Track Toys: Porsche Cayman R vs. Lotus Evora S

Joel Nickerson

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.

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.

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