2017 Porsche 718 Cayman S review

A naturally aspirated six has been ditched for a turbocharged four. The new Porsche 718 Cayman S rewrites the Cayman rule book. Is it enough to get it across the line and retain that Cayman feel?
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Messing with a successful and praised formula is never a good idea. Especially when that formula relates to one of the sweetest sounding six-cylinder engines on the market. Well, Porsche has messed with the formula, ditching the Cayman’s naturally aspirated six for a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine.

The 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman S represents the absolute latest in cutting edge technology, taking advantage of turbocharging, a dual-clutch gearbox and thousands of hours of engineering work to create the next level of compact sports cars.

With the six-cylinder engine now gone, the 718 Cayman S uses a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces an impressive 257kW of power and 420Nm of torque. When mated to the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, it consumes just 7.4 litres of fuel per 100km.

In manual form, the 718 Cayman S will move from 0-100km/h in just 4.6 seconds. Option the dual-clutch gearbox and that figure drops to 4.4 seconds. Spend an additional $4990 on the Sport Chrono package and that number drops once again to just 4.2 seconds thanks to the addition of launch control.

Starting from $110,000 (plus on-road costs), the new 718 Cayman range runs all the way through to the $145,290 (plus on-road costs) 718 Cayman S tested here.

Visually, the 718 Cayman looks similar to its predecessor, but it’s the finer details that set it aside from its older sibling. Changes to the headlights, tail-lights and interior make the 718 Cayman a far more modern proposition.

Inside the cabin, Porsche’s all-new Porsche Communication Management infotainment system measures in at 7.0 inches and steps the game up in terms of speed, functionality and versatility. It now also comes with an additional Connect module that adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (but, expect to pay $1090 for the Connect package).

The optional $2650 Bose sound system is an absolute cracker. The punch that comes from this sound system is next level and works perfectly with a cabin this size. In fact, it was so good that my wife and I saddled up for a drive-in movie to take advantage of the cinematic experience.

While sound quality was great, it was frustrating needing to keep switching the system back on after 20 minutes or so. And, residual heat from the mid-engine came into the cabin and made it quite stuffy. But… that’s just me being nit-picky.

The rest of the interior follows on from the Cayman we know and love. Two sizeable storage cavities (one 150-litre cargo hold at the front and a 275-litre hold at the rear) are joined by sliding cubbyholes behind the driver and front passenger’s heads.

Steering the Cayman comes courtesy of a perfectly sized wheel with cold to the touch steering wheel mounted paddle shifters and a new mode selection dial that allows the driver to switch between Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Individual on the fly.

The driver’s information cluster features a tachometer, analogue speedometer, digital speedometer and a variable TFT screen that shows things like navigation, trip computer, g-meter, Sport Chrono timer and access to vehicle settings.

Sport Chrono not only adds launch control to the PDK 718 Cayman S, it also includes a stopwatch and clock that sits atop the dashboard, plus dynamic engine mounts. But, the coolest feature is a button on the steering wheel that sits in the centre of the drive mode selection dial.

It’s called Sport Response. For 20 seconds it drops to the lowest available gear, eliminates turbocharger lag and provides razor sharp throttle response. This mode is perfect for rapid acceleration, overtaking or when things get serious on the track.

A couple of things that irritated me about the interior would end up becoming annoying for owners. The passenger seat belt buckle kept hitting the plastic side plate, meaning that without a passenger on board, I had to plug the seat belt into the receiver to stop it from constantly rattling.

Then, there was nowhere to put my phone. A tiny coin holder in the centre stack is the only visible spot, meaning the centre console is the only place for your phone. If you own a large phone like I do, it’s then hard to fit anything else in that slot.

The final gripe I had was the optional keyless entry/start feature. It’s a $1690 option to get a feature standard on a number of cars worth a quarter of the Cayman’s asking price. Instead you need to unlock the car manually and use the key to manually start it.

Speaking of which, our test car had around $30,000 of options included — despite the fact the centre stack had more blank button slots than it did actual buttons. Some of the noteworthy options include Sport Chrono ($4990), Sports Exhaust ($4330), mechanical locking rear differential with torque vectoring ($3190), Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) ($2710), 20-inch Carrera S wheels ($2710), BOSE sound system ($2650), satin painted wheels ($2180), metallic paint ($1850), front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera ($1690), Connect plus ($1090) and GT sports wheel ($660).

While it’s an exhaustive list of options, it’s specified perfectly — the wheels looked awesome with a satin finish, the steering wheel was perfectly sized and the performance options help give this an even greater edge on the road.

Any concerns about this not being a honed sports car that has sold its soul to the efficiency police are thrown at the window the first time you wind on the throttle. With the exhaust in pedestrian scaring mode, a stab of the throttle invokes a rush of air through the vehicle’s intakes as the boost gauge winds around to full capacity.

The rush is absolutely thrilling and continues with each gear selected. Speed is piled on at phenomenal pace to the point where it’s hard to realise where the time from 20km/h to 100km/h has gone.

Line up a set of corners, flick the drive mode selector across to Sport and the Cayman S takes on a new life. The steering becomes instantly heavier, giving the wheel more purpose, while giving the car a true go-kart feel.

Moving the drive mode knob to Sport+, which activates the firmest suspension setting and allows the gearbox to hold gears for much longer, offers the full experience.

Dynamic engine mounts fitted as part of Sport Chrono work to isolate vibrations during gentle driving, but firm up during faster driving to create a rigid connection between engine and chassis.

The ride at urban speeds is surprisingly good. The optional PASM suspension system adds variable damping to ensure the ride is comfortable in comfort mode and suitably firm in sport mode. Despite riding on 20-inch alloy wheels, the 718 Cayman S soaks up all road imperfections with ease.

But, it becomes undone at highway speeds where road noise from the tyres becomes very intrusive. While it’s not too much of an issue, it’s not pleasant having to speak up loudly when driving on a highway.

Brake pedal feel at speed is excellent, with the pedal offering uniform feel throughout each braking motion. In the wet, the lack of weight over the front end can occasionally cause slip under hard braking, but it’s easily overcome with braking in a direct, straight line.

Surprisingly, wet handling performance is sublime — despite the fact the engine sits so far back. Even during harder driving in the wet, the rear end stays in place and hooks up perfectly to deliver all that torque to the ground through the wheels.

Steering feel is direct and perfectly weighted, with an incredible amount of feel offered through the chassis — the driver is always in control and there’s never a point where you feel you’re exceeding the car’s limits or things are getting hairy. This is truly a user-friendly sports car.

Living with the 718 Cayman S is also easy thanks to its cavernous storage cavities, front and rear parking sensors, along with its rear-view camera. The front end sometimes catches on driveways due to the 10mm ride height reduction with the PASM suspension system.

There’s a lot to absolutely love about the 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman S. And, at the same time, there are a few things that aren’t that great. While the exhaust note is a subjective thing, the rest of the package makes up for it with extremely sharp handling, responsive chassis feel and the type of driving excitement you’re unlikely to find from anything else in this price bracket.

Click on the Gallery tab for more images by Tom Fraser.

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