First drive: 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman in Sweden
There are a handful of cars out there that just feel right. Porsche’s Cayman is one of those, as it has the knack of shrink-wrapping itself around your limbs and feeling like an extension of them within a few kilometres of hustling down the road.
One of the trademarks of the Cayman since the first-gen model debuted back in 2006 has been its sonorous, free-spinning flat-six motor, whose wail from behind your ears contributed much to the driving experience.
In this context, it’s a huge call to bin the six-pot and replace it with a four-cylinder engine, no matter how dire the need to trim fuel consumption and emission levels. But Porsche’s execs remain adamant it’s absolutely the right move and that none of the essence of the car has been diluted, despite the loss of two cylinders.
Just to give the newbie some added cred, the marketeers have stuck a ‘718’ prefix on it, referencing a pint-sized four-cylinder racer that Porsche built from 1957-62, and which was quite successful at Le Mans and in the Targa Florio.
On sale in the GCC from September onwards, the new base model 718 Cayman is propelled by a 2.0-litre turbo flat-four motor that ekes out a robust 300 hp and 380 Nm from 1950 to 4500 rpm. In PDK form, this translates to a brisk 0-100 kph split of 4.7 seconds with Launch Control. Top whack is 275 kph.
The 718 Cayman S ups the ante via a 2.5-litre engine with Variable Turbine Geometry (as used by the 911 Turbo), resulting in outputs of 350 hp at 6500 rpm and 420 Nm from 1900 to 4500 rpm. This yields a 0-100 kph split of 4.2 seconds with Launch Control, which means, at least on paper, it’s only a couple of tenths off the pace of its bigger and much pricier 911 Carrera S sibling.
That said, first impressions aren’t massively positive when you fire up the 718 Cayman though (we’re initially in an ‘S’ model) as it settles into an idle that’s part air-cooled Beetle and part Subaru Impreza. The flatulent chuntering note emanating from the twin pipes (the base model gets a single exhaust) is a far cry from the oldie’s singing six-pot.
Things get better once on the move though, as the engine’s staccato beat graduates to a smooth (but still not melodious) hum as we make our way out of the southern Swedish city of Malmo. The added urge of the motor is immediately evident though, with peak torque on tap from just 1900 rpm.
Once clear of the city limits, a stab on the gas sends the speedo needle soaring around the dial, so it’s clear this is a discernibly more rapid entity than the old Cayman S. Apart from being stronger at the top end, it’s also decidedly punchier in the mid-range.
The engine note improves dramatically when you’re giving it the beans. A hard-edged growl fills the cabin, so there are no longer any parallels with the old Veedub Beetle, or the Impreza, for that matter. There’s barely any trace of lag either, no doubt partly due to the VTG (Variable Turbine Geometry) that comes standard in the ‘S’, but not the entry model.
Swedish roads in these parts are narrow and littered with blind crests, so there isn’t the opportunity to really extend the car’s chassis in these conditions. But what does become evident is ride quality that’s fairly compliant for a vehicle of this genre, even with the optional PASM electronic damping set to ‘Sport’ mode.
Our outward drive loop takes us to Sturup Raceway, a highly technical 2.133-km circuit with bumps, ‘yumps’ (well, one of them, anyway) and off-camber corners. Chasing a 911 Carrera 4S pace car steered by one of Porsche’s factory drivers, it’s immediately clear the 718 Cayman has lost none of the balance, tactility or raw pace of its predecessor.
If anything, it feels even more sublimely balanced than before (a consequence of a reworked chassis with firmer springs and stabilisers, plus a few other tweaks) and is able to keep pace with the enthusiastically-pedalled Carrera 4S.
The latter has slightly better traction out of corners (thanks to all-wheel-drive) and a bit more squirt down the short straights, but the Cayman S (with optional PCCB ceramic stoppers) is able to dive deeper into brakes and hold its own through the corners.
The Cayman S has enough grunt to easily light up the back tyres and wag the tail if you’re too liberal with the throttle out of tight corners, but it all happens extremely progressively. It’s a highly forgiving car that flatters the driver, as has been a Cayman hallmark all along.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to sample a manual car at the launch, but this wasn’t such a hardship as the PDK gearbox is such a brilliant transmission –- it’s fast, seamless and intuitive, even when left to its own devices.
On the homeward leg from the racetrack we grabbed the key to a base-model Cayman, and the overriding impression is that the deficit of 500cc, 50 hp and 40 Nm versus the ‘S’ doesn’t in any way diminish the appeal of the car. It has plenty of grunt and grip for real-world conditions, so much so that it’s all the sports car you really need as an everyday proposition.
Outwardly, the 718 Cayman may not look dramatically different to its predecessor, but only the luggage compartment lid (bonnet), roof and windscreen are carried over from the oldie. Look closely and you’ll notice the more chiselled form and larger cooling ducts at the front and accent strip with Porsche lettering that runs across the rump. There are also new clear glass taillights with four-point brake lights.
Inside, there’s the option of new Sport-Tex leather/fabric upholstery (in black or two-tone graphite blue/chalk), while Porsche Communication Management (PCM) with mobile phone compatibility and 150 watts of audio power are standard.
All in all, the 718 Cayman and Cayman S remain every bit as desirable as their predecessors. Yes, they’ve lost a touch of character in the engine soundtrack department, but the added grunt and even sharper chassis dynamics than before all but compensate for this.
For GCC prices and updates, keep track of the Porsche buyer guide.