When is a Porsche that is ‘not a Porsche’, still a Porsche? When it’s the new 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman.
Porsche’s most iconic car, the 911 in all its variants, is of course, the flat-six poster-child. No argument. But before it ever had the idea of shoehorning a flat-six into the back of a swoopy coupe back in 1963, Porsche spent four decades making cars with four-cylinder boxer engines.
From the original 1938 Porsche 64 to the last of the 356s in 1965, the flat-four was the engine for Porsche. In fact, Porsche continued to build cars with four-cylinder engines well into the 1990s, with the last four-pot from Zuffenhausen being the unloved 968. So, a four-cylinder Porsche not a ‘real’ Porsche? There’s six decades of history that says otherwise.
Which brings me back to the 718 Cayman. Make no mistake, it may only have a four-cylinder unit hidden somewhere under its exterior, but in every way imaginable, it’s a proper bloody Porsche.
And it all starts with that distinctive swooping bodywork. Squint, and you could be looking at its bigger cousin, the 911. Simply, the Cayman is unmistakably a Porsche.
Starting at $110,000 (plus on-road costs), the 718 Cayman is also the cheapest Porsche sports car available today, coming in a touch under its roofless sibling, the 718 Boxster which kicks off at $112,800. Of course, if you’re after just the Porsche badge, the base Macan can be had for $76,610 but, let’s face it, when we dream of Porsches, we dream of sports cars. Of coupes.
But no Porsche ever leaves the dealership without a few option boxes ticked, and our test car is no different. Opting for Porsche’s PDK seven-speed transmission adds $4990, as does the Sports Chrono Package while those striking 20-inch Carrera wheels will set you back another $4840. And you want those rims finished in satin black like our test car? That’ll be another $2180, thank you.
Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV), including mechanically locking rear diff, adds a further $3190 while adaptive cruise control, with Porsche Active Safety is a further $2990 added to the bottom line.
Active suspension management with a 10mm lowered ride height will add $2710 and, inside, the superb BOSE surround sound system wants $2650. Parking assist (front and rear) with rear-view camera costs $1690 while out back the silver sports tailpipes add another $1290. Porsche’s Connect Plus digital interface adds a further $1090 while the unmistakably Porsche GT-Sports steering wheel completes the options at $660.
That’s a lot of ink on the options sheet and all told, it brings the price of our test car to $143,270, or said another way, a 30 per cent premium over the base car. To put that into context, the more powerful 2.5-litre engined 718 Cayman S can be had for $140,300. However, once you start ticking options… well, you get the picture.
Step inside the Cayman, snuggle into the comfortable and heated leather driver’s seat with 14-way electric adjustment and take a moment to admire your surroundings. There’s not a huge amount going on, and that’s as it should be in a sports car. Yes, there’s the obligatory 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that is at once crisp and intuitive.
Central to Porsche’s proprietary communication system which includes sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio. Optioning the Connect Plus package (as per our test car) adds Apple CarPlay, a telephone module with SIM card reader, Wi-Fi hotspot and Connect App services.
The steering wheel is well-proportioned and features the drive mode select rotary dialler with an extra little zing in its tail. In the centre of the dial, used to switch between Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Individual, sits an innocuous and unlabelled little black button. And it’s the stuff of sci-fi or James Bond movies… when pressed, your Cayman will be transformed into an altogether, faster, meaner, louder Porsche. For 20 seconds.
Called Sports Response, when called upon it recalibrates the mapping of the Cayman’s vital organs: it temporarily does away with turbo lag, drops back into and holds on to the lowest available gear and noticeably sharpens throttle response. It’s an ideal little 20-second long boost for overtaking, providing rapid acceleration when you need it most, or really, just for thrills.
Let’s be honest, though. The Cayman provides plenty of thrills even without hitting the Sports Response button. With its 2.0-litre boxer four pumping out 220kW of power and 380Nm of torque from a very usable 1950rpm and in a car weighing just 1365kg (unladen), there is plenty of mumbo to help propel it to a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 4.9 seconds. That time is sharpened even further with the optional Sports Chrono package, which shaves another 0.2s off the 0-100km/h.
