Car reviews - Porsche - 718 - Cayman
Relative affordability, cracking engine, responsive transmission, genuinely comfortable ride, unrivalled handling
Room for improvement
Unsurprisingly impractical, ageing cabin, doesn’t sound as good as the old flat six, heavy low-speed steering
Call Porsche’s entry-level Cayman sportscar ‘a poor man’s 911’ at your own peril
11 Nov 2019
OVER the years, the 911 has been universally recognised as sportscar perfection – and rightfully so.
But what if we told you it’s not even the best sportscar in Porsche’s line-up? Yes, the 718 Cayman is that damn good.
Don’t get us wrong, if we had the option, it would be tough to turn the 911 down, but the 718 Cayman isn’t much of a compromise.
And thanks to a minor model-year update, we’ve been given the opportunity to revisit the 718 Cayman as the 992-series 911 starts to go on sale.
The heart and head are often at odds when it comes to buying a new vehicle.
For example, if money wasn’t an object and the average enthusiast was standing in a Porsche showroom, the heart would be easily wooed by the 911, but the head would be looking in a very different direction: The 718 Cayman.
Make no mistake, this is a thoroughbred Porsche. And more importantly, 911 DNA doesn’t just course through the premiere sportscar’s proverbial veins.
It goes without saying, then, that the 718 Cayman is a deadest winner in its own right. We might even be so brave to suggest that it’s genuinely the better buy.
While it’s available in four flavours, we’ve tested its nameless entry-level version that is priced from $118,690 plus on-road costs when mated to a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission. Yes, the equivalent 911 Carrera costs about twice as much.
This spend gives 718 Cayman buyers access to a mid-mounted 2.0-litre turbo-petrol flat four-cylinder engine that has been marred in controversy since its introduction.
It, of course, would remiss of not to acknowledge that it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as the preceding six-pot screamer – even with the bi-modal exhaust system that adds plenty of pops on the overrun – but the four-banger is an absolute pearl.
Punch the accelerator above 2000rpm and the engine well and truly comes to life, with maximum torque of 380Nm available until 4500rpm, at which point 220kW of peak power is only another 2000rpm away.
In tandem with the super responsive PDK, the rear-wheel-drive 718 Cayman sprints from a standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 4.9 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 275km/h… but by the seat of the pants, it feels much, much quicker than that.
Given that the engine’s sweet spot is its mid-range, Sport is the best of the three drive modes, with it recalibrating the PDK so it keeps things ticking over smoothly around 2000rpm when cruising, ensuring that a straight-line burst is only a right pedal away.
Sport Plus is obviously intended for track work, as its aggressiveness borders on unpalatable on public roads, with engine speeds rarely below 3500rpm. That said, it’s great during short periods of spirited driving.
While Porsche quotes the 718 Cayman’s fuel consumption as 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined-cycle test, our real-world result was 11.1L/100km, albeit with limited highway and plenty of ‘fun’ had.
But does the fuel bill really matter when you’re having the time of your life through the corners? Yes, the 718 Cayman is highly proficient when it comes to the twisty stuff.
Its superb body control encourages you to push harder and harder around bends, with its limits much higher than that of even the most confident drivers.
This is partly thanks to the 718 Cayman’s mid-engined layout that improves its rear grip, with it never feeling as overwhelmed as a front-engined sportscar that sends drive to the same wheels.
Granted, torrential rain did curb our confidence when tackling a mountain pass, but so long as throttle inputs were managed accordingly, everything was okay.
The 718 Cayman’s electronics are obviously key here. Some would say they’re too invasive – certainly the usual rear-wheel-drive antics are difficult to induce – but that’s only a legitimate potential issue in the dry.
Predictably, the steering is quick and well-weighted at speed… but it’s just too heavy when creeping, making common manoeuvres like parking more difficult than they should be – a rare blemish when it comes to the driving experience.
Conversely, Porsche has absolutely nailed the 718 Cayman’s suspension set-up, which should be unsurprising given the German brand is the master of striking the right balance between ride and handling.
Our test vehicle was fitted with the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management ($2710) system that lowers ride height by 10mm and adds adaptive dampers with Normal and Sport settings.
With the former engaged, speed bumps are not met with fear and road imperfections are soaked up – two things you don’t expect from a bonafide sportscar. Switch over to the latter and the ride becomes noticeably firmer and sharper edges felt… but it’s still liveable.
What’s less liveable, though, is the 718 Cayman’s cabin. For one, it’s certainly not practical, but you’re not surprised and neither are we. Flimsy cupholders, tiny door bins, you name it.
Unlike the 911, there is no second row where you can just throw stuff, so your options for larger items are limited to the ‘froot’ and boot, which together provide a hatch-like 425L of cargo capacity. That would be a solid number if it wasn’t split between two compartments…
Thankfully, it’s not all bad news inside. Lovely soft-touch materials adorn all touchpoints, helping to justify the 718’s premium positioning… although it’s not that premium in the grand scheme of things, but we digress.
Compromised rearward visibility aside, the driving position is also excellent, partly thanks to its low ride height that makes ingress and egress challenging for some.
Positioned ahead is a traditional instrument cluster and a lovely steering wheel, which in our test vehicle was the optional GT item ($660) that is taken from the 918 Spyder hypercar.
Even though the 718 Cayman’s cabin is a lovely place to be, it is starting to show its age, especially with the 992-series 911 now in showrooms alongside of it.
In particularly, the button-heavy centre stack and console designs have grown tired, and despite the infotainment system being pretty decent, the 7.0-inch touchscreen it powers is just too small by 2019 standards.
Then there’s the advanced driver-assist systems, or lack thereof. Yes, blind-spot monitoring is available, but it’s a $1390 option. Yikes. Otherwise, autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist are nowhere to be seen and likely won’t be until the next generation.
Warranty and servicing
As with all Porsche models, the Cayman comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with three years or roadside assistance. Its service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
We’ve all been guilty of referring to the 718 Cayman as ‘the poor man’s 911’ over the years, but on face value, it’s far from it.
In fact, if you’re going to play the bang-for-your-buck game, the 718 Cayman has the 911 well and truly covered.
Simply put, the 718 Cayman’s performance and ride and handling balance make for a truly compelling package.
So long as you’re prepared for the usual sportscar compromises – more so than the 911 – no-one should feel bad about owning a 718 Cayman.
It’s a bloody good thing.
Alfa Romeo 4C (from $89,000 plus on-road costs)
Some will say the 4C is an oddity, but it is one of the most entertaining sportscars on the market today. Whereas the Cayman has moved with the times, the Italian remains firmly in the old-school camp.
Alpine A110 Premiere Edition (from $106,500 plus on-road costs)
It might be the new kid on the block, but the A110 is the real deal. Whether it’s better than the Cayman is genuinely up for debate. Safe to say, though, the French have bloodied some German noses here.
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Model release date: 1 November 2018
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