BMW M2 CS, Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, Lotus Exige Sport 410
Fun grenades in a character test
It’s just after half past seven, the sun is slowly disappearing from the horizon, but the driving pleasure is once again endless. The M2 CS is eager for the last curves of the country road from Kirchberg an der Murr to Affalterbach. Yes, the BMW is about to trundle through Mercedes-AMG’s front yard. How cheeky.
When accelerating out of the double right, the two superchargers blow up the turbo engine with noticeably more pressure between 2,000 and 2,500 rpm. With an extra burst of torque, the top two – F87 series – emulates the climax. Braking, shifting down a gear via the left steering wheel rocker: The left-hand bend settles into the landscape, and the CS spirals into it. The combination for absolute driving pleasure is immediately apparent: light steering input, but all the more throttle. The six-cylinder makes it easy. There is hardly any turbo lag. The dual-clutch transmission keeps the car in gear, the gas pedal clings to the right shoe sole, the rear end pushes harder and harder until the lateral forces break through the grip of the tires and the M2 whoops around the corner, oversteering. Simply marvelous, how the transitions flow between grip and slide. Great on the country road, not quite as practical on the race track in the search for the last tenth.
On the BMW, the rear wheels sometimes spin at full throttle from 5,000 rpm – especially with cold semislicks. Great on the country road, not quite as practical on the race track in the search for the last tenth.
You fall for it, luckily the next bend is already waiting, this time to the right. Again the Bavarian twirls around, and before the road then unfortunately continues relatively straight in the direction of Affalterbach, it gets to live it up once more in an ultra-long left-hand bend: in fifth gear uphill with squealing tires.
This car is addictive. The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 is no different. However, it’s more at the mercy of performance. You feel that immediately after swapping places: lower seating position, crisper roll, tighter build-like a muscle shirt compared to a sweater. Where the CS already wags, the rear still sticks rock-solid to the asphalt. The mechanical grip is on a much higher level.
On the BMW, the rear wheels start to spin at full throttle from 5,000 rpm – especially with cold semislicks. The GT4, on the other hand, successfully fends off too much slippage with its mechanical anti-roll bar. Its set-up is designed to hurry around corners as nimbly as possible. Like in racing: in fast, out fast, without losing time. Or to put it another way: the M2 CS likes to make a racket, although performance is also anchored in its chassis. Take slalom, for example: the two-wheeler whizzes around the cones at 72 km/h – in fourth gear, nice and quiet, with minimal oversteer and no load changes. However, the GT4 makes even more of an attack. 74 km/h! Any questions?
Compared to the GT4, the M2’s dual clutch doesn’t hit the shift points quite as smoothly. My tip: Save the 3,900 euro surcharge, forgo the few tenths in acceleration, and shift manually instead.
The Cayman GT4 shines with precision on fast country road trips. The dual-clutch transmission always seems to know which type of curve the driver is in, shifts down several gears at lightning speed under hard braking, intersperses intermediate throttle, engages second gear on slow switchbacks or holds fourth gear during quick changes in direction.
The paddle shifters are less in use than in the BMW, whose dual clutch doesn’t hit the shift points quite as dreamlike – compared to the GT4, mind you. Personally, in the case of the CS, I would save the 3,900 euro premium, forgo the few tenths in acceleration, and shift manually instead. This type of transmission simply suits its character a bit better, which doesn’t place performance above fun. Speaking of manual gearboxes, the Lotus Exige Sport 410 has one, and its image sprint time of 4.2 seconds places it between the M2 CS and the Cayman GT4 – as does its 72.6 km/h in the slalom.
Engine as sensitive as a nerve
The GT4 is like a magnet. The way it stands alone, in racing yellow: 4.45 meters long, almost two meters wide with exterior mirrors, the muzzle not even knee-high, the roof just up to the chest, large rear wing, diffuser, two tailpipes.
In terms of base price, the three are in similar spheres. In their essence, however, they drift apart. The CS takes it literally, whereas the GT4 is looking for the last straw and lives out this urge in all situations. Meandering on country roads is one of its specialties. Right, left, right, left: Light throttle slips can be used to intersperse targeted load changes that push it even harder into the bend.
Just look at the way it stands there, in racing yellow: 4.45 meters long, almost two meters wide with exterior mirrors, the muzzle not even knee-high, the roof just up to the chest, large rear wing, diffuser, two tailpipes. The driver sits in the 5,220-euro CfK shell, behind which Porsche bolts a roll cage (3,828 euros). This sports car acts like a magnet. You’re taking notes at the side of the road, and suddenly there’s a roar from the left side window. Two guys grin in: “Hey man, cool car!”
And the Lotus? The Exige radiates even more appeal. With its exterior appearance and sparsely clad interior, it seems a bit out of time – and that’s precisely why it goes down so well.
At any rate, when stationary it makes even the Cayman look pale, despite its color. Extroverted and elegant: The Exige is as rare in Germany as a sober person in a pub after a soccer match. You don’t even see them much in England, unless you happen to be at Lotus’ headquarters in Hethel. As soon as the Exige is off the transporter, one of the Instagram girls whizzes out and shoots short clips for fifteen minutes.
