Toyota Camry Vs. Lotus Evora 400: Track Test

Two very different cars with one very similar engine.

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DW Burnett/Puppyknuckles

The Lotus Evora is one of the greatest cars of the last decade. A reminder that light is right, bloat is bad, and that a raw connection with a machine eclipses anything that a computer can do to a car.

But it's not perfect. It only has two doors. The mid-engine layout means that the rear seats are only suitable if your passenger is a contortionist with no legs. It's loud. The seats lack padding. The radio is something I could have sold you when I worked in the auto department at Walmart. This all combines to make it awful as an Uber.

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Yet, there is a car that has a naturally-aspirated version of the engine from the Evora 400 as well as a roomy backseat, a radio that wasn't purchased from the Crutchfield catalog, and a quiet and comfortable interior. That car is the Toyota Camry, the choice of urban Uber drivers–and passengers–all over our great country.

The newest Camry has an updated 3.5 liter V6, the 2GR-FKS, now with direct and port injection combining to make 301 horsepower. Lotus has been using Toyota engines for years, most notably with the 1.8-liter inline-four from a Celica, Matrix, Corolla, and more powering the Elise and the 3.5-liter V6 in the Evora and Exige. Lotus adds a supercharger and new engine management software to that V6 to give the Evora 400 horsepower, which is where it gets its name, if you didn’t already guess.

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DW Burnett/Puppyknuckles

Most people, other than the most eagle eyed amongst you, can’t tell these two cars apart at a glance. That made us think that perhaps we wouldn't be able to from behind the wheel either. While we couldn't get in blindfolded and start driving as that'd likely result in a number of issues, like catastrophic accidents, we could take both cars to a controlled environment and drive them as quickly as possible to see if the engine similarities would add up to a similar driving experience.

Our chosen controlled environment was Lime Rock Park. Not only is it a tight bullring and one of the great, historic tracks in this country, but its combination of elevation change and corners that require an exceeding amount of commitment shines a spotlight on a car's brilliance and its flaws.

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We've driven the Evora in every trim that the company currently offers, each with its own character and intent. The one thing they all have in common is an eagerness, a willingness to perform and run ragged lap after lap on any track. On Lime Rock's 1.5 mile circuit, the Evora 400 is nothing short of brilliant, even during a day that had conditions range from windy and chilly to windy, rainy, and chilly.

Those conditions didn't hamper the Evora's performance. Instead, the Evora put on a masterclass of how a car should behave. It all comes down to communication. A good car will give you an idea of what's going on at all times. A great car will relay information to you as it happens, an Instagram Story from a 14-year old at a Taylor Swift concert.

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Every input, be it braking, steering, acceleration, or a gear change, is a flood of information you didn't even know you were asking for, but you now can't live without.

And at the heart of it is that supercharged, 3.5 liter V6. With 400 horsepower, it's not an engine with numbers that astonish. In a world where a Dodge family sedan makes nearly double the Evora's output , it might even be thought of as underpowered. What it has is the appropriate amount of power for what it's trying to accomplish. The engine screams to its upper register like Randy Jackson; not the American Idol judge but the lead singer of Zebra, which, if you didn't know, is an American rock band with one song I quite like. But I digress. The engine doesn't dominate the conversation, it actively participates and works in harmony with the rest of the car, particularly the chatty steering, compliant suspension, and stiff chassis.

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DW Burnett/Puppyknuckles

Over the course of dozens of laps of Lime Rock, the little Evora asks you to push deeper into the braking zone, to get on the power earlier, and to just go quicker. And because it's talking to you the whole time, if you start to lose it, you know just how to correct to bring it back into line. It's a sweetheart.

On the road, the Camry is also quite the sweetheart. Comfortable and surprisingly quick, it's easy to spend an entire day in one without issue. It's clear why this car and its many variants are ubiquitous in driveways across the country, why anyone looking for ‘a car’ automatically thinks of the Camry, and why they’re equally adept as New York City taxis and as family haulers.

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The performance isn’t quite the same on track.

Since its engine has an exotic car pedigree, the Camry came in to this test with high expectations. First impressions are positive too. Once the driver aids, like traction control, stability control, and automatic braking are turned off, the Camry will eagerly spin the front tires off the line, a flourish expected of something that shares its powerplant with a mid-engine sports car. And for a car that was heavily touted as being "grounded to the ground," the Camry will go light over Lime Rock's high-speed uphill section, lifting the front end enough to make the front wheels spin at 75 mph. It's a surprise and something we joyously did lap after lap, laughing the entire time.

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DW Burnett/Puppyknuckles

That strong engine is only let down on track by the gearbox, steering, and brakes. The eight-speed unit clearly wasn't tuned with track use in mind. It consistently denies downshifts and there isn't an easy way to force it to hold a gear. The Camry took just two laps to cook its brake fluid, something we attributed to, well, this being a Camry and not a Lotus.

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If the steering and suspension in the Lotus were designed to keep you informed of everything, the Camry's were designed to keep you out of the loop. The electric steering pairs with economy tires and a soft suspension that clearly has comfort as its number one priority. A number of laps in the Camry made us start to think that the Lotus and Toyota don't have as much in common as we originally anticipated. Perhaps sharing an engine with a lightweight corner-carver doesn't instantly make the Camry into a track car.

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DW Burnett/Puppyknuckles

But the Camry can still be fun in its own way. No, it's not as engaging as the Evora (duh), particularly because the gearbox is uncooperative, but throwing around a floaty sedan holds a certain amount of satisfaction. There's something hilarious about chasing a mid-engine Lotus in a car like this, trying new lines and different techniques to get the best out of it. It's hard to drive the Camry fast. You need to be patient with it, let it take a set, and not get on the power too soon or the wheelspin will send you into vicious understeer. It'll give you a further appreciation for the maneuvers your dad pulls to get through rush hour traffic as quickly as possible.

That engine is the bright spot on track, with a wide powerband and no lag, obviously, because it's naturally aspirated and has no reason to be laggy. While everyone else pushes for turbocharging, Toyota's range of fuel-sipping hybrids allows it to continue to offer a naturally aspirated engine at the top of the Camry lineup. You can also understand why Lotus saw the 2GR as a good base for its high-powered mid-engine cars.

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Lotus's entire reliability history isn't quite remembered as being bulletproof. That’s why Lotus went with Toyota, a company that has been built on reliability for decades. That dependability comes from an engine that is overbuilt, meaning that Lotus is able to extract another 130 horsepower from the engine on stock internals, just by bolting on a supercharger and using new engine management. And if you somehow blew a motor, you aren't out $50,000 for a new flat-plane crank V8 that had to be built by artisans in Maranello. You need the engine from a Camry. That makes it a cost effective way to power your Lotus. It might not be an engine with the most exotic origins, but it more than works in this application.

The Camry isn't a track car. It doesn't belong on one and you can tell that it isn't thrilled when you force it there. But its engine has made the latest generation of brilliant Lotuses possible. That means the Camry has enabled an entire generation of track-capable cars, kind of by accident. For that, it should be applauded.

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