The notion of comparing the oddly matched couple of new Lotus Evora GT410 Sport with the latest Porsche 911 GT3 Touring might seem preposterous enough that I’d be lucky to even capture just one person’s interest. But one person’s curiosity counts, right? Even if that person is yours truly?
The impetus for this match-up is the Evora in newly arrived GT410 Sport form. At $179,990 list, it’s positioned between the perhaps more street-centric 400 and the heroically harder-core, track-focused GT430 Sport flagship. Interestingly, this brand-spanking circuit-ready road-goer is actually more affordable than either the 400 ($189,990 list) or GT430 Sport ($239,990 list).
Disclosure: I’m quite unfamiliar with the Evora. I drove some variant or another, once, years back. Besides being clearly larger, more commodious and easier to live with than the numerous Elises and Exiges I was more experienced with, further details on the Evora’s make-up and mettle are, frankly, somewhat hazy.
“Think of the Evora as 80 per cent street, 20 per cent track,” explains Lotus Cars Australia while introducing its new steed to me. “While the Exige is sort of the opposite.” Further, it seems that the Evora is often cross-shopped with the high-spec Porsche Cayman, says LCA. But while the head-kicking Cayman GTS is a price match for the Evora GT410 Sport, I’m told the Lotus would out-punch the Porsche for long-burn track-day durability once the gloves come off in pit lane. A stoush for another day perhaps.
In search of a street-fighting rival from Stuttgart for this twin test, we’ve arrived at the 911 GT3 Touring. Conceptually, its track-bred GT3 DNA tempered to its most road-friendly form. A sweet match then if you ignore pricing given its tip-in point is, at $326,800 list, vastly pricier than that of our Evora.
Further disclosure: I’m a wool-dyed, rosy-glasses-wearing 911 GT3 tragic. Every time I’ve driven one, others – mostly disgruntled colleagues – have had to pry me out of the damn thing like I was Gollum with “my precious”. This example is the same car we matched up against the Nismo GT-R a while back; the car that blew Kez’s preconceptions and swooned Mandy into voting the GT3 her Winners Circle nomination for 2018. “I told you so,” I might’ve smugly boasted last year…
No, those on an Evora GT410 Sport budget will find the 911 GT3 Touring an impossible stretch. But those with Porsche money might opt into the vastly more affordable Lotus, if it were to offer just as big a thrill and driver engagement on a fair-weather weekend punt, right?
There’s much to suggest they might offer similar experiences. Each is a larger, pricier two-plus-two option in their respective stables, which also offer smaller two-seat sports car stablemates (Boxster/Cayman and Elise/Exige). Each has six-cylinder motivation and manual gearboxes mounted to the serious end of the passenger cell.
Both promise ready-for-racetrack purpose inside and out, right down to standard (GT3) or optional (Evora) two-seat ‘stripper’ formats, laying on the carbon-fibre, the race seats, track-friendly braking packages and circuit-ready rubber thick and conspicuously. And yet neither is the hardest-core of its respective breed, each pitching degrees of road-going friendliness to temper their beastly sides, such as the absence of huge rear wings otherwise found on the regular GT3 or the Evora GT430.
They’re cut from similar cloth, then, if not really identical cloth, which extends through to engines that are born of race-bred engineering and are fit for an all-day flogging, be it road or track.
So let’s crunch some numbers. The GT3 Touring produces 368kW/460Nm from its 4.0-litre flat six, miraculous outputs given the boxer engine is naturally aspirated. Spinning to an incredible 9000rpm, it’s “taken from racecars such as the RSR and GT3 Cup,” says Porsche, and its fitment in the road-going Touring’s 1413kg form makes for 260.4kW per tonne. Performance claims are 3.9sec to 100km/h on its way to a 320km/h v-max.
The Lotus’s supercharged 3.5-litre V6 produces 306kW/420Nm and doesn’t spin quite as hard (7000rpm) to reach peak power, but its Toyota origins have been thoroughly track developed by Lotus to a variety of output levels, this ‘410hp’ version supplants that of the unit fitted to the Exige Cup R racecar as campaigned at the Bathurst 12 Hour in the past.
Installed in the 1320kg Evora GT410 Sport, it results in a heady 231.8kW per tonne and 4.2sec 0–100km/h performance with a 305km/h top speed. Although, depending on the option boxes ticked, the Lotus can drop its weighbridge ticket to just 1256kg (dry), or 243.6kW per tonne, for a potentially quicker accelerating package.
