After a test in Texas, the 718 might be a coupe we want to drive 24/7 (though perhaps not 365).
– Austin, Texas
The new Porsche Cayman is not the perfect all-weather sports car. I want it to be so, with the dim, dark skies of winter encroaching ever earlier these days, and me looking for any reason to stay upbeat. But my recall of the Cayman S rear end sliding – nudged by me, sure, but sliding nevertheless – on a dry, perfectly paved Texas back road, is still too clear.
Throw your favorite boutique set of snow tires on the Cayman’s massive wheels and, sure, you could ham-and-egg your way through a North Country winter – as long as the snow is low enough for that pert front end not to plow. But Porsche has worked very hard to make what is in some ways its purest sports car, even more fluid to drive. The results are amazingly evident here in Austin, where the tactile coupe comes alive on the dusty paving of Hill Country, but my dreams of absconding with the keys and driving north might need some massaging (or, at least, garaging).
Porsche had a great car in the outgoing Cayman, but company engineers have played with the chassis controls to loosen up Sport Mode-enabled behavior. With Porsche Stability Management set more aggressively, the rear of the car – never a dullard – becomes easier to maneuver with modulations of both the compact steering wheel and the responsive throttle. Even in the default PSM mode the car feels fluid, quick to change direction and yet stable, but it does so without quite so strong an inclination to go all sideways.
Feedback makes it easy to feel exactly what is happening where the road is meeting rubber, too. The steering wheel offers up very high levels of information about grip, and there’s remarkable feeling about the inclination of the chassis by way of the floors and seats. Porsches have always been world-class where driver involvement is concerned, and this 718 Cayman changes none of that.
Perhaps the headlining change in this new generation of Cayman is the powertrain: Porsche now offers buyers a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinders. Both turbo’d mills were covered in great detail with our First Drive of the 718 Boxster – that convertible shares motivation and most running gear with the Cayman – but let me reiterate the basics. The basic 2.0-litre engine makes 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, while the 2.5T of the S model is good for 350 hp and 309 lb-ft.
Not having been raised a fool, I spent most of my day driving the Cayman S, and can dutifully report that the 2.5T is well worth the extra cash ($61,500 vs. $75,600… so neither are what you’d call “cheap”). Punch from the engine is wicked, especially in the middle part of the rev range, and even initial acceleration feels stronger than the 4.2-second 0-100 kilometre-per-hour rating would have you believe. Feeling of speed is also helped by the massively quick PDK transmission, which remains one of my favorite non-manual transmissions in the game today. (You can get a traditional stick-shift, too, if you’re a purist.)
The Cayman never really suffered from the dorky looks of early-generation Boxsters, but I still look at this coupe and see perhaps the best-looking version of the model to date. Wheel size vary from stock 18s on the Cayman, up to optional 20-inches, but all of the rolling stock is pushed way out to the corners of that slippery body. The long-look of the wheelbase makes the Cayman look that much lower to the ground, and visually “fast” in the process.
The interior isn’t quite so brash as the exterior styling, with Porsche doing its typical high-quality, low-drama thing in this cabin. I like the shape and feel of the seats, and there are interesting touches like the integration of the four forward vents, but overall this feels like a place of business. Still, I’m happy to report that there is ample space for tall drivers behind the wheel, and reasonable room for cargo between the two (front and rear) trunks (150 and 275 litres, respectively). The 718 may not be quite right for four-season driving duty, but it’ll happily grab a few groceries with you.
As is the case with many cars wearing the Porsche badge, the biggest downside to the sexy, invigorating Cayman, is its price. The base prices I mentioned above are very close to market rate when the performance is figured in – a base-model Audi TT Coupé retails for $53,290 these days, for comparison. But Porsche options sheets double as a fast track to spending something like an extra Nissan Micra’s worth of cash. Some of the cars I tested wore six-figure stickers. Log onto the 718 car configurator and you’ll see; when it’s easy to spend almost $7,000 on paint and wheels, the bottom line can quickly balloon.
And that’s before you even consider if a pair of Hakkapeliittas is a smart thing to contemplate. My advice? If you can afford it, this is one of the best-handling, grin-supplying cars on sale today. It may not be the high-performance coupe I’d most want to drive all year, but it’s very near the top of the cars I’d like in my heated garage.
Photos: Marc Urbano / Porsche