Well, so much for Porsche’s ‘evolution not revolution’ mantra then. It’s only gone and completely redesigned the door handles for this new-generation Cayman and no doubt upset the puritanical Porschephile mob. Truth is, these new door handles function absolutely fine despite the completely upgraded aesthetic and mechanism. Door opening and closing performance hasn’t been hindered in any way and may even be incrementally improved. It’s hard to say this for certain without supporting technical data although it really doesn’t matter. Ignore the truth! Porsche has gone and changed stuff on this latest-generation Cayman and therefore the car is obviously ruined. Ruined I tell you. Ruined! Outrageous…
I’m obviously being a little bit facetious with this opening remark and new door handles aren’t of primary concern. Let’s be honest here, Porsche doesn’t make bad door handles and it also doesn’t make bad cars. It can’t even seem to make good cars these days. What it does is make exceptional cars that defy comparison. But Porsche does seem to attract a certain type of loyal following that’s resistant to change. Any change. And that means the new Cayman has a few hurdles to leap over before finding acceptance, as Zuffenhausen has changed a lot more than just the door handles on this latest generation.
The new 718 designation for the Cayman would initially seem like a fine opportunity for me to waffle out a few paragraphs on the historical significance of this nomenclature. But if you are reading this you have probably already absorbed that information in regards to the new Boxster, which is now basically a Cayman without a roof. Or a Cayman is a Boxster with a roof, or whatever. All you really need to know is that the new 718 designation is a Porsche marketing ploy to find acceptance by using a historical precedent of a previous four-cylinder sportscar in its back catalogue. Because this new Cayman has jettisoned the flat-six and has now become a four-banger.
We’ll get to the mechanical bits in a minute. But first, the looks. The latest Cayman has been tweaked and tickled, sharpened and updated but, thankfully, nothing too drastic has occurred at the hands of the Porsche styling department. It’s still instantly recognisable as the perfectly proportioned and pretty mid-engined Porsche that it has always been. And it’s the same story with the interior, which maintains its functional familiarity and near perfect driving position. One of our tests cars was fitted with optional fixed and carbon-backed sports seats and would be our chair of choice — especially if track time was on the agenda — but the standard items are still supportive with the extra benefit of a bit more comfort and full electro-adjustability.
So far so good then, but the soul of any sportscar is its engine, and downsizing to satisfy Mr Taxman (who has no soul) by lopping off a few cylinders is a reality we are just going to have to accept. Replacing the previous naturally aspirated flat-six screamer with turbocharged flat-four units has obviously impacted on the character of this new Cayman. Gone is that beautiful build up to a mechanical six-cylinder crescendo and it’s replaced by, well, a flat-four, which simply gets louder the harder you push. It still cackles and bangs and farts and pops but it’s much more induction and exhaust noise dominant rather than mechanical sounding. There’s also not much discernible difference between the note of the standard Cayman with its two-litre unit and the Cayman S running a 2.5-litre. Trust me here though, it isn’t bad. It’s just hard not to compare it to what has been lost and get a little bit nostalgic.
The good news is that Porsche has provided a hefty punch from these new four-pots to placate us. What has been denied to us in aural ecstasy has been replaced by better performance. In the standard Cayman, the turbocharged two-litre is up 25 horsepower on its predecessor with an output of 300bhp. That probably doesn’t sound like a dramatic increase on paper but the addition of forced induction means there’s a stack more torque to play with to the tune of 380Nm. That’s a significant gain of about 90Nm and it’s delivered from a lowly 1,950rpm. And this is the key element of the new 718 Cayman.
As fantastic and vocal as the old six-cylinder Cayman was, it really needed to be wrung out to the redline to get the most out of it and actually feel you were driving. And as much as I loved that about it, there was rarely an opportunity to explore that unless you lived at a racetrack or wanted to lose your licence quite quickly. With a whack of extra low-down grunt in the 718 it just feels vastly more rapid and pulls hard right up to 7,500rpm without complaint. And this produces a peculiar quandary that has started to gnaw at my brain.
For all my big talk about ‘aural ecstasy’ and the like, I would never have even considered buying the old base Cayman. It wasn’t even on my radar as a potential purchase despite its sonorous qualities. And although it sold in large quantities, I’ve always considered it the ‘couldn’t afford a Cayman S’ car, as the Cayman S just seemed more on point and the minimum requirement for a petrolhead. But now the base 718 Cayman is firmly on the radar. It’s a consideration. It’s a contender. It’s proper. And, if you are happy rowing your own gears with the standard equipment six-speed gearbox and can resist ticking any boxes on the optional extra list, it’s also a bargain.
This neatly brings us to the new Cayman S, which, naturally, cranks things up a bit further still. Rather than feeling that it out-classes the new base 718 Cayman, it just feels like it’s giving you more of the same with the wick turned up a notch or two. With a 2.5-litre variation of the same engine producing 350 horsepower and 420Nm of torque now firmly planting you back in your seat, it’s no surprise that the Cayman S is the money-no-option preferred choice if you needs more speeds. It also feels slightly more responsive than the base Cayman as it features a variable-geometry turbo, which reduces lag and increases throttle response.
With a whack of extra low-down grunt in the 718 it just feels vastly more rapid...
The new engines, however, are only part of this package as the 718s have gained extensive chassis work to keep all those extra ponies in check. A new sub-frame, firmer springs and dampers, and a 10 per cent faster steering ratio lifted directly from the 911 Turbo are only part of the story. As are all the optional extras you can tick including Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and Sport Chromo Pack et al. But there’s something else going on as well. The previous generation always felt like it had a bit of the 911 driving experience engineered into it, whereas the new 718 feels more distinctly mid-engined balanced. Despite having a third of its cylinder count axed, the 718 Cayman’s optimised weight distribution makes it feel lighter, more agile and more responsive. It’s just simply better.
It is better in every conceivable and measurable way than the previous version.
And herein lies the conundrum. The 718 Cayman (and the roofless Boxster variant) finally feels like a distinct model in Porsche’s line-up rather than a ‘couldn’t afford a 911’ option, and a lot of that has to do with the downsized engine and reduced cylinder count. It is better in every conceivable and measurable way than the previous version apart from the soundtrack. There’s nothing out there by any other automotive manufacturer that is comparable on price, performance and ability. As I said, Porsche makes exceptional cars that defy comparison. Unless, that is, you compare the previous model Cayman to the latest iteration; the previous not being as good but offering a soundtrack that would make the hairs on your neck stand at attention when on song. And, this could go on for days…
There are some folk out there who just aren’t going to ever buy into this new 718 Cayman. New door handles and downsized engines are too much to cope with for some people and, for them, they still have the option of scouring the classifieds for a low mileage example of the previous, six-cylinder Cayman. For others, a new 718 Cayman S with PDK and all the trimmings will now be top of the list, especially if they are out there chasing lap times. But really, if you like driving, a base 718 Cayman with standard fitment manual ’box has just become the semi-affordable sportscar benchmark. Unless you like al-fresco driving. In which case, buy a Boxster.