When it was introduced in 2005, the Cayman was seen more as an appetiser that would entice less-wealthy buyers into the brand and eventually lead them on to the main offering, the 911. And for a while it did play second fiddle to its legendary big brother. However, the 2009 update saw it mature into almost the same size of the 911 with a 315bhp, 3.4-litre six-pot in the sportier S variant, and suddenly the flagship was made to look pointless. As Porsche increasingly realised that the Cayman had outgrown its initially assigned role, it gave it a thorough overhaul, complete with a new engine and a new fancy name.
The 718 moniker harks back to the mid-engined 718 racecar that was a motorsport star for Zuffenhausen in the Fifties and Sixties. It’s a rather contrived way of establishing an eminent legacy, but there’s no denying that it adds some weight to the model name. However, it’s also not difficult to see that it’s essentially an effort to take attention away from the downsized engine. Yes, the delightfully resonant naturally aspirated flat-six has given way to a 2.5-litre turbocharged flat-four. However, despite the drop in displacement and number of cylinders the new engine, mated to a seven-speed PDK twin-clutch transmission, is good for 345bhp at 6,500rpm and 420Nm of torque from as low as 1,950rpm and available over a wide rev range.
While there is no compromise in the numbers, the soundtrack of the 718 is literally a far cry from its predecessor’s. The engine fires up with a gruff roar, which soon settles down to an engineered, mechanical clatter, which is nowhere near as good as the naturally harmonious, unadulterated track of the flat-six. But it is loud, and if some attention is all you care about, then you’ll get plenty, what with all the crackles and bangs that emanate from the exhausts on the overrun.
But what it lacks in aural charm is amply compensated with its performance and handling credentials. With a much wider torque curve than before, the 718 Cayman S equipped with Porsche’s Sport Chrono package can dash from standstill to 100kph in just 4.2 seconds. And this is not something that’s just seen on paper. It feels distinctly quicker than its forebear with all 420Nm of twist at your disposal from 1,900rpm all the way up to 4,500rpm.
Our tester has the mode selector knob on the steering wheel, much like the one in the 918 supercar. This rotary knob lets you alter the behaviour of the Cayman’s engine, gearbox and chassis. You can choose from Normal, Sport and Sport Plus drive modes, and to spare you the time and effort of testing each mode, I can categorically recommend leaving it in Sport Plus. With S+ selected, the Cayman is on song, displaying levels of composure and body control that’s alien to the majority of so-called sportscars out there. Throttle response is sharp and instant, with turbo lag kept to negligibly low levels. The PDK slices through its seven cogs like a proverbial hot knife through butter, and the accuracy and weight of the steering is extraordinary for an electrically assisted system.
In fact, with its superb weight distribution, remarkable agility and seemingly boundless traction, it makes one question the prudence of spending more than Dh100K extra on a Carrera. Now don’t start flooding our inbox with stories of the 911’s fabled history and the Cayman’s lack thereof. I’m not trying to deny any of that here. The 911 will remain what it has always been, a legend. But in its latest 718 iteration, the Cayman is a credible alternative that offers the same Porsche engineering excellence and even sharper driving dynamics to a wider audience at a much lower cost. The 718 Cayman S has clearly stepped out of its more flamboyant sibling’s shadow. It isn’t playing second fiddle anymore.