At the Porsche table, the topic turns to 911s, like it always does. Over dinner Motorsport vice-president Frank-Steffen Walliser calls the night too early for such critical discussion. We settle for a compromised definition.
“After 54 years,” Walliser says, “We still don’t know what is a 911 — originally it was a small, short wheelbase, air-cooled, flat-six, coupé sportscar.”
Then the 911 grew up and never looked back. Cabs, all-wheel drives, tiptronics…. Gasp! Water cooling…
Stuttgart’s most famous export (sorry, Gottlieb and Karl) became the sportscar and there was soon one to match every drive, every personality, if not every pocket. Porsche never cheapened the 911.
Other experiments took that detrimental route — Porschephiles had a fit in the Sixties when the 914 was cobbled together from the Volkswagen parts bin (it was even badged as a Volkswagen-Porsche in the States) and then they all relapsed into depression with the front-engined 944 in the Seventies.
These days the tolerant 21st century welcomes one and all: SUVs, EVs, even the Macan hatchback (well, it is), the company’s best-selling model. Cheap Porsches? Why not. Here’s one with a four-cylinder engine, like you get in everything else.
Make no mistake, when Porsche downsized the Cayman/Boxster mid-engined line from a flat-six to a turbocharged flat-four it was not for a second a performance minded decision. Porsche went for efficiency, pure and simple, chasing fractional fuel economy gains over the sake of emotion, and there begins my slight beef with the new 718 generation cars.
Some of the best engineers around then had to waste their time and augment the engine sound, so it goes from a noise, and then after you press the exhaust button on the centre console, a louder noise. On the highway grind at around 120kph the new 718 Cayman GTS drones down low in the rev range and booms to a bass throb. It’s not much to listen to, and it’s as if the noise amplification is an outreach for attention. Porsche is compensating…
As good as the 718 was to drive the first time I experienced the new force-fed cars in Portugal last year, I still missed the old one. For the wildest mid-engined Porsche experience you need to wait for Walliser and Andreas Preuninger’s boys to finish up at Flacht and Weissach — the 718 Spyder has already been spied testing and we all know about the company’s propensity towards niches.
For now the new GTS attempts to silence some of the critics. The idea being, a little more of everything. Compared to the next model down the rung, the 718 Cayman GTS gets 15 more horsepower and 10Nm extra torque form the 2.5-litre force-fed engine, which is just a case of fiddling with a keyboard.
And if you were expecting a lightweight special, you can actually spec a base 2.0-litre car closer to some kind of Club Sport-in-spirit, because with the turbos and intercooler and the high equipment levels as standard kit in the new GTS the weight is actually higher than the predecessor model.
Of course, it’s also more powerful than the old GTS cars too, so there’s that argument. Personally I don’t value kilograms over kilowatts.
The good news is that you don’t have to get lost in the Porsche options list, because the GTS pretty much includes everything you want. Except the automatic… A slick six-speed manual is standard, as is Porsche Torque Vectoring with a mechanical limited slip differential and the Sport Chrono package, plus Porsche Active Suspension Management that drops the GTS 10mm closer to the ground on its 20in wheels.
So talking about pure numbers, we’re looking at 365bhp, 430Nm of torque from 1,900rpm, a top speed of 290kph, and 0-100kph in 4.1 seconds.
As is typical with all of Porsche’s GTS-badged cars, the newest model gets lots of gloss black finishes, black-tinted Xenon headlights, blackened taillights, black GTS logos, black rear apron, and black tailpipes. They won’t miss you coming.
The chassis is the highlight. The GTS rotates around the middle so neatly, you must stay on top of the car’s quick reactions.
Inside there is lots of Alcantara, and a neat Porsche track driving app that can record and display your driving data on a smartphone. Right in front of you, the highlight, a perfectly round, base steering wheel with a thin, hard rim and perfect spoke placement. Racing does pay off. It’s simple things like a great steering wheel and seating position (and outward visibility, which is excellent in mid-engined Porsches) that make or break a sportscar. With so much torque on tap early, the GTS isn’t the manic experience of old, and although the gearing seems just right you still settle into third and stay there all day over B-roads. The chassis is the highlight. The GTS rotates around the middle so neatly, you must stay on top of the car’s quick reactions. The rear-biased weight balance is very active, and the steering wheel ends up being only a small part of the drive. The camber of the road alone will really pitch this car into a turn. Bumps and yumps throw up wiggles of the wheel in your hands without any corrections necessary. You can let the car settle on the road and tramline a little, flow with the path of least resistance. It’s really a rhythmic, smooth drive, intensified by the turbo power and torque. It’s a totally different experience to the old, naturally-aspirated GTS, and it’s highly forgiving.
If you do choose the manual six-speed transmission, the clutch drops to the floor with good feel and you can throw the stick around just for fun. It’s not as good as a Mazda MX-5 but it’s the next best thing, and the light, consistent pedals should make it easy work in occasional traffic. There’s also anti-stall which will save a tired, slipping leg. The PDK automatic option is fine, and also well suited to the touring nature of the car. I can imagine covering plenty of mileage in one go with the GTS, particularly because the torque spread makes the car so flexible in use.
Is the GTS worth the premium over the base 718 cars? That I’m sure is personal — I would rather come up with a poverty-spec 718 non-S, and call it my Club Sport. Either that or you wait for the GT4 or Spyder and go the whole hog. If you want a friendly, reasonably luxurious sports car, the GTS version gets pretty special on the limit, even if everywhere else it’s just a nice, refined German car. The suspension is amazing particularly over unkept roads and it’ll easily cover daily-driving duties.
Now if it could also thrill on a daily basis — because let’s face it, not everyone has the incredible Ascari circuit at their doorstep — it would be quite something. The 718 Cayman GTS is undeniably a pretty phenomenal sportscar and certainly still somewhat of a segment benchmark. It’s just not a raised benchmark.