Porsche 718 Cayman review – the entry-level punches above its weight

As brilliant as ever, and the six-cylinder Porsche’s GT4 has eased the sour taste of the four-cylinder models

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Rating
star-4.5
Pro
Beautifully balanced chassis, styling, brilliant GT4
Con
Four-cylinder engines still disappointing, options can be pricey

Following its launch in 2005 the Porsche Cayman slowly established itself as a genuine Porsche sports car. Every iteration and improvement helped it become more than just a car for those who couldn’t afford a 911.

That ethos stumbled when Porsche introduced the 718 Cayman, because for the first time, naturally aspirated flat-six engines made way instead for turbocharged flat-fours. The new engines, to no surprise, lacked character, captivating noise and apparent quality of the old units, and for all the model’s other detail improvements, we couldn’t help but love the Cayman less.

Over the past few years, the winds of change have blown through the Cayman range. At worst, we’ve now come to accept the new fours, even if we still don’t love them, but at best, 2019 saw the reintroduction of the six-cylinder Cayman GT4 to the 718 range, and 2020 enjoys the rebirth of the Cayman GTS using a detuned version of the GT4’s flat-six rather than the former 2.5-litre four.

And quite aside from the 718 Cayman’s power plants, the rest of it is better than ever. Its small proportions make it an excellent fit for local roads, while its sublime chassis and perfectly weighted controls mean it’s always enjoyable. In many ways, it remains a better car than Porsche’s own 911.

Prices, specs and rivals

Starting at $57,911, the basic Cayman with a manual gearbox sounds like exceptional value, but thanks to a stark standard equipment list it is easy for the price to skyrocket through expensive yet sometimes essential options.

The step up to a Cayman S means sliding over a cheque for $69,490, which not only gets the larger, more powerful 2.5-litre engine, but does add some of the extra desirable equipment that the regular Cayman lacks.

There is a third option with the four-cylinder models though, and that’s the Cayman T. Porsche has done the ‘T’ thing before, and it’s basically Porsche shorthand for a half-hearted attempt at making a slightly more back-to-basics model while adding a few items from the options list as standard. As you’d expect from a back-to-basics Porsche… it’s more expensive than the regular Cayman ($67,304) despite using the same 2-litre engine, though snarkiness aside it’s probably the pick of the four-cylinder Cayman range to drive. The PDK transmission adds $2500 to the cost of each model.

As we write this we’re yet to drive the new Cayman GTS, but it has one key advantage over the outgoing GTS: the six-cylinder engine returns. This is the point at which the Cayman gets serious, and a $82,862 price tag backs that up.

You could though see it as a bargain next to the Cayman GT4. Winner of evo Car of the Year 2019, the $97,420 base price still seems like good value for such a brilliant driving experience, though at more than ten grand above the price of the mechanically similar GTS, the GTS now seems like even more of a bargain.

The small sports car market is on shaky ground these days, but a hardy few manufacturers are still putting up competition. Newest into the fray is the Toyota Supra, which packs BMW six-cylinder power and starts at $70,000. Similar money ($66,490) gets a BMW M2 Competition, while Alpine’s A110 starts at $60,645 and the more serious A110S is $72,275.

This variety makes the sector one of our favourites in the market. For the price, the M2 Competition is probably the most serious and has the most compelling drivetrain, with the engine being effectively a detuned version of the M3 and M4’s unit. It’s most practical too, but for some the boxy shape won’t appeal as much as the lines of ‘proper’ sports cars.

The Supra lags behind the M2 for us, but is worth a look if the Cayman’s four-cylinder models have put you off. It’s the Alpine though in both forms that finally offers a true Cayman alternative. While it’s dual-clutch only, missing the Cayman’s manual option, it’s a genuinely enjoyable and unique car to drive. Its four-pot sounds and responds better than the Cayman’s, it’s lighter, and it has more character.

