2010 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport vs. 2010 Lotus Evora, 2010 Porsche Cayman S - Comparison Tests
Strange Bedfellows: Three different approaches to the same sports-car goal.
June 2010 By Michael Austin Photography by Robert Kerian
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.
If the Elise was the original cocky teenager that set modern Lotus on the
road to driving-zen, the Exige represented the wildchild 20-something who got
experimental haircuts and a tattoo. Now we have the Evora, the 30-something who
got a gymmembership, a black turtle-neck and their own office. It's the same
person, just in different guises and I've been given a day with a brand new test
car and some mountain roads to see just how the little car from Norfolk grew up.
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 outhunks 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
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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. 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.
Inside, however, the Cayman gets universal praise for its comfortable cabin and
rich materi-als. 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
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
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
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.
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