2006 Lotus Exige vs. 2006 Porsche Cayman S

2006 Lotus Exige vs. 2006 Porsche Cayman S 2006 Lotus Exige vs. 2006 Porsche Cayman S
Comparison Tests

Wait a minute, who called this meeting? Porsche Cayman S versus Lotus Exige? Track toy versus this new Porsche that's not quite a 911 but pretty damn close? You guys can not be serious.

It's true that the commonalities here aren't quite as comprehensive as you normally see - and we normally prefer - in most of our comparos. But the major comparative points are here: two seats, mid-engine, sports-car heritage, sports-car capabilities, and similar pricing. And if you think contrasto instead of comparo, it's easier to digest.

It was certainly easy enough to digest as an assignment. Oh - leave the frozen tundra of Michigan in mid-December for the benign climate of Georgia? Three days of putting a couple of brand-new sports cars through their paces? Including a day at Road Atlanta? Well, okay, guess we'll just have to leave that snow-blower repair for later.

Fact is, we had the same sense of mismatch going in as you may have right now. Like other Porsches, the Cayman hasn't forgotten its racing roots. But it hasn't forgotten that at least some owners might consider it as their one and only automobile, either. Which means the designers had to pay attention to mundane nonracing considerations such as NVH, luggage space, and even ride quality. In the everyday motoring world, man does not live by maximum lateral g alone.

The Lotus Exige pretty much ignores all the foregoing. It pays only the sketchiest lip service to the notion of achieving desirable ride quality, and luggage space is a joke, and who the hell cares about NVH when we're having all this fun? Hey, it's s'pozta make noise. You ever hear of a race car that didn't make noise? Where you from, dude?

We confess that we more or less misunderstood the Lotus concept when we first beheld the Exige at the Geneva auto show in 2004. Ah, an Elise with a fixed roof. More civilization, right? A little more viable as an all-around car, right?

Wrong. The top on the Exige is more permanently in place than the one that covers occupants in the Elise, in the sense that it's hard and bolted into place. Still, if it's a sunny day and you care to take the time to unbolt it, it's removable. Just leave it in the garage, and pray the sun keeps shining. And don't stray too far from home.

More important, the Exige makes no more concession to wussy creature comfort than the Elise. You're paying the extra $8000 for stuff that has nothing to do with comfort, unless we're talking about rarefied situations, such as feeling comfortable negotiating the downhill onto the Road Atlanta front straight close to flat out.

More on that later. But first, the weather report. We referred to Georgia's peachy meteorologics, and we actually experienced some of same on our arrival day, cruising to Atlanta Dragway in bright sunshine and about 60 degrees ambient. Perfecto.

It wasn't quite as wonderful the next day at Road Atlanta, as temperatures hovered in the mid-30s and clouds obscured the sun. Not a salubrious prescription for photography, but it didn't hold us back from lapping Road Atlanta's 2.54-mile layout, certainly one of the most entertaining and challenging circuits in this or any other country.

Day three, however, was fuhgedaboudit. The weather gurus were predicting rain, snow, and sleet overnight, and events vindicated the forecast. Driving a Lotus Exige with sticky low-profile Yokohama performance tires on icy roads or in standing water is about as much fun as walking a high wire treated with WD-40. We packed up and headed for the airport.

But even though the public-road component of this, uh, confronto was abbreviated, we emerged with a solid consensus regarding the results.