From the July 2010 Issue of Car and Driver.
This three-car roundup has us feeling like Goldilocks, and only one of us is blond. We’ve got the usual complaints: One’s too cramped, one’s too slow, one’s too hot, one’s too lumpy, and so on. What we have here are three quite different sports cars with the same things in mind: maximal involvement, minimal suffering.
Our fairy-tale quandary starts with the new Lotus Evora, which draws existential questions from passersby, such as: “Uh, is that, like, a Lotus?” And from C/D staffers who ask, “What, exactly, does this car compete against?” What indeed.
The mid-engined, two-plus-two Evora configuration is an anomaly (as long as Lamborghini continues to not build a Urraco). The price of this Lotus—$74,675 base, $85,270 as tested—lines up with the Nissan GT-R’s and the bottom end of the Porsche 911 Carrera range, but those cars don’t feel like proper competitors somehow. The Evora aims for chassis feel above straight-line times, light weight over complexity, and a connection with the driver above all else. While it nevertheless makes concessions to cabin comfort, the Evora couldn’t more concisely define British sports-car-ness if it were wearing string-back gloves, a tweed cap, and women’s underwear.
Our first problem, then, became what to put up against the Lotus. We found two automotive icons—one from Germany and the other from America, each proffering their native definitions of what a sports car should be. The Porsche Cayman S and the Chevy Corvette Grand Sport are highly evolved and decorated examples of the genre. They are practical and usable yet still retain their edges. This is exactly what the Evora purports to do. In other words, game on.
The mid-engined Cayman S is arguably the closest car to the Evora in size and horsepower—aside from an Acura NSX. And while it’s sacrilege to Porschephiles, the Cayman’s mid-engine powertrain configuration beats the 911’s full diaper when it comes to handling. As usual, Porsche delivered a test car bristling with options—18 grand worth, including a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and an adjustable suspension—bumping the $62,450 base price to $80,695.
The Corvette Grand Sport is the cheapest here, at $67,565 as tested. Power-wise, it plays the role of anti-Evora, with a big, torquey V-8 in front as a foil to the Lotus’s mid-mounted, Toyota-sourced 276-hp V-6. The Grand Sport is the thinking man’s Z06: $19,515 cheaper but with the former’s body styling, dry-sump oiling system, fat Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, and brake and suspension upgrades that make the base Corvette look soft. With 436 horsepower, this Corvette out hunks the Evora by 160 stallions and tops the Cayman by 116.
Aside from our usual battery of performance tests, we ran the three cars through the mountain passes between Bakersfield and Lake Isabella at the bottom end of California and then spent a day lapping at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, north of Los Angeles. The range of these three cars’ driving personalities is as various as the pajama sizes of Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear, but a clear winner emerged nonetheless.
Third Place: Lotus Evora
Concern about the Evora’s faults (and we will get to them) is inversely proportional to the car’s cornering g-load. Drive the Evora hard, and gripes over petty inconveniences, such as its lack of automatic climate control, soon fade away. The Evora changes direction with fighter-jet immediacy, due in part to a 3093-pound curb weight, of which just 39.6 percent sits on the front axle.
HIGHS: Bounds through corners like a gazelle, superb steering, solid brakes.
LOWS: Agricultural shift lever, suspect build quality, cramped interior.
And this car doesn’t confuse heavy steering with good feel; the effort is light, but it still communicates every ripple of road surface. The throttle is similarly choice, its long pedal travel allowing you to dial in precise increments of power. Then again, the Evora’s modest output means you dial in all of it mostly all the time. Its skidpad grip, impressive at 0.95 g, ranks third in this group. Still, the Lotus keeps up with these rivals on coiled roads because it urges the driver to carry more speed into corners and get back on the gas sooner. And solid brakes, absent of any fade, provide a security net for white-knuckle moments.
It’s a pretty car as well. In person, the Evora reveals creases and curves that aren’t evident in photographs. (Paradoxically, our photographer was the only crew member not taken with the Evora’s looks.)
On the track and in our acceleration tests, the numbers catch up with the Evora. With the lowest output and the worst power-to-weight ratio, it’s half a second slower than the second-quickest Cayman in the quarter-mile and more than four seconds behind the Corvette in lap time. The long-throw shift lever wins no prizes, as tech editor Robinson noted: “It’s a gearbox in that it is a box full of gears, but, otherwise, any resemblance to a component of a high-performance sports car is purely coincidental.” This is a gearbox that absolutely refuses to be hurried. And the engine note, flat and anonymous, fails to inspire. For the money, we expected more thunder in the aural feedback department.
