A contemporary Lotus will never win a comparison test that values practicality. The sills are too wide, the pedal box is too cramped, and the switch gear is too finicky for daily use. So even though the Evora is the most livable model in Lotus's narrow lineup, it's only a daily driver if your commute consists of descending the stairs from the tower to pit lane. Porsche's Cayman, by almost every measure, is a much more accommodating everyday sports car.
But the latest variant, the Cayman R, trades niceties for race-inspired minimalism. Following the formula of last year's Boxster Spyder, the R tosses the extraneous equipment (air-conditioning, radio, door handles) and swaps in a handful of lightweight bits (special seats, aluminum door skins, fabric pulls acting as door handles). There's also a stiffened suspension and 10 extra hp. Porsche says the maximum weight decrease is about 120 pounds, but you can add the luxuries -- and mass -- back in as options. On this particularly swampy Michigan morning, I'd gladly lug the 27-pound air-conditioner around the track if it means I don't have to ration breaths to keep the windshield clear. The gray sky overhead say "leave the sports cars parked," but our calendar says "Track Day, Grattan Raceway."
To match the sharpened skill set of the Cayman R, we've brought along the new Evora S, which adds a supercharger on top of the mid-mounted Toyota V-6. Power swells from 276 hp to 345 hp and torque rises from 258 lb-ft to 295 lb-ft. The S also includes the base Evora's optional sport package as standard fare. A single button to the left of the steering wheel quickens throttle response, opens an exhaust bypass, raises the rev limit, and relaxes the stability control.
Wet track, dry track
For a small-time, rural Michigan track, Grattan offers a brilliant series of off-camber curves, elevation changes, and off-camber curves occurring over elevation changes. The persistent rain makes the track significantly slower, but it also forces us into gradual familiarization with both the cars and the track. We log a couple hours exploring the limit behaviors of our mid-engine track toys at comfortable speeds while also picking up on the driving line. Based on previous Evora experiences, I'm surprised at how readily the Evora S understeers on the wet pavement. It takes an intense amount of precision to complete a full lap within the Evora's narrow envelope of traction, but the Lotus is also more immediate in responding to mid-corner throttle adjustments and it is easier to toy with understeer and oversteer. The Cayman has a broad, predictable swath of neutral grip and follows the driver's intentions more closely. It instills confidence, but you can't edge into oversteer with the same amount of control as in the Evora.
The Lotus's steering effort -- light and delicate yet masterfully precise -- is the stuff of dreams. Surprisingly, though, the Evora massages front-end information more than the Porsche. That's not to say it masks or eliminates feedback, but once you go beyond the limit of adhesion, the Lotus communicates a sensation of tires softly gliding over the pavement while the Porsche faithfully transmits the gritty scrub of tires under duress. The Cayman's steering is much heavier and stiffer, and is less inviting of micro-adjustments through a corner. So we like the Cayman's honesty and the Evora's feel and weight. Those inane pro/con pads of paper exist for quandaries like this. Any way you cut it, though, after an hour of writing adjectives, you'll have two sheets with a pro list that's five times longer than the con list. Both cars offer steering that's quick, progressive, and confidence inspiring, and they both set standards for the rest of the industry to emulate. As the rain breaks, our track day turns into a low-speed parade of Porsche 911s, Audi R8s, and Ford Super Duty trucks wringing the water out of the pavement. Nature -- apparently impressed that such a concentration of testosterone and horsepower could slow down long enough to choreograph that kind of effort -- abides with a reprieve from the wetness.
Even before the truly hard driving has started, the Cayman's brake pedal is softer and less certain than the Evora's. There's a long squeeze of lifeless travel before the brakes start biting and once they do they're less easy to modulate. The ambiguity transforms the brake pedal from a progressive precision tool into a simple switch, and leads the driver to make more deliberate, less measured braking inputs. Accordingly, anti-lock braking comes into play sooner, more frequently, and more often unintentionally. As the track dries and we drive faster and brake harder, the Cayman shows evidence of fade, exaggerating the dull-knife feeling. It's disappointing for a Porsche and unacceptable for a Cayman R. In contrast, the Evora's brakes deliver faithful, responsive stopping power all day long. While we regularly pull off the track because the Cayman's brakes begged for relief, the Evora lets us lap on our own schedule.