The stopwatch doesn’t fib. The new dual-clutch PDK transmission variant of the crazily competent Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 is a demonstrably faster car than its quick-enough manual sibling to 100km/h, or around a race track, or jinking up a snaky hill climb, or belting through a Targa rally stage.
But, if you love driving, and exerting greater control over your own inputs and crave a strong emotional connection to your plaything, would the PDK be your unequivocal choice? Tricky decision made trickier because visually the two are identical, looking businesslike with a big mechanical fixed rear wing, low front bib and lowered suspension. And that much-noted grip and poise doesn’t change.
Arriving now, the flagship 2021 Porsche 718 models with 4.0-litre six-cylinder boxer engines can finally be ordered with the seven-speed PDK. This means the range-topping 718 Spyder and 718 Cayman GT4 models are now available with either a seven-speed automatic PDK or a six-speed manual transmission.
The advantages, as every aficionado will tell you, is there is no obvious hesitation in acceleration during gear changes. The result is faster lap times and acceleration values.
Across two Cayman series – the 918 and the current 718 - the dynamic GT4 variant has been a much sought-after driver’s car, the clamour from devotees outreaching the cautious factory supply.
The very loyal following comes on the back of the sporting purity of its superb chassis and the other attributes the brand is renowned for – braking, performance, and an enviable overriding reputation that other sports-luxury brands cannot get near – that of being nigh unbreakable.
The tipping point was the launch in 2016 of the new 718 Cayman (and Boxster). Sporting enthusiasts got very excited over the GT4, with the mid-mounted, gloriously tweaked non-turbo version of the 4.0-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine from the 992 911.
|2021 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 PDK|
|Engine||4.0-litre flat six-cylinder|
|Power||309kW @ 7600rpm|
|Torque||430Nm @ 5000-6800rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (PDK)|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|0-100km/h (claim)||3.9 seconds|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||10.4/100km|
|Fuel use on test||11.9L/100km|
|Boot volume||150L front / 250L rear|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||Three years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Alpine A110, Lotus Evora, A slightly used 911|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$214,780 ($239,750 as-tested with options)|
The GT4 was initially only sold as a manual; now though the dual-clutch PDK is here. Interest is high among other Porsche punters. They were asking lots of questions of the drivers of the two python-green models (driven by media types) entered in the Targa Tasmania Tour. Some owners of Cayman GTS manuals showed a keenness to upgrade to the PDK; others were more than content to do their own gear shifting.
Porsche Australia is still getting a feel for demand but ultimately expects the PDK to be more popular, especially among those serious about submitting their GT4s to competition activity.
“But we’ll go with the market,” said John Murray, Porsche Cars Australia’s director of sales, adding that while the arrival of PDK variant is big news, the manual has also been given a fillip with features such as auto blipping.
Plainly though, the Cayman GT4 PDK, with its seven gears and intelligent software, overcomes one of the nagging criticisms of the otherwise stunning six-speed manual ’box; the notably long ratios.
In terms of performance efficiency, the dual-clutch PDK works brilliantly with the punchy and flexible GT4’s flat six, the whole show accompanied by some deep-throated barking and whooping from the twin pipes.
The optional $4580 Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) is the same robust and effective unit offered in many other of the brand’s sports cars.
The PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission brings several benefits to the Cayman GT4. Despite adding 30 kilos to the GT4 manual's 1420kg weight, the PDK version is half-a-second quicker to 100km/h, doing the journey in a claimed 3.9 seconds.
A tiny quirk of gearing is that the GT4 manual is a teeny bit faster in terminal velocity – 304km/h versus 302. The seventh gear of the PDK has a shorter ratio in all 718-series 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine derivatives.
The PDK’s design also meant Porsche engineers could gift the 4.0-litre engine more torque – 430Nm, or 10Nm more than the manual version.
The GT4 PDK isn’t about brutal performance; more unwavering competency and a raw, involving path to edgy pleasure.
Rumour has it that left to its own devices, the PDK in full auto is smarter than any driver who elects to use the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters.
Letting the PDK work as a full auto, the changes are slick and fast and always seem to come at the proper time. Sensing you’re having a bit of a fang, the gears are held longer and closer to the 8000rpm redline, a trait that hardens further when you select the PDK Sport button on the centre console. The transmission instantly becomes more reactive and demanding, efficiently using the 309kW through the power band.