The thing about the Cayman’s acceleration is not in how quickly it happens, but simply in how. Throttle response is silky while the PDK does an unruffled job of shuffling through the gears and holding on to the exact ratio you want so that before you know it, you’re in jeopardy of losing your licence. It isn’t manic acceleration like some sports cars, but it is bloody fast.
Cycling through the various modes does provide instant satisfaction. From the relatively benign Normal mode, best kept for city streets and the 50km/h crawl to and from work, through to Sport and Sport+, each mode carries its own distinctive characteristic.
Sport+ in particular is a thrill-a-minute blast in the right environment. With the firmest suspension settings and with the engine mapping allowing the PDK ’box to hold onto gears longer, the Cayman transforms into a snarling, whistling missile as the turbocharger sucks in volumes of air to force feed the intakes just behind your head. The engine growls out to its snarling best and helps propel the Cayman at a rate that is sure to have you grinning from ear-to-ear.
And for an added thrill, using the paddle-shifters simply adds to the theatre, with instantaneous changes accompanied by a chorus of pops and barks and crackles that Mozart would have been proud of…
On the road, the Cayman is surprisingly supple, firm but not overly so. It rides bumps with ease, soaking up road imperfections like a sponge while sharper hits, such as speed bumps, are met with a surprising amount of elasticity. You notice them, but they don’t jar or give you the head-wobbles with their severity.
While a smooth and supple, yet firm, ride is part of the Cayman’s handling and dynamics party trick, it’s the twisty stuff where the Porsche really shines. Nothing punishes its poise on the road. Mid-corner bumps are absorbed easily without that sometimes un-nerving jittery feedback on the wheel. Point the Cayman where you want it to go, and it will go there with the minimum of fuss while also ensuring you have fun doing it.
The steering is sharp and precise with a lovely heft to it that provides feedback from the wheels and road directly to your hands. You never feel the car is driving you, with even the most minor adjustments to the wheel met with instant response and feel.
Of course, those lovely 20-inch satin rims, while looking sensational, do come at a cost. And that price is road noise, particularly at freeway speeds. It’s not so loud to become annoying, but it is there and it is noticeable to the point where you do have to talk a little louder to be heard over the road noise. But it’s also a small price to pay for a car that is so enjoyable in every other way.
And of course, the best way to counter road noise is to crank up the optional Bose surround system which is a delight with perfect clarity and depth of sound.
This is a liveable sports car - a true sports car, but one you can imagine driving every day. Around town, the Cayman handles the daily peak hour grind with aplomb enough – certainly in PDK trim like our test car – to make you forget you are actually driving a sports car. And it’s frugal on fuel too.
Porsche claims a miserly urban cycle of 9.0L/100km for the PDK variant and we saw a heathy 9.9L/100km during our week commuting with the car. That figure drops to a claimed 6.9L/100km over a combined urban/highway loop where we posted a respectable 8.9L/100km which included some spirited driving. Of course, it is a Porsche, so it only drinks the good stuff, premium unleaded.
The Porsche 718 Cayman might not feature the flat-six its forebears are renowned for. But that’s not to diminish the characteristics of the perky four-cylinder buried deep within its soul. This car is, in almost every respect, a proper Porsche.
Despite its muted four-pot sound, the 718 Cayman drives and behaves like a Porsche should. It’s responsive and quick when it needs to be. It holds the road with a vice-like grip matched only by a three-year-old holding on to a much-loved lollipop. It looks a million bucks and it puts a smile on your face every time you slide into its comfortable cabin.
My CarAdvice colleague Paul Maric recently reviewed the Cayman’s bigger brother, the 2.5-litre shod Cayman S, and rated it a 9 out of 10. But with the 2.0-litre Cayman coming in around $30K cheaper (before options) and with almost as many thrills per minute as its bigger sibling, I reckon this one is the pick of the bunch. It might be the runt of the litter, but it has snarling ferocity that is more than enough for most purists.