thrilling Elise, but instead the more accommodating one.
This particular car shows the Europa at its best. The spec is subtle and restrained where Elises are typically more lairy, the mileage is minimal (it's covered just 50,000 miles in 14 years), and there are sensible modifications to help re-inject some of the character said to be lost. Not only has the 2.0-litre turbo been upgraded to Europa S spec with 225hp, there's also a Milltek exhaust to give that old GM lump some voice, too.
That's in addition to a recent cambelt change, the common sump pan and oil line issues addressed and a full service history either with Lotus or known specialists. That this car is owned by the selling dealer's father has to be an encouraging sign, too. And it could be argued the shape is ageing better than expected?
That's up for debate; arguably less contentious is the belief that this looks like a lot of modern classic Lotus sports car for £20k. You'll search in vain for an Exige at the same money, and a comparable supercharged Elise is a chunk more expensive. More could even be spent on a VX220 than this Lotus. Sure, something like a Cayman will have a more emotive powertrain, but there's going to be no escaping the additional weight. And that's before considering how common they are.
While it's never going to garner Elise-like levels of popularity, then, it seems the Europa has been unfairly discarded in the Hethel sports car hierarchy. This one looks like the perfect opportunity to see what everyone else has been (foolishly, surely) passing up on.
SPECIFICATION - LOTUS EUROPA
Engine: 1,998cc four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@5,400rpm (standard car)
Torque (lb ft): 200@5,000rpm (standard car)
Recorded mileage: 53,000
First registered: 2006
Price new: £32,995
Yours for: £20,995