It’s been variously belittled as a Boxster with a roof, or the Porsche that tells people you can’t afford a 911 … but the Porsche Cayman emerged in 2005 to quickly establish itself as one of the great driver’s cars.

Named after a type of alligator rather than the tax-haven islands whose residents certainly could afford far more expensive Porsches, the Cayman arrived in 2013 in all-new form for the first time in eight years.

We’ve reviewed the new Porsche Cayman in isolation both overseas and on home soil, but how does it fare against two natural rivals?

Sports car comparo104

We’ll be honest and reveal that this comparison wasn’t exactly strategically planned and was more a case of sports car planets aligning fortuitously.

Lotus test vehicles tend to be thin on the ground, and the one day an Exige S became available we just happened to have both a Cayman and the hottest version of the Audi TT in the garage.

It means it’s not quite the perfect match-up in terms of power.

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The Porsche Cayman S and its 239kW 3.4-litre six-cylinder is needed to be the direct competitor to the identically priced ($139,900) TT RS, which produces 265kW, and the $119,900 258kW Exige S.

But while the base Cayman has just 202kW, power is only one facet of the sports car contest under scrutiny as we set out to find which is the best driver’s car here…


ENGINES AND TRANSMISSIONS

Three sports cars, three different engine configurations. The Audi TT RS makes a nod to the company’s legendary 1980 Quattro with a transversely mounted 2.5-litre in-line five-cylinder up front.

Lotus and Porsche both offer six cylinders, positioned behind the driver, with the British car adopting a vee format 3.5-litre borrowed from Toyota while the second German’s 2.7-litre continues with the famous Boxer layout – with three pistons facing each other in a flat position and ‘sparring’ during the combustion process.

Only the Porsche makes do without forced induction to feed greater amounts of the atmosphere into the air/fuel mix, and it’s therefore not a great shock to see it generating the lowest outputs.

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The base Porsche Cayman produces 202kW of power at 7400rpm and 290Nm of torque between 4500 and 6500rpm.

In the middle of the power pecking order sits the supercharged Lotus Exige S with peak power of 258kW and 400Nm. Audi’s TT RS has the most impressive spec sheet, however, with its turbocharged five-cylinder cranking out 265kW at and 463Nm.

Wisely, the TT RS gets those high numbers to the ground via all four wheels rather than just the fronts as with lower-grade versions of the coupe – and a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

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Porsche and Lotus go the classic sports car route with rear-wheel drive. The former comes standard with a six-speed manual but our test car was equipped with the optional ‘PDK’ seven-speed dual-clutch auto, but the latter is stick-shift only with six gear ratios.

The TT RS is the second fastest model in the Audi catalogue (behind the R8 supercar), though even with the off-the-line traction advantages of all-wheel drive and a super-quick-shifting gearbox its ability to accelerate from zero to 100km/h in an impressive 4.1 seconds is just eclipsed by the Lotus.

Key to the Exige S’s stunning acceleration – 4.0 seconds – is the mantra behind every Lotus: light weight.

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Where the TT RS and Cayman tip the scales at a portly 1475kg and respectable 1340kg, respectively, the Lotus Exige S has a total mass of just 1176kg.

To put that in perspective, the Audi is carrying the equivalent of about four average-sized adults.

Still, acceleration from a standstill and through the gears is laughably quick in the Audi and Lotus.

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There’s no turbo lag worthy of mention in the Audi, and the Lotus’s mechanical supercharger provides even more linearity.

Shift quality of the Lotus’s manual isn’t great, though. It gets its engines from Toyota, but they should go to Honda for their gearboxes.

Even if you had an S badge on your Porsche Cayman, you still wouldn’t get close in a standing-start sprint – 4.9 seconds with a PDK transmission.

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In the standard Porsche Cayman, the experience is more progressive – and reflected by a 5.6sec time. But while it takes more time to build speed, the Porsche only feels a touch slow in this company and is incredibly rewarding in the way that every incremental press of the accelerator pedal translates into an incremental increase in momentum.

The yowling single-pitch from the rev-happy six-cylinder that’s such a bespoke Porsche sound is quite wondrous, and almost as addictive as the warbly tones of the TT RS that’s complemented by parps and crackles from the exhaust during hard acceleration.