The A110S isn’t ‘better’ necessarily, just different – and neatly undercuts on price the Cayman GTS it’s probably closest to in spirit. 

Performance and 0-100kph time

The controversial move to do away with the Cayman’s sublime, naturally aspirated flat-six may be enough to make enthusiasts wince, but it’s been justified by the car’s on-paper performance.

Even in its least powerful form, the Cayman can cover the 0-100kph measure in 5.3sec, with the more focused but no more potent Cayman T recording the same time. Likewise, both have a top speed of 273kph, which isn’t bad for Porsche’s entry-level sports car. Opt for the Sport Chrono package, and the acceleration times drop by another four-tenths, while the PDK versions, which are Sport Chrono only, cut that down further to 4.7sec.

With a sixth more power, the Cayman S goes quicker still. In manual form it reaches 100kph in 4.9sec, but this is cut to 4.4sec with Sport Chrono and a further two-tenths with PDK. Top speed, meanwhile, rises to 285kph.

This is where the four-cylinder engine range ends, but it’s where unease over the four-cylinder layout begins. Objectively, there’s not a great deal to fault with the flat-fours. Performance has risen, low-down torque has improved (even if the engines are less linear than the old sixes), and when they’re spinning away at high revs, throttle response is still pretty good. They work well with both gearbox options, too, the manual in particular remaining a joy to slot around the gate.

It’s just a crying shame that they sound the way they do. If either engine had the offbeat growl of an old Impreza it might be easier to forgive, but instead both units have a harsh, uncultured tone not unlike that of an old Beetle. And if you specify the sports exhaust, an old Beetle with a blowing silencer.

Better, instead, to move on to the six-cylinder models in the range. We’re yet to try the 718 Cayman GTS with its new four-litre six, but if its engine is anything like the unit in the 718 Cayman GT4 (and it should be – it’s basically the same engine) then we’re in for a treat.

Yawning gear ratios – second will get you to 136kph – take the edge off the flat-six’s performance and limit how much of the wonderful sound the engine produces at high revs can be enjoyed on the road. It can also make the Cayman feel slightly slovenly out of tight corners unless you’re prepared to change down to first a lot more often than you would in other cars.

But good lord is the experience worth it when you do. It’s a reminder of why we were so displeased about the move to four cylinders in the first place; the six-pot is smooth, cultured and sharp as a Sabatier-sliced lemon, its power building throughout the rev range to a crescendo by the 8000rpm limiter.

While the gears are long, the gearbox itself is a joy – matched, as always, to a perfectly weighted clutch. Rev-matching on downshifts feels as natural as walking, but if you prefer, you can let the car do that with a switch on the centre console, for perfect heel-and-toe shifts every time. And flat out, on a circuit, naturally, it’s hard to imagine wanting any more performance.

Engine and gearbox

The 718 Cayman’s 2- and 2.5-litre motors are unashamedly boosted, but they do produce some impressive figures. The 2-litre of the Cayman and Cayman T develops 296bhp, while the 2.5-litre makes 345bhp in the S. The peak power for each car comes in at 6500rpm.

The biggest advantage of the new engines is the useable torque they both produce. The standard Cayman makes 280lb ft from 1950 to 4500rpm and the S 310lb ft from 1900 to 4500rpm.

This abundance of torque helps the 718 overcome the one chink in the old Cayman’s otherwise blemish-free armour – its long gearing. The 3.4-litre engine in the old Cayman S only managed 273lb ft at a lofty 4500rpm and so the tall ratios often made it feel a bit gutless in slower corners, or when the engine wasn’t quite on song.

For the torque-rich turbo engines, the lack of low-down muscle isn’t a problem. You don’t necessarily change gear any more frequently than before, given the wide torque bands in each gear, but there’s now less penalty for an early change simply to enjoy the tactile, mechanical action.

With a naturally aspirated four-litre flat-six, there are times when the range-topping Cayman GT4 can actually feel a little flat next to the turbocharged models – when punching out of a tight hairpin, for example.