There is though some pleasure in plucking gears on the paddles. Finger food. Still, it isn’t necessary to be forever using ever lower gears in the turns, as the 4.0-litre six pulls rapidly, fluidly and easily from mid-range revs.
One beef with using the paddles. The down-shift paddle is positioned between the indicator and cruise control levers, and it’s a little too easy to get the fingers caught.
If you’re to test a car, there’s no better chance than to max out for two days and 12 special stages on closed roads during Targa Tasmania. One day in the dry; the other in endless drizzle.
The excellent conditions on the first day gave us licence to push hard once the semi-race 20-inch 245/35 R20 front 295/30 R20 rear Michelin rubber had warmed up. Then the whole package came together as one, braking, cornering turn-in steering feedback, prodigious lateral grip and then bite-and go departure under acceleration.
Under firm instructions from Porsche, we left the stability control and traction control (ESC and ESC+TC) buttons alone. In standard mode, the electronics allow you enough poetic licence to get the rig dancing.
What we did select though was the exhaust button which introduced a louder, sonorous growl from the pipes. That non-turbo flat six sounds bloody magnificent.
There is also an option of firmer suspension damping. Tried it. Nah. Way too sharp and bouncy for Tassie roads. Best kept for a smooth race track.
The default normal shock absorber setting is itself very sporty and gives the GT4 more than enough control and agility without blurring vision.
The Cayman GT4 PDK also has the subtle benefit of developments to the mechanical locking rear diff enhancing traction and overrun modes, and lateral dynamics.
The brakes – 380mm composite rotors all round with aluminium monobloc fixed callipers – are stellar, giving amazing stopping with excellent pedal feel. The magic combo.
The Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, aimed at competition activity, work a treat on dry surfaces, but less so in the moisture. The tyres are harder to bring to a good operating temp when the ambient is a chilly 8 degrees Celsius . And with varying surfaces and puddles and oil, grip levels become unpredictable. Think a racehorse on an ice rink. Still, the undeclared dick-waving competition during Targa did create some tricky moments among some of the chest beaters…
While the GT4 targets the genuine enthusiast, there are the expected quality enhancements and equipment in the snug yet pleasantly presented cabin, where many of the options landed, starting with the $3330 interior with black leather and silver stitching, carbon highlights and appropriate use of suede-like Race-Tex.
Adaptive 18-way electric sports seats are terrific but add another $4630.
But the wallet strangler is the optional Python Green exterior hero colour, a (deep intake of breath) cost of $6070. You may add the matching painted vehicle key with key pouch in leather, a Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur offering at $780.
Standard stuff is the usual heated seats, cupholders, dual-zone climate control, Porsche infotainment system with integrated navigation, DAB+ radio and support for device connection through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But the screen is on the small side, and the interface unremarkable.
Cabin bins and cubbies are also in short supply and you’ll need to put items like jackets in the useful storage compartments front and rear, 150 litres in the nose and 250 litres under the rear hatch.
Oddly, keyless entry, keyless start and front park assist are not offered, not even as options, but these omissions don’t detract from the joy of punting the GT4 hard and fast.
One practical footnote: the dual-clutch arrangement makes the GT4 more fuel-efficient, officially returning 10.4L/100km combined against 11.3 of the manual. That’s not an overly unrealistic figure. On Targa Tas, we finished a 400km mix of special stages and touring showing a number below 12L/100km. Not that GT4 owners give a toss about saving a couple of bucks worth of PULP.
Speculation of a 718 Cayman GT4 RS has been swirling around specialist websites and Porsche clubs but John Murray takes the fifth amendment and insists he has nothing official. “If there are rumours,” he observed quietly, “then I hope they’re true!”
Meanwhile, it’s no hardship to grab a GT4. Back to our original poser; manual or PDK? Engagement or ultimate performance? Is it the immense satisfaction of using a lever with a snappy unbeatable action, up and down the gears and rev-matching all the way? Or the hypnotising efficiency of a dual-clutch auto that simply outsmarts us all?
In your driving world, if fractions of a second mean something, the PDK is for you.