The Lotus is, well, just noisy. It’s a bit of a din in the cabin, with supercharger whine mixing with a lot of road noise.

 

STEERING, RIDE AND HANDLING

Noisy the Lotus may be, but it seems a natural fit for a two-door that is more road-legal race car than sports car. The Exige S is a car that should come with a warning sticker – “For hardcore drivers only” – because it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Unlike the Audi and Porsche, there is zero focus on refinement and cosseting. And it requires more effort, mentally and physically.

The latter you’ll notice the first time you turn the wheel. With no power steering (purely hydraulic), and a tiny wheel, low-speed manoeuvres such as parking will feel like a work-out session at Gold’s Gym.

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That steering comes into its own, however, as speeds rise and the scenery switches from building backdrops to flowing fields.

It’s incredibly communicative, out-doing the Porsche’s new electric steering for relaying information from the road to the driver’s fingertips.

Every bump, every camber is telegraphed, though while the Lotus isn’t deflected from the driver’s chosen line it’s highly advisable to keep both hands on the wheel due to the Exige S’s brutal acceleration.

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The Lotus’s ability to gather pace with such great force is also reason to keep an eye on your speedo, because it would be all too easy to trigger a read-out on a police car’s radar gun that will illuminate sirens.

Around corners, there’s also tremendous traction from the rear wheels, and the brakes are simply brilliant.

The suspension of the Lotus Exige S is uncompromisingly stiff. It makes the Briton perfect for racetracks and okay for most roads. But as we found on our long test route an especially poor road will force the driver to back off … or face the prospect of the wheels losing enough contact with the bitumen for control of the car to fall into the lap of the gods rather than the driver.

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Extra suppleness in the underpinnings of the Cayman and TT RS meant the Porsche and Audi simply sail on, tempting the driver into adding rather than subtracting speed.

Audi’s Quattro division created a masterpiece in its R8 supercar, though it’s been a hit and miss case with its RS models that sit atop a number of the company’s vehicle lines.

The performance arm hasn’t been able to overcome some of the TT coupe’s bad traits. The TT RS’s suspension, propped up by low-profile, 19-inch wheels, crashes into the bump-stops over holes and is almost permanently fidgety – even struggling to settle on the freeway.

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The steering, too, isn’t a match for the rival helms here, short on feedback and heft.

Not all is lost for the Audi, however. The steering still offers plenty of precision and speed, while the flat-bottomed, perforated leather wheel feels great in the hands.

The quattro all-wheel-drive system provides exhilarating, sling-shot acceleration out of corners, and those 19-inch tyres produce high levels of grip.

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It’s heading into and driving through corners, however, where the nose-heavier front-engined Audi can’t match the delicate balance of the mid-engined Lotus and Porsche.

Here, you quickly forget about the Porsche’s relative lack of acceleration speed compared with the TT RS and Exige S, because in corners the handling is both supreme and sublime.

With its weight centred, like the Lotus, the Cayman turns into corners with more directness and speed than the Audi, then setting itself through bends with poise not even any other Porsche can match.

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A bigger footprint than the previous generation, through wider tracks and an extended wheelbase, helps the stability cause, as does a lighter body resulting from various parts being made from aluminium rather than steel.

One fact that continues to stun is that the Cayman is twice as stiff as its convertible twin, the Boxster – a car itself that is about as wobbly as an oak tree stump set in concrete.

The Porsche is a more relaxed mid-engined experience than the Lotus. The Cayman’s composure, whether mid-corner or under braking, is never compromised.

Despite such unerring body control, the Porsche’s suspension complies remarkably with road surface – though tyre roar can be loud at times. It’s the only car in this comparison that can be genuinely described as cosseting for long drives.

 

INTERIORS

Comfort isn’t a word you’re likely to use with the Lotus. Great in short bursts, you’ll be drained by driving the Exige S any fair distance.

Even getting into the car is hard, clumsy work. Your instinct will be to go legs first into the Lotus, but you actually need to go bum first.