Stick with it. The 414bhp output needs revs to achieve, and this is an engine that doesn’t reach its fuel cut until 8000rpm. Similarly, the 310lb ft peak torque figure requires 5000rpm on the clock to achieve, though it does last until 6800rpm, and as a four-litre engine in a relatively light car, there’s of course more shove lower down the rev range.

The engine itself is effectively a development of the 3-litre in the 992, albeit without turbocharging. A six-speed manual is standard, with a PDK on the way in the near future. Gearing is once again an issue though – a ’box that can pull 136kph in second gear can only provide you with limited high-rev thrills at legal speeds. The auto rev-matching is useful, and can thankfully be turned off with a button press for those who prefer the DIY method.

Porsche’s PDK gearbox – a $2500 option – is one of the best dual-clutch transmissions you can buy. It reacts relatively intuitively left to its own devices, while changes are quick, crisp, and aren’t accompanied by an unnecessary wave of torque or an uncomfortable jolt.

Ride and handling

You’ll be pleased to know that Porsche hasn’t been as dramatic with changes to the Cayman’s chassis as it has been with the engine. The delicate and immersive handling that the Cayman is famous for still exists.

For a start, the 718 isn’t too big. With space on the road you have a greater freedom over where you place the car, and you’re able to choose your line into and around corners. Sounds like a small point, but as cars get bigger it’s one that’s increasingly important.

Everything about the 718 is well considered, whether it’s the ergonomics and seating position or the weight of the steering and the pedals. It’s simply a satisfying car to use, even when being driven slowly. However, the chassis and the damping exudes quality, making the 718 even more entertaining and capable at higher speeds.

With most of the Cayman’s mass within the wheelbase there’s a real agility to the car. Combined with impressive grip, the 718 is capable of changing direction with ease. There is a slight hint of understeer as you begin to reach its limits, but rather than being frustrating it just helps you gauge how hard you are pushing.

If you spec the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) it allows you to stiffen the suspension slightly. The softest setting feels fluid and supple, allowing you to create an easy flow down a twisting road, while the stiffer setting adds a further degree of control and predictability to the Cayman that suits harder driving. Neither of the damper settings feels wildly inappropriate; the stiffer of the two isn’t too firm, and both settings have their place depending on the road or your attitude.

In terms of feel and connection, the 718’s electronic power steering cannot compete with Porsche’s hydraulic systems of old. But there’s enough detail transmitted through the chassis that the supplementary feel you get through the steering wheel is useful, but not actually necessary for you to be truly engaged with the car.

The extra torque from the turbocharged engines really allows you to indulge in the chassis’ balance and poise – possibly even more so than with the old naturally aspirated flat-six. The throttle of the 718 has a greater influence over the car when in a corner, making it easier to push the rear axle closer to the limit of grip, really allowing you to manipulate the car’s attitude through a corner.

What’s possibly even more impressive is that the higher level of ability and focus that comes with the 718 GT4 doesn’t make it any more difficult to exploit. Everything happens at higher speeds, but the Cayman’s natural, wonderful balance remains, and within a few corners on a trackday you’ll probably feel confident enough to switch off all the electronic safety nets and go it alone.

It’s no less entertaining on the road, where despite the Cayman’s hardcore set-up, it’s far from being tiring or harsh. The chassis has been well judged to offer not just excellent body control but also some pliancy in the ride, and the car’s relatively small dimensions and good visibility are no less relevant here than they are in lesser Caymans.

L/100km and running costs

The main purpose of Porsche downsizing the previous Cayman’s flat-six engines to turbo fours was to reduce emissions in the wake of tightening CO2 regulations. A move to WLTP testing since the 718 was introduced means it’s more difficult now to compare figures with the old sixes, but a figure of up to 8.5L/100km for a PDK Cayman and 8.3L/100km for the manual should be enough for most buyers.

