Track Toys: Porsche Cayman R vs. Lotus Evora S

July 11, 2011
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.
Porsche Cayman R Vs Lotus Evora S Right Side View
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.
Drier, grippier pavement redefines the Evora's handling, bringing it much closer to the neutrality of the Cayman. We're delighted, though, that the Lotus retains its willingness to respond to minute throttle changes. While the Cayman's handling behavior isn't seriously affected by the pavement's dampness, the dry track makes the Porsche that much more planted and poised. Again, it's less eager to deviate from the driver's initial inputs mid-turn, but it's so easily to place the car on the right line.
Porsche Cayman R Vs Lotus Evora S Side View
These two cars also reveal a key character difference in how their stability control systems operate. The Evora's metaphorical safety net sits just inches away from disaster, allowing the driver to aggressively lap the track and dip into small amounts of oversteer without ever exciting the electronic nannies, even in the standard setting. In fact, since the sport button makes the throttle artificially jumpy, we favor the standard setting and happily marvel at the laissez-faire stability system. When you do finally upset the Lotus, the stability control steps in with a calm confidence and gentleness that seems almost revolutionary. The brakes carefully correct your actions like a professorial mentor rather than reprimand like a weary parent. Where most stability control systems quash your forward momentum, the Evora just nudges you back on course. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the sophisticated computers in today's cars are capable of manipulating the brakes with such finesse, but there are few cars that do it. We blame the lawyers, who clearly must have gotten their hands on the Cayman. Whether in standard or sport mode, the Porsche doesn't come close to offering the freedom of the Evora. The stability control will intervene sooner and interrupt with a nasty abruptness. With the grace and subtlety of Jon Lovitz, Porsche's stability control chops your speed and yanks the car back into a harmless trajectory.
One shift away from excellence
Our Cayman R is equipped with the excellent seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It is quick, intelligent, and pleasantly engaging. It also adds 55 pounds to the R's curb weight. While the 3.4-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder makes less torque than the Evora S (273 lb-ft vs 295 lb-ft) and has a steeper torque curve, the tall, well-placed paddles are perfect for keeping the engine on boil at the upper end of the tachometer.
Both engines are flexible and willing to rev, but the potent powerplant in the Evora S is hampered by the six-speed manual that lacks any meaningful feel. The stick is sloppily loose and there's an infuriating reluctance to downshift into second gear. Fortunately, the supercharger spinning above the 3.5-liter V-6 means torque is omnipresent throughout the power band, making up for the one or two turns where we would like to be in second but the gearbox dictates third.
Former road test editor Marc Nordeloos lays down some laps for time just as the weather starts turning again. The track wasn't dry to begin with and the last couple of Evora laps were run as a fine mist fell, so we don't put much weight into the numbers here. Still, the Cayman's 1.6-second quicker time (1:31.33 to the Lotus's 1:32.98) backs our subjective judgments: the Cayman R is confidence, poise, and consistency; the Evora S is finesse, art, and agility. Turning out equally fast laps in these cars is possible, but doing so requires two very different approaches.
R is for reason, S is for seduction
The Evora's recalcitrant gearbox would be out of place in a Honda Fit, which means it's practically a deal-breaker in a car like this. There's also no doubt that most drivers could jump into a Cayman R and lay down faster laps far sooner than they could with the Evora S.
Yet weeks after we visited Grattan, it's the Lotus that still haunts my daydreams. Its delicacy and responsiveness challenge you to be a better driver and deliver immense satisfaction when you get things right. While the Cayman R commands your respect, the Evora S seduces your heart and clouds your brain. If I were buying a track toy, I'd choose the Cayman R, but If I were staring at both cars in the pits, you'd soon find me on the track in the Evora S.
Porsche Cayman R
Porsche Cayman R Front View
Base price: $67,250
Price as tested: $75,900
Body Style:
2-door coupe
Accommodation: 2-passenger
Construction: Steel unibody
24-valve DOHC flat-6
Displacement: 3.4 liters (210 cu in)
Power: 330 hp @ 7400 rpm
Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Fuel economy: 20/29 (city/hwy)
Hydraulically assisted
Turning circle: 36.4 ft
Suspension, front: Struts, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Struts, coil springs
Brakes: Ventilated discs, ABS
Wheels: 19-inch alloy
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport II
Tire size, front: 235/35R-19
Tire size, rear: 265/35R-19
95.1 in
Track F/R: 58.7 in/ 60.2 in
L x W x H: 171.7 x 76.9 x 50.6 in
Cargo capacity, F/R: 5.3/9.2 cu ft
Weight: 2855 lb
Fuel Capacity: 14.3 gal
Fuel grade: 91 octane

Lotus Evora S
Base price: $77,175
Price as tested: $88,100
Body style:
2-door coupe
Accommodations: 2-passenger
Construction: Aluminum unibody
24-valve DOHC supercharged V6
Displacement: 3.5 liters (211 cu in)
Power: 345 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: Rear-wheel
Fuel economy: 17/26 (city/hwy)
Hydraulically assisted
Turning circle: 33.3 ft
Suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Control arms, coil springs
Brakes: Ventilated discs, ABS
Tires: Pirelli P-Zero Corsa
Tire size, front: 235/35R-19
Tire size, rear: 275/35R-20
101.4 in
Track F/R: 61.7 in/62.0 in
L x W x H: 170.9 in x 72.8 in x 48.1 in
Cargo capacity: 6 cu ft (23 cu ft behind rear seat)
Weight: 3168 lb
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons
Fuel grade: 91 octane


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2012 Porsche Cayman

Base RWD 2-Dr Coupe H6
starting at (MSRP)
2.9L H6
Fuel Economy
19 City 27 Hwy
2012 Porsche Cayman