Porsche 718 Cayman S. FIRST DRIVE

Is a turbocharged flat-four the answer for one of Stuttgart’s finest performance weapons? We find out in the Black Forest with the new Porsche 718 Cayman S

Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Basic price
Flat-six, twin-turbo, 3800cc 345bhp @ 6500rpm 420Nm (310lb ft) @ 1900-4500rpm 4.4 secs 285kph 1385kg (249bhp/ton) $64,400
Still one of the best handling sports cars around
Links to 718 heritage laboured and unnecessary

There are certain things that, before they even begin, you can confidently predict are going to be good. VIP access to a Michelin star restaurant for instance, or centre-court seats for…well pretty much anything. Time behind the wheel of the new 718 Cayman in the Black Forest you can confidently add to that list too, not least because the region’s tree-lined switchbacks are a thing of automotive beauty. And the fact that Porsche has gone rogue with the latest redevelopment of its baby sports coupe.

Porsche 718 Cayman S crankandpiston-12

Did those redevelopments forget about the design?

Yeah, we know, those rakish looks don’t particularly give the game away, that funkily restyled rear quarter aside. The big differences come beneath the surface. Like its Boxster sibling – now one step higher on the line-up following a reshuffle – the 718 Cayman boasts a completely retuned chassis for yet-further rigidity and improved body control, a sizable dose of which comes from stiffer suspension arms. Similarly the rear wheels are now half an inch wider for improved cornering stability, and let’s not forget those beefier brake callipers, once the exclusive reserve of the 911 Carrera.

Der elefant im raum though is unquestionably that turbocharged flat-four boxer. Gone is the predecessor’s naturally-aspirated 3.4-litre flat-six in place of a downsized a downsized 2.5-litre unit in the Cayman S – 2-litre in the base Cayman – chucking out 345bhp and 420Nm (310lb ft) of torque. Good enough for 0-100kph in 4.4 seconds – four-tenths faster than its forebear – and a 285kph top speed. Quick, and blisteringly so, the newboy undoubtedly is then. Oh, and those of you looking for me to give the ‘soulless’ flat-four a good kicking may as well turn the page. On these twisting stretches, it’s pretty damn glorious.

Porsche 718 Cayman S crankandpiston-8

Interesting, and possibly sacrilege. Further details on the drivetrain and handling please…

From the off, there’s a meaty, mid-mounted warble being pummelled into my lower spine. An industrial though no less emphatic note that lingers in the mid-card until the seven-speed automatic PDK – and the long gear ratios therein –raises the tempo. Admittedly the initial pick-up could be more energetic, but it’s a fleeting niggle before the turbo begins to spool up around the 2500rpm mark. Even here, you’re met with a decisive swell of torque rather than a turbocharged dramatic ‘thwomp’, but the speed pick-up is phenomenal: hold the lower gears, keep the revs rising progressively until they hit the top end bubble, and you’ll find the 718 Cayman S is seriously rapid. Swing from Normal to Sport+ on the new 918-derived, steering wheel-mounted rotary controller, and the flat-four confidently retains its linear stride, albeit with a more aggressive engine note. Sorry Porsche traditionalists, the turbocharged flat-four is really quite good.

Less so the brakes. Granted our test model has already undergone several days of Black Forest gallivanting, but under heavy deceleration, the steel discs on our Cayman S could have used more bite. Not that the approaching guardrail ever posed much of a threat: downshifting is blink-of-an-eye quick, the resultant scrubbing of speed even quicker, and feel for the discs through the mid-long travel pedal sufficient to keep the rear end from squirrelling. And then, there’s that perfectly balanced chassis.

Sensational is an apt description. The sheer amount of grip from the front end and impressive bite from the tyres on initial turn-in means flicking the Cayman through the turns is achieved with millimetric precision. Tweaks mean the steering rack is now 10 per cent quicker than before, and while positive and alert, it somehow feels more predictable than the almost alarmingly swift response in the 911 (to belabour that point though borders on insulting). Turn-in is sharp and direct, the balance of the car beneath you wonderfully adroit, give or take a smidge of understeer when you’re really on it. Fully to put to bed with a dash of right foot, mid-corner adjustability similarly spot-on as a result.

Porsche 718 Cayman S crankandpiston-22

Any issues we should know about?

Quibbles? Well fans of the cabin’s ‘familiar Porsche environment’ can breathe sighs of weighty relief since changes to the interior include the Dynamic Boost Rotary dial…and, actually, that’s pretty much it. There is an updated, touchscreen infotainment interface, but surely such a system makes the button-heavy dashboard redundant? Ditto the gimmicky Dynamic Boost function given the capabilities of the flat-four, in this writer’s opinion at least. And such is the stiffness of those revised suspension arms that, while the ride quality is still impressive for such a stiff package, full-fat Sport+ mode did bounce the rear-wheel driven wheels off-line on the more rutted tarmac. The cynical bastard in me also rolls his eyes at the new ‘718’ nomenclature. Parallels with Porsche’s similarly-engined Targa Florio winner may deter the wrath of non-forced induction fans, but it’s a forced one at best, as for that matter are references to the 550 Coupe and 904 GTS that inspired the redesign.

Porsche 718 Cayman S crankandpiston-5

Overall verdict?

Be annoyed all you want but the verdict is in: the turbocharged flat-four is a peach, the naturally aspirated serenade now gone in place of a more gravelly rumble that’s no less vigorous when kicked in the nards. The reworked chassis is extraordinary, turn-in bite exemplary and mid-corner balance peerless. Admittedly stopping power of those steel discs is a question mark at the moment and the cabin is long due a refresh, but these are niggles at best. A run in the Black Forest with a 718 (urgh) Cayman S, turbocharged or otherwise, is more than enough to prove that Porsche’s new entry model has more than enough potential to back its rivals into the corner.

Technical specifications available on page 2

Enjoy our Porsche 718 Cayman S test drive?

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