The Cayman S is barely less frugal despite its extra capacity, Porsche quoting 9.1L/100km for the PDK and 9.7L/100km for the manual. Emissions, meanwhile, are still calculated on the old NEDC testing cycle, and range from a low of 180g/km for a PDK Cayman, to 210g/km for a manual Cayman S.

With those changes to WLTP regulations, the numbers are also more realistic than before, and in normal, mixed driving, a figure in the low 30s shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve in any turbocharged Cayman – though it also shows how much weight and size play a part, as an Alpine A110 with similar performance is capable of more than 7L/100km in similar driving.

That said, in context of its other rivals, the 718’s overall consumption is still pretty good. Less so in context of its predecessor, which could also register numbers in the low 30s in mixed driving, but that’s one of the more awkward truths of the latest wave of downsized engines…

Porsche servicing can be on the expensive side, though a 36-month, unlimited mileage warranty should offer peace of mind.

Tyres will vary from model to model. You’re looking at around $450 for a pair of Goodyear F1 Asymmetric 2s or $500 for equivalent Michelin Pilot Sport 4 Ss for the 235/35 ZR20 fronts, and $505 for the rear Goodyears and $595 for the rear Michelins in 265/35 ZR20. Those sizes are representative of a Cayman T, and all prices are fitted, delivered by Blackcircles.

Interior and tech

Always surprisingly practical for a mid-engined sports car, the Cayman’s front and rear load areas are plenty big enough to swallow everything two people could want on a weekend away. The rear deck above the engine and behind the occupants’ heads provides extra useful space for small items, too.

This being a Porsche, ergonomics are spot-on with all the controls perfectly positioned and weighted with a quality feel. The driving position is suitably low and from behind the 918-inspired steering wheel the dash layout has plenty of traditional Porsche touches such as the high-mounted gearlever, and a rev counter right in the centre of the dials.

Materials and build quality are top-notch, although despite the upgraded infotainment system inherited from the 911, rivals such as the Audi TT make the tech feel distinctly last generation. In typical Porsche style most of the truly desirable features reside on the options list, but there’s enough to customise to turn even a basic Cayman into pretty much your perfect car.

Don’t even get us started on Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur and its range of interior options and endless paint-to-sample shades. It’s expensive, and perhaps something buyers of standard Caymans might shy away from, but could you resist on a GT4?

One or two models in the Cayman range do forge their own path anyway, the aforementioned GT4 getting standard bucket seats and Clubsport Package options such as a bolt-in cage and a fire extinguisher. The Cayman T is appealing lower down the range too, with a unique seat trim pattern, and pull-strap door releases like on Porsche’s GT models.

Design

The Cayman might not have the iconic profile of its 911 sibling, but even from the briefest glance it’s instantly recognisable as a Porsche, and a decade and a half after the first Cayman was introduced, the shape is also now a mainstay of the Porsche range.

When the 718 updates arrived, the Cayman took on arguably its most attractive form yet. Already a well-proportioned shape, the slightly squared-off details and neatly redesigned rear tail light arrangement gave it a unique character as well as an attractive shape. Importantly, it’s no slavish copy of a 911, but a distinctive car in its own right.

While little visually separates the Cayman and Cayman S, the Cayman T is slightly more distinctive with a unique graphics package and a set of wheels from the options list, and snags the twin-pipe exhaust from the Cayman S rather than the regular car’s oblong pipe. The GTS goes further, with more definition to its bumpers and side skirts and separated rear pipes like on the GT4 above it.

The GT4 is, naturally, the most striking though. Its deep front and rear aprons are more like those of the 911 GT3s above it, as is the vent below the trailing edge of the front compartment, while you can’t fail to miss the enormous wing perched atop the rear deck. Its side vents are also more prominent, while cars with the Clubsport pack will allow a sneak peek of the cage through the windows, too. It looks only slightly different from the old car, but the racer for the road’ attitude is as strong as ever.

This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk

Copyright © evo UK, Dennis Publishing

Categories: EVO

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