Used buyer's guide: Lotus Europa

The Vauxhall-engined Lotus Europa is great fun... if you can find one

Despite its exotic looks, the Europa is affordable to buy and run, thanks to its relatively small engine. Only 458 were built, so these are rare cars: if you want one, you’ll have to look hard. Your best bet is join a forum or owners’ club and get to know the cars and people, as many Europas – particularly the best ones – change hands without being advertised publicly. Europa ownership demands compromises that Porsche fans wouldn’t put up with, but if you want something different that’s great to drive, this car’s ideal.

When Lotus introduced the Europa, it was hard to see who the car was aimed at. It was less sporty than the Elise, but neither spacious nor refined enough to be a true GT. Add a tiny marketing budget, and the Europa was always going to be a niche player.

Yet all that doesn’t stop it from being a great used buy for anyone who’s after something sporty and unusual. Proven Vauxhall parts improve reliability significantly, but as with any specialist car, there are still plenty of things to look out for when buying one.

History

The Europa debuted in autumn 2006 in S form, powered by a 197bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Vauxhall engine. Lotus broadened the range in June 2008 with an entry-level model, plus a range-topping SE.

The former replaced the S while the latter got a power boost to 222bhp, stronger brakes, stiffer suspension, 18-inch rear wheels, and an improved interior with higher-quality materials. The company also offered an upgrade package to existing S owners, which matched the SE’s power and upgraded the brakes.

Alternatives

The Nissan 370Z drives sublimely, with excellent reliability and sharp looks. The Audi TT is also dependable and distinctive, with diesel and convertible versions. The VW Scirocco is related to the Audi and adds practicality to most of the TT’s attributes. If dynamics are key, the Lotus Elise is worth a look: it’s more fun to drive than the Europa, less practical, cheaper and there are far more of them about. Don’t overlook the Porsche Cayman either – it’s amazing to drive, beautifully built and very usable, but the purchase cost is much higher.

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