There are other compromises one must accept. Large side-view mirrors keep visibility just above abysmal; the mail-slot backlight doesn’t fill even three-quarters of the rearview mirror. The back seats are purely vestigial, suitable only for luggage, and good luck getting a child seat into that cave. Though not as physically discouraging as the Elise and the Exige, which have deep side sills, the Evora also requires jungle-gym moves to get into and out of. And what great sports car does not have a dead pedal for the left foot?
Once seated, the Evora is comfortable, with deep, supportive buckets and a leather- and aluminum-covered interior. Alas, the ghosts of Lotuses past haunted our test car: A piece of plastic on the driver-side door suffered from fall-apart, a loose positive battery cable left us troubleshooting a dead electrical system for half an hour, and the navigation portion of the Alpine stereo—already frustrating to use and possessing an appallingly low display resolution—stopped working by our final day. But, hey, it’s a British sports car.
The Evora is the most livable, day-to-day Lotus yet, but there are still sacrifices to be made for its brilliant handling. The car is proudly old school in its approach. A little too old school, it turns out.
THE VERDICT: Floats like a butterfly, stings like a butterfly.
2010 Lotus Evora
276-hp V-6, 6-speed manual, 3093 lb
Base/as-tested price: $74,675/$85,270
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.9 sec
100 mph: 11.8 sec
130 mph: 21.8 sec
1/4 mile: 13.4 @ 105 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 153 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.95 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 19 mpg
Second Place: Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
The Corvette is a meat-and-potatoes kind of sports car, and the baritone rumble from its 6.2-liter, pushrod V-8 fills the driver’s being with a deep, American-style comfort. Equally satisfying is the ability to slide the tail around, or, on a whim, to easily lay down a controlled burnout. The Grand Sport has so much power and low-end torque that third gear can be used on public roads where the Porsche and Lotus require second.
HIGHS: Tons of grip, drifts on demand, a real performance bargain.
LOWS: How many times can we complain about those seats?
The Corvette wins the quarter-mile race: 12.6 seconds at 115 miles per hour. At 130 mph, the Vette is an eternity—a full three seconds—ahead of the second-fastest Cayman S. The power advantage helps the Grand Sport achieve the best lap time, too, but the Vette can do more than just accelerate. Witness the tie for skidpad grip, at 0.98 g, and a 70-to-0-mph braking distance of 154 feet—world-class (though worst in this group). Further, the cross-drilled discs resist fade nearly as well as those of the Lotus despite the Vette being the fattest: Curb weight is 3377 pounds, and more than half of that is over the front axle.
That weight and its wide tires, 275 fronts and 325 rears, mean that the steering is relatively numb compared with that of the Evora and the Cayman S, but the gap isn’t as great as it once was. On the street, the difference in handling is evident due to a shortage of steering feel and the sumo-like body width, which sap confidence. That, and the Grand Sport’s immediate power delivery, makes for wary cornering, although the unobtrusive stability control—in both full-on mode and the more lenient competition setting—provides an assuring parachute.
On a track, the Corvette doesn’t feel as huge, and you know exactly what you’re going to get: predictable, steady drifts (if you’re so inclined); gobs of torque; and tons of grip. Much of the bounding and side-to-side motion exhibited in previous Corvettes has been toned down, showcasing Chevrolet’s constant efforts toward refinement [see sidebar below].
There’s always room for improvement, especially in the interior. Our test car came with the $7705 LT4 package, which features a leather-covered dash. But the discount-store aspect remains. We’ve complained for years about the Corvette’s cut-rate seats, which feel like they’ve been padded with dead squirrels. They still disappoint. Why the Grand Sport—which adds a Z06-style body kit, a dry-sump oil system, and a performance suspension—doesn’t come with upgraded seats (nor do the more raucous Z06 and ZR1 models) remains a mystery. Unless it’s just about the money, or that the Vette’s well-padded clientele would complain about a tighter fit. We have one word for them: Nutrisystem.
Another old Corvette saw, a balky two-to-three shift, also made itself known more than once. The antiquated navigation system, devoid of even an auxiliary audio input, desperately needs to be acquainted with this century. The bad-ass body style comes at the price of constantly scraping the Grand Sport’s nose on everything—inclined driveways, road dips, dropped credit cards. And washboard roads make the Grand Sport chatter like a set of wind-up novelty teeth.
