What’s the best driver’s car on the market? It’s an oft-asked question, and the answer will keep changing with the passage of time… and depending on whom you ask. But for me, in the here and now, Porsche’s brand-new 718 Cayman GT4 ticks so many boxes that I’m hard-pressed to think of anything better.
Darn, I’ve given the game away right from the outset. I was hoping to build up the suspense.
There is a familiar recipe when it comes to concocting go-faster specials of an existing performance model. It goes something like this — add some more aggressive aero addenda at the front and rear, stick in a set of stiffer dampers and tweak the motor to push out an additional 20-30bhp. It’s a timeworn formula, but I’m here to tell you Porsche’s 718 Cayman GT4 is not merely a warmed-over, tarted-up version of the donor car. It’s a properly serious bit of kit.
The 718 Cayman S is already a highly capable sportscar. With a beautifully balanced chassis that serves up loads of grip and agility and a punchy — yet slightly flat sounding — 2.5-litre four-pot turbo, it’s a driver’s delight. But one couldn’t help feeling the mid-engined sportster had a lot more to give.
The GT4 version, which lands in local showrooms next January, might use the same basic underpinnings as lesser 718 models, but it’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Porsche’s labcoats have basically turfed any component that wasn’t GT4-worthy, starting with that four-cylinder turbo motor. In its place sits a fizzing, snarling 4.0-litre naturally aspirated flat-six engine, and said unit is essentially a bored and stroked version of the 3.0-litre unit that powers the regular 911 models. Befitting its job description in the GT4, the motor loses the two turbos used in the 911, but gets a new high-strength forged crankshaft, new connecting roads, new cylinder heads with piezo injectors and a valvetrain that allows the engine to joyfully sing its way to 8,000rpm, eking out 414bhp and 420Nm in the process.
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An ultra-slick six-speed manual is the only transmission on offer initially, but a seven-speed dual-clutch PDK will be added to the range in due course. The GT4’s bespoke goodies include a mechanical limited-slip diff, torque vectoring and 911 GT3-derived suspension that lowers ride height by 30mm and offers adjustable toe, camber and anti-roll bars, enabling track-day aficionados to optimise the set-up for different circuits. Adaptive dampers also offer road (firm) and track (very firm) settings, while active transmission mounts improve rigidity and keep the powertrain vibrations to a minimum when you’re in cruise mode. You like numbers? I’ll give you some: the previous Cayman GT4’s benchmark lap time around the perilous Nürburgring Nordschleife was 7min 40 sec. The newbie slashes 12sec off that time for a razor-sharp 7min 28sec lap. Top speed is also up slightly to 304kph, although the 0-100kph split of 4.4sec remains unchanged vis-à-vis the old GT4.
Naturally, such performance calls for mighty brakes, and the GT4 has them in the form of 380mm stoppers with six-piston aluminium monobloc callipers. The rubber it rides on is suitably sticky, too, as there’s nothing better on the market than Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 hoops (245/35 ZR20 front, 295/30 ZR20 rear).
Enough of the technical nitty-gritty, let’s cut to the chase. As it turns out, chasing is exactly what I’m doing. We’re at Knockhill Racing Circuit — a little gem of a racetrack tucked away in the Scottish Highlands — and while each lap might be just 2km long, there’s 60m of elevation changes along the way, plus an assortment of dipping, diving corners that get the inside wheels dancing off the deck. I’m pedalling a Miami Blue 718 Cayman GT4, while up ahead — serving as pacemaker – is Porsche endurance racer Thomas Kiefer in a bewinged 911 GT3 RS.
What ensues is an enjoyable, adrenaline-coursing game of ‘catch me if you can’, as the GT4 inspires such confidence in its balance and on-limit demeanour that, within a handful of laps, braking points get ever deeper and corner speeds rise to the extent even Kiefer’s GT3 RS gets a little squirmy in the tail on a few occasions. The 911 has a bit more squirt down the straights, but the Cayman is so grippy and composed that it matches the cornering velocity of its significantly pricier sibling.
The GT4 imbues a feeling of intimate connection as it relays ample feedback about the tarmac surface and grip levels at the front and rear to your fingertips and seat of the pants. What’s more, that rifle-bolt six-speed manual — with a gearstick that’s 20mm shorter than regular 718 models — is a delight to snick through the ratios.
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The new GT4 also has a hardcore aero package that includes a full-panelled flat underbody, NACA ducts and serious looking rear diffuser inspired by 911 RSR racer, and this combo is said to deliver up to 122kg of downforce. That said, the aero doesn’t come into play so much today as Knockhill circuit’s tight layout means the highest speed we touch on the short front straight is about 195kph before I need to dab the brake pedal and downshift to third for Duffus Dip, a downhill right-hander that’s followed almost immediately by the left-handed Leslie’s and then Scotsman — a tight right-hander. There’s really no place to rest on this circuit. It’s an action-packed rollercoaster, and the GT4 offers the best seat in the house to enjoy it in.
While the GT4 is an absolute hoot to pedal, one thing that it is not is cheap. Pricing starts at Dh374,400, and you can add another Dh20k or so to that if you opt for the ‘Clubsport’ package, which brings a half roll-cage (upgradable to a full cage), fire extinguisher and six-point safety harnesses. Tick the box for ceramic brakes and you’ll be up for another Dh40k-plus. Phew!
While the GT4’s asking price represents a hefty premium over the Dh268,900 entry point of the 718 Cayman S, I would argue it’s still worth the money. I can honestly say caning it around Knockhill provided just as much enjoyment — if not more — than supercars with double the power and pricetags triple that of the Porsche. If anything, you may now question whether you really need a 911 Carrera or Carrera S, as the 718 Cayman GT4 is arguably the pick of the bunch.