Once you’ve contorted your body and gone for a drive, then you have to get out. It requires the sort of ungainly body manoeuvring you’d be more used to seeing in a game of Twister and makes the Exige S the last car you’d choose for arriving at a red carpet event.

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We mentioned earlier that the Lotus feels more like a road-legal race car, and the cabin does its best to impart a motorsport feel.

You would almost only have to add a fire extinguisher to the passenger footwell, remove the passenger seat and add a roll cage and you’d be ready to line up at a CAMS-approved racing event.

The Lotus’s interior is extremely basic, stripped to the bare essentials – even air-con is optional – and also quite cramped. Vision is good outwards but obscured rearwards by the combination of the sloping glass window and wing appendage (not that anyone will be overtaking you any time soon).

Quality is not always convincing. A piece of roof-lining fell off during testing, the passenger window wouldn’t rise completely into its sealing, and the rear hatch was difficult to shut flush with the body.

Audi TT RS interior

There will be a third-generation Audi TT in 2014, and although an RS version is likely to be at least two years after that the current cabin is inevitably fighting the ageing process.

That includes the absence of some features, such as auto on/off headlights and Bluetooth audio streaming, you’d expect in a new car released today – especially one costing $140,000.

Visually, there may be a few wrinkles if you compare the TT with more recent Audis but fit/finish and selection of materials is still impeccable.

The driving position, with its slightly higher seat elevation, isn’t quite as sports car perfect as the Porsche’s, though there is more adjustment than the Lotus that offers fore/aft movement only.

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The Cayman’s interior is hard to fault in other areas. Some of the buttons are a bit fiddly, but generally cabin ergonomics are excellent and the overall interior experience is more sophisticated than ever before thanks to the superb texture and quality of the leathers and plastics, and design.

The centre console that rises seamlessly into the centre stack transfers from other Porsches to bring more style and sophistication to the Cayman.

Practicality is usually a fair way down the list of priorities for sports car buyers, though both the Audi and Porsche are particularly good here.

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The TT RS’s hatch lifts to reveal storage space, and the rear seats – while not much use for humans – are another luggage solution, especially when folded down.

The previous Porsche Cayman was relatively handy for practicality, too, but the new model increases cargo capacity by a further 50 litres.

A total of 425 litres is split between the front ‘boot’ (150L) and the rear cargo section (275L). (Placing an engine in the middle of the car has advantages other than handling.)

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Exige S owners will find themselves stopping at the petrol station more regularly. Not only is the fuel tank significantly smaller at 40 litres, but the Lotus also uses the most fuel – 10.1 litres per 100km against 8.5L/100km for the TT RS and 7.7L/100km for the Cayman.

It’s just one of the many compromises the Lotus requests from owners in return for its riotous driving experience that in many ways feels like driving a grown-up go-kart.

But if sports cars are a niche, Lotus cars in Australia are an even smaller cranny. Buyers are typically well versed in the brand’s history and most would certainly be keen track day drivers, though $120,000 still seems steep for what you get from the Lotus Exige S – especially with the number of optional extras.

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The Audi TT RS doesn’t present an obvious price justification, either, when you compare it to the TT S that is still plentiful quick and is more than $40,000 cheaper.

A lack of ride comfort also reduces its everyday enjoyment, but that turbocharged five-cylinder is a pure joy to hear and exploit at any given opportunity.

Each member of this trio deliver thrills, but the best driver’s car here is also the car that is the easiest to live with on a daily basis.

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The comfort level of the Porsche Cayman that provides such sensational handling is almost super-natural.

You can buy the Cayman S for even sharper acceleration and outright speed, but if you can afford only the base model you’ll hardly feel cheated.

Germans may call this the poor man’s Porsche, but who cares when you get a driving experience so richly rewarding.