Big performance, big luggage space, and big value still abound in the Corvette. Chevrolet keeps making it better, and that progress needs to continue.
THE VERDICT: The Corvette keeps getting better but still needs work.
2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
436-hp V-8, 6-speed manual, 3377 lb
Base/as-tested price: $55,720/$67,565
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.3 sec
100 mph: 9.6 sec
130 mph: 16.4 sec
1/4 mile: 12.6 @ 115 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 154 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.98 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 16 mpg
2011 Can’t Come Soon Enough
When the 2011 Corvette Grand Sport goes on sale this summer, it will come with option code F55, a.k.a. Magnetic Selective Ride Control. As significant, the models equipped with manual gearboxes (coupes and convertibles) will be shod with Goodyear’s new Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 tire. We had a chance to sample the 2011 Grand Sport during our day at Buttonwillow—we’re still not sure why GM wouldn’t let us drive the car on the street—and were impressed. Skidpad grip increased to a startling 1.01g (0.03g more than the 2010 GS). On the track, there’s not just more traction than the ’10 mode, grip also gives way in a more progressive fashion. And the magnetorheological dampers keep body motions more buttoned down. Well done Chevy,. Now get to work on that interior.
First Place: Porsche Cayman S
Opinions were split on the Cayman’s Macadamia Metallic paint job ($710), with most of our crew comparing the Porsche’s hue and shape unfavorably with farm-animal dung. Your humble servant, however, was taken back to an era before his appearance on earth in the late ’70s, to that time when anything and everything cool on wheels was painted brown. The other staffers, unfamiliar with Kojak, failed to punctuate every other sentence with “baby” or fastidiously wear aviator glasses.
HIGHS: Sumptuous cabin, glorious engine note, natural handling.
LOWS: Strangely soft brakes, gets surprisingly spooky on track with stability control off.
Inside, however, the Cayman gets universal praise for its comfortable cabin and rich materials. Two complaints: The seats do not sit well with Mister Robinson’s lower back (a lone opinion), and the nonintuitive steering-wheel shift buttons are easily set off inadvertently during hard driving. It’s a shame about those buttons because we were pleased overall with the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission, and proper paddles are coming. We do wonder, though, if saving $3420 by going with the standard six-speed manual might be a wiser choice.
But one major advantage of the PDK is its launch control when the transmission is paired with the Sport Chrono Package Plus option ($1320). Set the Cayman S in “sport plus,” mash the brake pedal, pin the throttle to the floor, watch the tachometer needle spin to nearly 7000 rpm, and slip your foot off the brake. The Porsche jumps from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, running even with the Grand Sport. The Cayman S also earned top honors for its skidpad grip, lane-change speed, and braking. But those are not all unqualified wins. The brakes, strong at first, showed fade during our on-road driving and got even softer during racetrack runs. Maybe it was due to the hard, test-laden 6000 miles showing on the Porsche’s odometer, but the Cayman earned third place in our subjective brake score, atypical for a Porsche. We achieved our lane-change and track-time results with the stability control on; when it’s deactivated, the Cayman’s back end gets squirrelly at the absolute limit. We didn’t have this problem on the street, where the Cayman exhibits the deft handling that makes it a perennial 10Best winner.
The Evora clearly wins any contest of steering-wheel feel, but the Cayman’s is sharper on turn-in and weights up nicely in corners. The Cayman delivers on the promise of being the all-around sports car. Its engine provides instantaneous response to throttle inputs and an exhaust note that is sure to induce goose bumps.
The Cayman’s ride, with its dynamic suspension ($1990), is classic German: taut and with minimal body roll but compliant on rough surfaces. And the Porsche provides its performance with more everyday usability than the Lotus or the Chevy. The Corvette, for instance, has more storage space, but its open hatchback means bags can get airborne under sudden braking; in the Cayman, your stuff is sealed in the front trunk or kept aft behind a bump that hides the flat-six engine. It’s not as fast as the Corvette, nor is it as nimble as the Evora, but the Cayman S combines the hard edges of a pure sports car with the convenience we’ve come to expect in modern cars at this price. It’s like a perfectly warmed bowl of porridge: just right.
THE VERDICT: If Goldilocks drove all three of these cars, this one would be deemed, “Just right.”
2010 Porsche Cayman S
320-hp flat-6, 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual, 3170 lb
Base/as-tested price: $62,450/$80,695
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.3 sec
100 mph: 10.6 sec
130 mph: 19.4 sec
1/4 mile: 12.9 @ 109 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 151 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.98 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 18 mpg
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