Academic advantage to Porsche, then, but there’s not a world of difference in stats is there? But number crunching is one thing, how fun and satisfying they are by the seat of the pants, uncorked during a sunny afternoon punt across a great piece of back road, is an entirely different premise at hand…
Cars of this magnitude demand the right kind of serious driving road, one requiring a fair amount of urban slog and highway cruising to access, time to settle into either, and acclimatise to either beast. A natural arc for the review narrative, perhaps, but instead we’ll delve into the pair’s liveability later and cut right to the twisty chase.
With Trent Nikolic and the Evora’s nose in the wing mirrors, I plunge the Porsche into the first succession of curves on my favourite go-to back road – a once great driving mecca chock-full of tight corners to keep the dynamics alert while keeping road speeds respectable and legal, if a road that’s been neutered recently by a 20km/h chop by the fun police. But despite Australia’s best efforts to become the world’s most boring place for punting capable machinery, the GT3 Touring begins piling on the fizz, the vibe, the reward, even though it’s only beginning to flex its dynamic muscles…
As hairpin switches back into blind sweeper, bends opening and closing in radius with rhythm, the GT3 has an uncanny knack of dialling up sensory intensity like you’re twisting a giant knob. There’s an inimitable, intoxicating, mechanical howl to the Porsche, its ever-presence rising in tone and volume, but it doesn’t truly come on song until the boxer spins up in the 5000–9000rpm zone, the engine’s operational sweet spot. But it is no mere passenger thrill ride, because the harder you dig and the more the intensity piles on, the more intimate the driver-machine relationship becomes.
The grip, the point, the poise – it’s all of it in enough abundance that you sense the Porsche is barely breaking a sweat. But these things aren’t central to the driving reward. Instead, it’s the synergy the car provides and the fluidity of its connection that’s at the core of the GT3’s greatness – a zen-like quality that either tamer or more ferocious force-induced 911s can’t deliver quite so undiluted. And this Touring version seems as hard-wired to the adventure as GT3s that sprout wings, rollcages, fire-extinguishers and six-point safety harnesses.
The GT3 magic is easy to experience first-hand, if trickier to explain. I’m convinced it centres around the linearity of the controls. So, a 13 per cent change in steering input alters a chosen line by precisely that amount; 33 per cent more throttle returns precisely one-third more shove; 24 per cent more brake pedal pressure adds…You get the point. It’s so intuitive and second nature to drive. And the harder you push, the more sublime accuracy is rewarded.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the GT3 is clearly too much car for this road at a pace that doesn’t breach into anti-social behaviour. Not that it’s too frisky or unruly, but because there’s obviously so much more headroom in its capabilities. And yet, between the joy of harnessing that magnificent engine’s 5000–9000rpm sweet spot and riding the dynamic lightning of its responses, it still manages to reach into my ribcage and give my soul a big, firm squeeze.
The convoy pulls up and I’m ready to spill a barrage of superlatives, when my colleague beats me to the punch, weighing in with a gushing appraisal of the Lotus peppered with language of a colour unsuitable for publication. I hadn’t wagered the Evora would have half a chance in the x-factor stakes against a mighty and proper GT3, but given Trent’s enthusiasm I’m suddenly unsure. And terribly intrigued.
The first surprise is that it’s easier to climb into the Lotus’s two-piece pews than the Porsche, which is lower set and has a nasty sharp edge to its aggressively shaped one-piece buckets that have no seatback adjustment. The cabin is airier than the Porsche, less ‘cocooning’, and chock-full of racy purpose, though the seat positioning and control placement are a little incongruent, as if everything is a centimetre or two off its ergonomically perfect location. It’s not quite as glove-fit as the Porsche, but its tiny wheel, satisfyingly chunky gearshift and more spartan fit-out certainly pile on the go-fast vibes.
Off the mark, its soundtrack is quieter and its steering lighter than the GT3, which I quickly discover is a deception of sorts. That’s because the moment you sink the right boot, the Evora feels measuredly more eager to thrust forward from the depths of its V6’s RPM range, such is the immediacy of the force-induced torque that, I soon discover, makes this car immensely driveable on the throttle. As the tacho needle swings harder, there’s a sort of light-switch moment where the blown six suddenly lets out a banshee wail that grabs your attention by the gonads. Hard.
