Right, first thing's first. Disclosure time. It's very difficult to compare the Evora 400 with just about any car. It's a mid-engined 2+2 for a start (find me another one of those in production), it's around £75,000-£80,000 with options (around $100,000 stateside) and has 400bhp. I should know, I counted them. That's bhp by the way, not PS.
Now if you try and compare this with a Cayman, like many do, there's a fundamental flaw - the Cayman doesn't have back seats. Depending on your circumstances, this could be either a dealbreaker or totally irrelevant. If, like me, you just see the back as extra storage then it's a valid comparison. BUT, then the Evora looks expensive because it's pricier even than the Cayman GT4 (around £65,000 base price, but with any German car, you'll spend a fair bit in the options list).
Compare it with a 911 and things go off again. Even a modestly specced basic 911 Carrera is well over £80,000 now - with over £100,000 possible if you start looking at an "S". There are also a lot of people who'll not consider a 911 because, well, it's a 911. Prejudices run deep. Or perhaps like me they've been to car parks in London where 911s outnumber Ford Focuses and they want something a little bit different.
Evora Sport 410 would be the natural rival to a Cayman, but 400 will have to make do for now
Technically speaking, the correct rival for a Cayman might actually be Lotus' latest version of the Evora 400 - the Sport 410. Lotus have taken Porsche's philosophy of charging more for less to heart. The car's 70kg lighter than the already fairly trim Evora 400 (1325kg rather than 1395kg). However, that figure does not include sound deadening, air conditioning or a stereo - some of which you may or may not be able to live without. It does however include plenty of carbon goodies on the bodywork and a pair of very racy seats on the interior.
BUT I don't have an Evora Sport 410 to hand. I asked Lotus to borrow it, but they were busy lending it out to proper journalists. Never mind. So I'll ask you to ignore it, for now. In the same way I'm going to ask you to ignore the list price of the Cayman. It's not the car's £70-ish thousand RRP. Nope, market forces, magazine reviews, speculators, have all played their part and so this Cayman was £95,000. I've seen others go for six figures. But as Porsche didn't build them at that price, I'll let that one go.
There isn't much you can park an Evora 400 next to, in that shade, and have it look relatively subtle.
Right, so onto our comparison proper. For some reason, Lotus cars rarely photograph that well. Certainly not the modern ones. The Evora usually comes across as a bit awkward in photos. In reality, it's wide, low-slung and in 400 guise looks very aggressive. Put it next to the Cayman and it's noticeably lower. The Porsche looks much chunkier. It's aggressive in its own way. It doesn't have the sharp angles of the Evora's haunches, but the front lip splitter is aggressive and there's THAT wing. No-one's missing that.
Lotus have always been fond of fibreglass, no secrets there. The modern material however is a genuine composite - it's got all sorts of strands in there, so I am told. It isn't actually as strong as traditional fibreglass - because it doesn't need to be. The Evora's body rigidity comes almost entirely from the bonded extruded aluminium chassis. Don't think this is some oversized Elise though - it's a much more complex application of the technology. Unlike the Elise, it's in three parts, meaning crash repairs are not an automatic write-off in the event of a decent front or rear whack.
Evora Chassis technology means a future convertible would not suffer any weight or rigidity penalties
Despite all this, however, it's actually the Cayman which is lighter on the scales. By quite a bit, actually. Porsche claim 1340kg vs Lotus' 1395. What isn't clear, however, is whether Porsche's figures include Sat Nav, AC or other creature comforts. The Lotus is however slightly more powerful - 400bhp playing around 380.
The weight disadvantage of the Lotus may have something to do with the powerplant Lotus use. There's no escaping it, it's a Toyota V6 from the Camry. In this application, it sounds bloody good and it works very well. But achieving that power figure involved bolting a supercharger on the car and fitting a chargecooler. All that plumbing adds weight. So they're evens on the spec sheet, or as near as can be.
On the interior front, it's an interesting tale. Lotus interiors have come on leaps and bounds, but they are still some way behind the build quality of the Germans - at least in feel. It doesn't help when you recognise the light switch from a Vauxhall Mokka. The only difference being the Mokka has automatic lights and the Evora doesn't. In Lotus' defence, however, the interior does feel very bespoke. There's leather (or alcantara, if specced) everywhere and you do not need to go mad in the options list to make it look like a proper car. The Porsche's interior is certainly a nice place to be, but it isn't significantly different from any other current production Porsche. Which is a bit of a shame.
GT4's interior is very... Porsche.
If there's little to differentiate between them standing still, I'd hoped getting them out on the road would prove a deciding vote. How wrong I was. No matter how you compared the two, they continued their little tit-for-tat exchange. I expected the Porsche's gearchange to be sublime. It was. But Lotus have improved the shift on the 400 to the extent that it's actually enjoyable, and not any sort of hindrance to making swift progress.
I knew the steering in the GT4 was electric, but you had to really think about it to discern any differences. The key messages were all there and the steering weighted up beautifully in the corners. It was perhaps missing a fraction of the texture of the 400 - but you'd have no complaints about it, really.
If you look at the spec sheets and read other reviews, you might expect the long gearing of the Cayman to frustrate. It doesn't. The engine feels torquier than the numbers would suggest (actually a smidge more torque than the Lotus, but delivered higher up the rev range). 2nd gear will break the national speed limit, but then it will in the Lotus too. Another draw. Damnit. The Cayman does pick up very nicely at 5,000rpm and really runs for its redline, something I didn't expect. The Lotus is very linear and perhaps feels a touch slower - even though the opposite is probably true.
Suspension is an area where I really expected the Lotus to take a lead. I had a 996 C4 on sports suspension once and I can still feel the bumps, years later. Despite being on fairly rough B-roads, the Cayman rode pretty well. It wasn't *quite* as well damped as the Evora, but we're talking 5-10% here - not 50%. The harder setting seemed suited to a track, but not boneshaking. This is a very well damped car.
In the interests of fairness, I put the GT4's owner in the drivers seat of my Evora and his conclusion was the same as mine - it's very hard to pick fault in either car. In fact, the conclusion we both came to was this:
If you're looking at these two cars, you've probably decided which one you prefer already. And nothing is likely to sway your opinion. Go on, be honest, you knew which one was the winner before you read the article, didn't you? I drove the GT4 with great trepidation because I was fearful it would show up my 400 - it didn't, and the Lotus more than held its own. In fact, the only real reasons I can think for picking one or the other have nothing to do with the way they drive. You need back seats? Get the Evora. You want a big wing? Get the GT4. Track day enthusiast? They're both brilliant, but the Evora's exhaust is an issue that Lotus are working on (it's bloody loud).
Perhaps the greatest shame is that people's prejudices will mean very, very few people actually drive both. I know plenty of Lotus enthusiasts who think any product of Stuttgart is some soul-less Eurobox not worth a moment of your time, and I know plenty of German car enthusiasts who think any Lotus will fall apart the moment you leave the dealer's forecourt. Lotus have never sold as many Evoras as they should, and Porsche decided to not sell as many GT4s as they could. Which is a shame, because these are two superb examples that in the second decade of the 21st Century, we are still making superb driver's cars.