Three of the best mid-tier track cars available today, all with similar weight and power. Yet, their characters are distinct. Different layouts, footprints, and levels of focus separate these three beauties, which all have strengths and weaknesses of their own. As you might imagine, the Cayman GT4 might be the best all-rounded vehicle in this lineup, brought to us by Sport Auto and their wonderful test driver, .
From the start, it's obvious how the Cayman is confidence-inspiring. Sharp steering and a neutral balance are two ways which the Porsche works with the driver. Note the benign understeer leaving the Hockenheim GP Circuit's Turn 2. Not fighting the car out of slower corners preceded by big braking zones can be a challenge, since keeping the platform balanced while trying to stop and follow the intended line is tricky. In fact, we can see how it steps out when the rear can't quite handle the power in Turns 6 and 8 (1:46 and 2:33), though even while oversteering, the Cayman looks confidence-inspiring.
It has to be said that, wearing the N1 version of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, the Porsche has a little more grip than the others. Nevertheless, its balance and damping add to the total picture. Traction is stellar for the power levels, and the way it rides curbs and remains stable through faster corners only add to this Cayman's clear dominance here. It also has the widest footprint of all three cars.
The BMW is the most mellow of three. The engine placement has something to do with a milder breakaway, and that might make it best suited to the novice driver. However, the obvious traction limitation hinders it in the technical sections when a lot is asked from the rear ( 4:43). Having to tiptoe around sections where the Cayman and the Exige confidently put their power down might be the M2's greatest limitation. As capable, quick, and reassuring as it is, it just lacks that little bit of urgency and surefootedness that the mid-engined rivals have. In fact, the Lotus might even beat the Cayman in that department.
The Exige couldn't be fairly described as the Dark Horse in this company, but it is the outsider in many ways. Obviously, it lacks the refinement of the other two, but look at the size of that company and tell me that Lotus could ever hope to compete with the big marques, at least on that level.
But these are track-oriented cars and we should judge them accordingly. The limitations there are, most notably, the transmission—the Exige is also the only car here with an h-pattern gearbox. That lengthened shift time, combined with the least power in the group, undoubtedly handicaps the Exige along Hockenheim's straights and power sections.
A serious tire stagger keeps the car from oversteering much, though it does let go abruptly when the rears are finally overwhelmed. Perhaps this edgier character won't appeal to the novices, but there's no denying it's more alive, crisp, and challenging than the others. Fast snaps keep its driver on their toes, and only those comfortable with a car moving around underneath them at higher speeds could consistently push in a car like this.
Whichever the pick, the lap times are similar enough to make most drivers' talent the limiting factor. Off the circuit, it might be the BMW that's best for a weekend getaway; the Lotus might leave one's date feeling like she's spent her Saturday looking out of a paint mixer. For that reason, the reasonably spacious and very accurate Cayman gets my vote.
Which car gets yours?