The mountainous terrain and crystal-clear blue skies we encounter don't bear much resemblance to the southeast of England, but the Lotus makes itself right at home. Like the smaller Elise, the Evora is a momentum machine through tight corners. Steering is so sharp and unfiltered that it's hard to believe there's power assist. The V-6, slightly overtaxed on the track, has more than enough power here and hums contentedly even as Ofiara, taking the lead, works second and third gears to stay near the 6400-rpm sweet spot. "Heel-and-toe shifting is a snap thanks to the tight pedal box," he reports.
Not far behind, the Porsche is also clearly in its element, its flat six howling through each blind curve. There's a wonderfully old-world feel to the steering, such that placing your hands on the wheel makes it feel as if the road is directly connected to your brain stem. All that's needed to complete this perfectly analog experience is a silky smooth Porsche manual gearbox, but we're stuck with the PDK and its anodyne and confusing steering-wheel-mounted buttons.
The GT-R is decidedly less comfortable on these roads. With the speeds here too slow for the turbos to build up steam and the road shoulder narrow to nonexistent, the GT-R feels like the big and heavy car it is. "Taking a turn in the GT-R right after the Lotus feels like going from a go-kart to a semitruck," says Ofiara. The Corvette also feels quite bulky in the narrow curvy sections, but in this case, it's more of an illusion created by the bulging fenders and ZR1-inspired hood. Once you overcome this impression of mass, the Vette is actually quite nimble. Its steering, limp and boring at low speeds, becomes nearly as good as those of the Europeans when the pace picks up and the pavement gets curvy. And with sport mode selected for the magnetic ride control - another feature newly available this year on the Z06 - the suspension stays flat through corners yet remains compliant enough to articulate over rough stretches, so long as you prudently lay off the throttle.
Alas, it's impossible to avoid the freeways forever, and soon we're facing a long slog down I-5. Now everyone's slightly less eager to take the wheel of the Lotus. It has nothing to do with the ride, which is surprisingly compliant, or the V-6, which is predictably refined and efficient. Rather, the Evora is made less livable by a handful of irrepressible British quirks. That compact pedal box, so perfect for fancy shifting, crams even the smallest of feet on the highway, and the footwell ends at the clutch pedal, leaving nowhere for your left foot. The radio and nav both work, but not at the same time. The air-conditioner, activated by one of several hard-to-read metal buttons on the center console, has difficulty keeping up with the onslaught of the afternoon sun - on a 74-degree day. Also, Lotus claims that the Evora's cabin can accommodate two six-foot, five-inch males, which is great, but it would have been nice if designers had paid more attention to those of us on the other end of the growth chart. As it is, the driver's seat stops moving forward about an inch farther from the pedals than is ideal for this writer's stubby legs. The GT-R can also be a bit tiring, as unfiltered tire noise drones through the cabin. On the bright side, it's as ergonomically sound as any Infiniti, with an excellent navigation and radio interface. We wish we could say the same for the Corvette, but its telematics feel as if they're a generation behind what General Motors is offering in its best new products. Only the 911 ranks in our mind as a perfect commuter car - which is probably why we see so many of them as we creep into Los Angeles and finally reach the coast.