 

Audi TT RS
 
Price: $139,900
Engine: 2.5-litre 5-cyl turbo
Power: 265kW at 5500-6700rpm
Torque: 463Nm at 1650-5400rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption: 8.5L/100km
CO2 emissions: 197g/km
0-100km/h: 4.1 seconds
Weight: 1475kg

Lotus Exige S
 
Price: $119,990
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Power: 258kW at 7000rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 4500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 10.1L/100km
CO2 emissions: 236g/km
0-100km/h: 4.0 seconds
Weight: 1176kg

Porsche Cayman
 
Price: from $107,000 ($115,000 auto)
Engine: 2.7-litre 6-cyl
Power: 202kW at 7400rpm
Torque: 290Nm at 4500-6500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption: 7.7L/100km (8.2 manual)
CO2 emissions: 180g/km
0-100km/h: 5.6 seconds (PDK)
Weight: 1340kg (PDK)





  • DAVIDZ

    Yeap, Porker by a mile, pedigree, class, history, 911, racing etc etc
    Lotus Powered by Toyota, = KITCAR

    • Homer

      Oh OK so if it’s powered by Holden pushrod then it is a performance car. Hm you must be jealous of toyota reputation for being able to build a fairly good engine (not quite as good as Porsche or BMW) but definitely better than holden pushrod.

      • DAVIDZ

        And Holden and pushrods have to do with these 3 cars tested?
        FAIL

      • john

        What engine turned 52 years old this year? The chev small block aka holden pushrod. Used in everything from a taxi, touring car, top fuel dragster, shelby scc, hennessey venom etc. Not bad for an unreliable engine to still be going strong after 52 years of production. Yeah I would be jealous of that record too!

        • Phil

          The Holden pushrod V8, aka 253 and 308 was not the Chev small block. Furthermore, the Chev small block was discontinued in 2003, though still made for aftermarket and marine use. The other Holden pushrod was the inline 6, discontinued in 1986.

          But I do get your point, even if your facts are slightly wrong. It seems Homer has a beef with a modern engine using pushrods, despite the fact that the pushrod engines he dislikes are also capable of cylinder deactivation, will run on anything from E10 to E85 and are efficient in the low rev range where most vehicles spend their operating lives. The only thing missing from the comparison here was a Corvette, which would have at least given a reason to mention pushrod. But then, it’s faster than any of the others, that wouldn’t do at all…

    • Alasdair

      I think everyone knew the Porsche would win because of its combination of comfort and dynamics but you could hardly accuse Lotus of lacking pedigree or history, if such petty things count towards your buying decisions. You should buy a car because you enjoy it. I lean towards the Lotus myself because to me it seems the closest I could get to motorcycle-levels of involvement and fun without the possibility of crashing on tram tracks (looking at you, Riversdale rd)

  • azlan

    these cars would compare better with a cayman s. iv never been a porsche guy but id take the porsche for sure!

  • Yetiman

    You have to be lean and fit, Lotus for me.

  • RHCM

    Was there ever any doubt the cayman would win this?

    I think the other two are all about personal taste and flamboyance.

    I do think the TT-RS is pretty stupid. Lesser TT’s are great but really for that money you can get a cayman s or probably the new jaguar thing.

  • Sgt.Sweetchuck

    LOTUS
    Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious.

  • Dominique Vøn Hütch

    The TT RS looks the most exxy and the most unique.

  • $29896495

    So, just on Porsche price, 50k in Europe 115k here. Other than that, you didn’t mention the jerkiness of the transmission which German test drivers have complained of often. Still in manual form it’s one of my favourites.

    • mnuyw

      Since when was the Australian dollar at parity with the Euro?
      Porsche’s official German website says Cayman starts at 51,385.00 EUR. 1EUR=$1.44 AUS meaning the Cayman in Germany is $80,000 Australian.

      Regardless, I seem to remember you huwtm, in the recent new VW Golf Blue Motion article (among others), complaining about CA providing overseas prices converted into Australian dollars.
      Yet here you are leaving a comment on CA within which you’ve specifically provided a converted overseas price (which hasn’t even been converted properly).

      • $29896495

        Didn’t talk about parity YOU did. I meanly mentioned the fact of such a great difference in price also including the US (Where it sells for 50K), none of which is justified. You trying to pick on it as something else is simply childish. To simplify it for you ever if it is worth as you wrote $80K converted, by the time it gets here (my point) doesn’t justify an extra 65K or 30K+ DOES IT!? How about remarking about the VW transmission which even the Germans don’t like? In the mean time I like the car as a manual but not the profiteering.

