It's also leagues better than the Evora's gear change. Such a pity, this, because the Evora is a properly fast car. In one direction while figuring this very car for our road test, nearly full of fuel and with two occupants on board, I returned a 4.36sec one-way 0-60mph sprint. Traction, engine response and power aren't the problem. The problem is that damned gearbox. We're confident future Lotuses will get a twin-clutch unit but, for now, the Toyota manual is at the limit of what it can do, and it's just not up to scratch for a $75,000 car.
This particular Cayman R was fitted with Porsche's carbon-ceramic brakes, which may be a $8,150 option but are superb. They're accompanied by brake pedal feel that's firm, but pleasingly so if you're leaning on them heavily and ripping through downshifts.
The Lotus's steel discs resist fade admirably, too, but there's some slop at the top of the pedal's travel, an issue if you're braking gently. Under harder braking and downshifting they're fine, as is throttle response (albeit slower than the Porsche's), then it's just that gearshift again. By the time we arrive at the test track, it's the Porsche occupants who are more satisfied (albeit hotter and more bored, perhaps).
It's never that easy, though, to dismiss the magic that Lotus can work with a chassis. All right, trying it on the company's home turf may seem an advantage, but it works wherever we've driven it. Our road tester and astute car-picker Vicky Parrott asked, just as we headed out onto the dry handling circuit: “Would you really have one over a Cayman, though?” “Nah,” we thought, making our way out on track. “Yes,” we reckoned, on the way back in, having stayed out way beyond our allotted time slot.
It's that good, the Evora S's chassis. The way it rides would shame plenty of executive cars. And on these roads it's just sublime. It's not a hilly place, but there are dips, crests and awkward cambers aplenty and the Evora S is utterly unfazed by them.
The key to its brilliance, for me, is the way it retains its composure and your intended cornering line even when several different things are asked of it at the same time. Brake for a corner, start to turn in while the front is loaded with braking forces and then introduce an off-camber or a pothole, and where most cars jar through the steering or need correcting, the Lotus just does what you originally wanted it to, without corruption to its steering. Its body is immaculately controlled and the steering is the best system on the market today at filtering out the bad bits while retaining solid road feel.
There are few cars that could compete with the Lotus. Not just here, but anywhere. We're accustomed to Porsches – especially the more sporting ones – being harder-riding than Lotuses, of course, but the Cayman R has a pretty deft chassis setup of its own. It rides lower than a Cayman S by 22mm and has firmer springs and dampers, while a new aero pack also gives it greater negative lift than other Caymans.
So it must be down to the tuning and those lighter wheels that mean, while it's bumpier over lumpy asphalt than the Lotus, it settles quickly and its steering seems lighter, slicker and more free from static and friction than a regular Cayman setup. It steers marginally less fluidly than the Lotus, but we're talking margins here; there are things to like about both, and the Cayman is similarly loaded with road feel. I far prefer its all-around steering wheel rim, too. On challenging roads, the Cayman runs out of chassis compliance slightly sooner, and you'll be slightly less amazed by its depth of ability – but you'll be having no less fun.
Standard on the R (and unavailable on the Lotus) is a limited-slip differential. So, although the Porsche responds to turn-in demands with greater enthusiasm than a standard Cayman, or the (heavier) Lotus, it nudges into understeer sooner, even on the road. To find out how much sooner, we took them both to Lotus's new Hethel test track and, to even up the home advantage, the Lotus to MIRA and the Cayman to Porsche's experience center at Silverstone.
Frankly, you take your choice on this one. The Lotus grips for longer and resists the onset of understeer for longer. It can be balanced on the throttle in a nicely neutral position, but trail the brake or lift the gas and then give it a satisfying bootful and the Evora slides playfully and progressively.
The Porsche, thanks to its more aggressive differential, is more eager to do one or the other. It's satisfying enough – and plenty fast – to drive up to its limits and nudge into understeer. But it's better, although snappier, to similarly give it a lift or trail a brake and bring the rear into play. There isn't the quite the Evora's outright playfulness, but it's sharp and rewarding. Definitely not a Cayman GT3, but certainly a Cayman S plus a worthwhile 10 or 15 percent of extra loveliness.
Which is where we came in. In S form, there's little holding the Evora back. Over a standard Cayman S, I'd be as tempted as anyone to pick the Lotus. The extra power liberates even more of its chassis' brilliance (though it could take more still) and, even though the rest of the drawbacks remain, it's as good a car as it's going to be.
The Cayman R, on the other hand, is a car whose maker is still holding it back. It could be better still, were it allowed. Even so, this few extra percent are enough to clinch it for me. It's the first Cayman I've desired as well as admired. The Evora S is a great-handling car. The Cayman R is just a great car.