The Exige scores with its low weight. The losses in everyday use are gladly accepted. The performance is similarly even as with the Boxer.
But let’s stay with the Cayman GT4 for now. Traffic is good on this Thursday morning. The highway gives up the speed limit. What the Cayman does there belongs under species protection. It’s enough to curl your toes to get the four-liter naturally aspirated engine going. An engine like a nerve! Let’s live the fascination to the full. PDK and chassis set to Sport, full throttle: The transmission hammers third gear in within what feels like half a second. The six-cylinder engine is eager to rev up and demands it. It should have.
Lotus highlight: the steering
At 5,500 rpm it gets its second wind, pours out 430 Nm, and initially seems to know no limit. 6,000, 7,000 – it roars into your ear from behind, and despite the gasoline particulate filter, it lets the orange needle in the tachometer jerk over 7,500 and only stop at 8,000 rpm. The boxer begs for the next gear. To put it another way: The Cayman GT4 doesn’t live on the engine alone. It simply curves around all bends too quickly for that. But you wouldn’t want to be without the six-cylinder naturally aspirated engine after the first rev.
The Exige’s 3.5-liter six-cylinder nags at you from the rear with complete abandon. In Race mode, all inhibitions drop from 4,500 rpm. The flap in the exhaust tract opens, the compressor engine compresses the tunnel and shakes the surroundings with a metallic undertone. The power unfolds similarly evenly as with the boxer. The Lotus doesn’t come close to the revving pleasure of the Porsche Cayman, which reaches over 7,500 rpm. At 7,000 rpm, the supercharger delivers its maximum output of 416 hp – and rattles directly into the rev limiter. When it comes to power-to-weight ratio, the Lotus is no match. The power is matched by a mere 1,146 kilograms. That’s 335 kilograms less than the GT4 and a whopping 442 kilograms less than the M2 CS.
The steering is the highlight of the British model. It stands out due to extreme resistance – after all, it lacks servo assistance. It directs practically every joint through the Alcantara rim into the driver’s palms.
In the BMW it’s the agile rear end, in the Cayman the naturally aspirated engine, and in the Exige the steering is the highlight. It stands out with its extreme resistance – after all, it lacks power assistance. It directs practically every joint through the Alcantara rim into the driver’s palms. The Exige devours fast turns just as dynamically as the Cayman – with a lower steering angle. The steering wheel is so small, the impact of the front wheels so precise: it’s a bit reminiscent of karting.
The interior is grouped around the long aluminum gear stick. It requires the right guidance – like a dancer and partner who first have to find the rhythm together before they can sweep across the dance floor together. Tearing in the gears doesn’t work. It’s easy to get tangled up, especially on the way from fourth to fifth gear. You need the right mix of firm handshake and sensitivity. Then the gear stick clatters its way through the lanes, along the right thigh.
In the chassis made of bonded aluminum without much storage space, you feel like a nut in a shell. The view to the rear is – well, let’s say – limited. At least the panorama is right. You get a glimpse of the road through two louvers and see the engine through the Plexiglas window – like a PC with a transparent casing.
Cayman GT4 fails on the brakes
The GT4 is the true sports car for the race track in this comparison, but it fails in its main discipline. It decelerates below its level in the braking test. Or rather, below the otherwise so high Porsche level.
The engine hisses, the bumps shake, and the 404-kilogram front axle is precisely threaded onto the ideal line via the steering: On the racetrack, the Lotus feels much faster than it is. It’s 1.7 seconds behind the BMW and 2.7 seconds behind the Porsche. The time lags at the exit of the corner. The lock is missing, which applies the torque correctly and prevents the unloaded wheel from spinning. This results in lost propulsion. The brake, on the other hand, works formidably.
On the CS, the lap is determined by the search for grip. There is grip, but only in a relatively narrow window. The M2 loves to go sideways with a bit too much throttle. Together with the comparatively high weight, this drives up the air pressures, which further reduces grip – a classic vicious circle.
The only way out is to adjust the pressure. In principle, this applies to everyone, but BMW makes a science out of a simple matter. The culprit? The tire pressure monitoring system, which unfortunately takes an extremely long time for the necessary initialization – up to two GP circuit laps at low speed. And that’s with every air pressure correction, which is a real drag in tight track time windows.
The GT4 is free of such electronic escapades, dominating as usual but not shining. It is the true sports car for the racetrack in this comparison, but fluffs in its parade discipline. The brakes, of all things, are the Porsche’s undoing. Rather inconspicuous on the lap, the Cayman decelerates below its level in the braking test. Or rather, below the otherwise high Porsche level. Despite optimum balance. Despite semislicks. 34.4 meters from 100 km/h-too much to secure victory. Instead, the favorite is thwarted on points by the M2 CS and Exige.
The Cayman GT4 is actually unbeatable in terms of performance. But the brakes spoil the result. The M2 CS is a fun grenade. But so is the M2 Competition – for considerably less money. The Exige only turned up for the comparison test at the last moment – and is just the right splash of color. So light, so cheeky, so oldschool in comparison.