        • k5

          This should look familiar huwtm:

          [written by huwtm in the VW Golf Bluemotion article 27th June 2013]
          “CA: Do you seriously think we are going to take our Australian Dollars and go and buy one of these things or any Euro car over there? Do you see how ridiculous putting in a conversion price is? Doesn’t take anything into account.”

          Now commence the rant where you try and hide yourself from being the hypocrite that you are.

          • $29896495

            Man you idiots the comparison is clear. 50k in Europe (not converting dollar to Euro) also 50K thereabouts, in the US. Here 115K. I’m talking profiteering you dill. WAKE UP AND THINK.

          • Phil

            50k, exchange rate 80k, plus ADR compliance, shipping, LCT, etc etc. Just how much profiteering is there really? I’m sure there’s some, being a fairly small market and prestige branding but I doubt it is severe as you imply by loosely throwing around unrelated figures.

          • $29896495

            All of that is required in other countries. So what’s your point. I used VW as generic in describing the type of dual clutch auto. Which was described as JERKY by Drive It tester. Understand?

            By the way you are talking retail not wholesale and not US dollars which cars are traded in. You are the one throwing figures around loosely. Bottom line is if they can afford to retail the car in the US (and less in the UK RHD) for the same money, they can do it for us as well.

          • Phil

            I was unaware that Europe and US are also required to comply with our ADR’s and are subject to our compliancing costs. I was unaware that those continents also impose luxury car tax, over and above regular taxes. As for wholesale cost, blind freddie knows that is dependent on volume, of which we have next to nothing compared to those two continents with a billion population between them. You have no idea of their costs and what they can and cannot afford to do. Stop pretending you do.

            Using VW as a generic term for a dual clutch transmission is wrong, you would just call it DCT which is the generic term. Angrily defending your mistakes doesn’t make them any less wrong.

          • $29896495

            All countries have equivalent if not stricter rules than ADRs remember crash test ratings started OS. Having to comply with our rules is no different to any one elses most if not all overlap.

          • poleta

            hehe….50K in Europe not converting to dollar to Euro?

            Ok, well if we’re not going to be relevant and convert currency, how about Japan: 10,000,000 Million or thereabouts for Cayman over there.

          • $29896495

            wholesale mindless. how about the US?

        • Phil

          What VW transmission? The PDK is a ZF/Porsche design, not VW’s Borg Warner based DSG. Completely unrelated.

  • Karl Sass

    Cayman for me : )

    • Zaccy16

      i agree, the new cayman specially s looks good inside and out but all is a hugely complete car!

  • Ivn

    Manual Cayman for me anyday…

  • GregR

    I guess constant use of ‘social-media’ must lead to such attitudes. I can’t believe you guys demean yourselves in this manner and it puts into question your gender. Its a while since I offered any comment and until the puerile bickering stops – I shall resist offering my adult opinions.

    • sam

      Speaking of attitudes, Greg, you might like to check yours. Implying that women are less than men is probably the most purile thing I have ever read on this site. Shame on you.

      • GregR

        OK Sam you have a point although I would never imply that women are less than men; I know the contrary to be true. Incidentally there is an ‘e’ in puerile – puer being the latin for BOY. Perhaps if I had composed my original comment with more care I would have emphasised that such bickering is childish without gender.

  • Johnno

    I’ll reserve judgement untill the Alfa 4c comes along. With a cheaper price, performance that betters the cayman and more practicality than the Lotus, Alfa may have a winner on its hands. Apparently the 4c is sold out untill mid way next year allready!! In the interim, the Cayman is one for me….

  • Billy

    Would take the Cayman despite the acceleration difference. Have been in the previous gen 2.7 and 2.9 Caymans plus a Boxster S and they were all excellent, so I can only imagine this one would be even better. The latest gen looks even better than the last, I would love to get my hands on the Cayman S…

  • Gus

    id take the exige, its the fastest, lightest and has a toyota camry motor. bullet proof engine with toyota reliability and cost and ease of maintenance. break something in the german cars and you may as well write it off, not worth fixing

  • TTRS4Me

    I own a TT-RS and you should treat yourself to a test drive… I bet you change your mind. The throttle note alone will have you grinning, let alone the neck cracking torque.

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