The biggest surprise is the Evora’s sense of lightness, if perhaps because of some mistaken preconception pegging it as the ‘big, fat Lotus’. The blown V6 doesn’t so much propel the Evora’s lithe form as flings it effortlessly wherever the front wheels are pointed. It’s light on its rubber feet, extremely eager to respond to steering input, to track a line or obey a sudden change in direction, to a point that makes the Porsche feel hefty and – dare I say it – slightly dull and blunted around the dynamic edges. What an eye-opener!
The Evora is so robust and flexible in delivery, with such on-tap torque regardless of RPM, that it initially feels too much engine for the package. It digs in hard and early, whereas by contrast the Porsche tends to ‘swell’ its pace in a more linear fashion, as a result of modest outright torque (460Nm) at a very high RPM peak (6000rpm). Thus, you tend to roll into and out of the Lotus’s throttle between corners in places where you keep the Porsche buried harder.
The Lotus has a notchy if pleasant throw to the six-speed and nicely weighted, easy to use clutch. The electric-assisted steering, too, feels nicely mechanical and intimately connected to the road surface, nicely loading up the feedback through corners without excessive weight. Balance-wise, the Evora seems a bit more tied down in the rear than the GT3, which tends to rotate a little more eagerly with a throttle lift, but perhaps it’s merely a byproduct of yet another red-hot machine that hasn’t yet been pushed out of the merely warm zone at the risk of this scribe’s licence.
The key differences between the two competitors? The Porsche is more linear, more rounded and even in responses, offering slightly more detail in driver control. The Lotus lacks a little of its rival’s immediacy – turn-in and throttle response, for example – yet is generally more lively, returning a lighter and somewhat sharper general dynamic. Equally satisfying, if distinctly different, then. There’s no fear of either car losing its track-for-the-road vibe on the street, it’s just that you have to poke the Lotus quite firmly to release it, while the Porsche, by stark contrast, never seems to escape it.
What’s more common is that both cars are blisteringly quick, offer tremendous and seemingly unflappable road-holding grip, and clearly have much more on tap left in their reserves to return a wilder ride given the opportunity of the wider real estate afforded by the safety of a racetrack.
It would’ve been an easy loss to either camp in a dull on-road experience through some decent curves. But both cars do pile on the sort of frisky mojo and thrill factor that’ll plaster a split-melon grin on the faces of experienced driving enthusiasts who pedal them hard. This isn’t necessarily the case with a lot of fun machines: I’ve punted hot hatches, hi-po super sedans and supercars along these same back roads, at times finding them overdriven, wallowy and wayward, and meanderingly droll respectively while keeping the pace properly road legal.
But what about the rest of the ownership experience? Well, frankly, the Evora is a whole lot easier to live with day to day.
As glorious as the GT3 sounds, it never shuts up. Whereas the Evora has proper Jekyll-and-Hyde bipolarity, the Porsche has a singular, one-dimensional character that’s ever-present but merely louder or quieter depending on circumstance. As a result, for example, the glorious howl beyond 5000rpm becomes a fatiguing drone to its exhaust between 2000–3000rpm, right where the engine ticks along during the bulk of on-road driving.
Further, the short-stacked manual leaves the engine spinning around 2900rpm, right in DroneVille, when in sixth and top gear at 110km/h on a motorway. That the Touring lacks a proper cruising top gear, as you’d find in seven-speed 911s, does raise questions over its ‘touring’ credentials.
Surprisingly, the Evora’s passive suspension tune is more pliant and even tempered than the GT3 adaptive system’s softer setting, which thumps and jolts across even the smallest of road acne. Neither car is immune to ever-present tyre noise, yet the din isn’t as conspicuous in the Lotus at around-town speed. Strangely, neither the suspension nor exhaust mode buttons seem to do anything to temper the Touring’s firm and noisy nature, which further suggests Porsche hasn’t really put much effort into tempering the hardcore GT3 package further for improved daily driven friendliness.
Format, vibe, execution, pricing… even the cost-option structures, where Lotus offers different suspension tunes while Porsche charges extra for red seatbelts and a reversing camera, target quite different and quite specific buyer types. And yet both machines fulfil in abundance in the narrow niche they aim to fill: bona-fide track DNA and capabilities easily and accessibly harnessed to pulse-racing effect at sane speeds on public roads.
Not-so-different strokes for different blokes and ladies, then.