Car reviews - Porsche - Cayman - 718
Flawless dynamics when well-optioned, rapid performance, sporty driving position with superb cabin quality, impressive boot volume
Room for improvement
Turbo four-cylinder does not nearly match sweetness of old six, expensive options, makes 911 seem lesser value
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16 Oct 2017
SPORTSCARS are often about making headlines and achieving quick sales spurts before volume tapers. Think about a certain hot hatchback with Drift Mode or sports sedan claiming coupe-quick sub-4.5-second 0-100km/h times.
The 981-generation Boxster and Cayman have never needed to shout from the rooftops about marketing flashpoints and straight-line statistics, however, with those models effortlessly reigning as sportscar benchmarks since their 2012 release. But now their successors – wearing a new ‘718’ prefix in a nod to the four-cylinder 550 Spyder’s race-winning 1960s ways – might have to.
That is because the 718 Cayman and Boxster have ditched the 981’s 2.7- and 3.4-litre six-cylinder engines, replacing them with smaller but now-turbocharged 2.0- and 2.5-litre four-cylinder units. Power, torque, and performance are all up, while fuel consumption has fallen.
While such dot-points make for good headlines, can those on-paper triumphs be matched by a heightened on-road experience?
Price and equipment
For the first time since the Cayman in 2006 joined the Boxster that first emerged in 1996, the former coupe is now more affordable than the latter roadster range. This entry-level 718 Cayman is therefore now also the entry ticket to Porsche sportscar ownership, at $115,300 plus on-road costs.
While that is $2800 less than the 718 Boxster, the as-tested seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission – dubbed PDK – adds $1860 back over the standard six-speed manual transmission.
Although a $117,160 pricetag places the 718 Cayman between $99,900 BMW M2 and $137,611 Audi TT RS, several comfort and chassis options quickly draw the Porsche closer to the latter.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control air-conditioning and part-leather, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, plus a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with digital radio, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology.
However, a vast number of optional features includes adaptive cruise control ($2990), a Bose audio system ($2650) even front parking sensors with rearview camera ($1690), and keyless auto-entry ($1690).
Also included as-tested were a Sport Chrono package ($4990) with launch control and a Sport electronic stability control (ESC), 20-inch alloy wheels ($4840), torque vectoring with mechanical limited-slip differential ($3190), and adaptive suspension ($2710), totally $15,730 in extras.
New exterior colours might make the outside of the 718 Cayman pop – such as the as-tested Lava Orange, or Miami Blue or Racing Yellow – but it continues to look and feel austere inside. It can be brightened with various coloured seatbelt and trim options, for a price of course, but arguably none suit the formal feel of this lightly updated – for the first time since 2012 – cabin.
Note the new circular centre vents, replacing square items used previously, and an excellent new touchscreen with high-resolution graphics and intuitive menus.
However the plethora of traditional buttons and swathes of dark soft-touch plastics still suggests seriousness, rather than playfulness.
A TT RS, for example, might boast a new-age interior complete with Virtual Cockpit colour driver display, but the 718 Cayman is not without significant virtue. Beyond the visual cues there remains a depth of quality here virtually unmatched around this price range. Fit-and-finish is simply superb, and the liberal usage of silver brightwork trim prioritises understated class over showy glitz.
Unsurprisingly, this Porsche focuses on the driver with its utterly perfect driving position – low down, legs almost straight towards the pedals – and snug seats, though this two-door mid-engined coupe is also astonishingly practical.
There is a clue as to why in that description: with engine in the middle, there is a 150-litre front boot as well as a 275L rear compartment complete with liftback practicality. And with total volume of 425L, it even eclipses the 380L figure of a Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Engine and transmission
Gone is the syrupy smooth and superbly sweet 2.7-litre naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine of the 981 Cayman. In its place with the 718 Cayman comes a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that increases power by 18kW to 220kW at 6500rpm, and torque by 90Nm to 380Nm from just 1950rpm.
The ‘flat’ four-cylinder indeed holds that latter torque figure flat all the way to 4500rpm, and it in most ways defines the dramatically different driving experience of this Porsche. The superseded six did not make its lesser torque figure until 6500rpm, which meant it could sometimes feel slow. By contrast the 718 Cayman feels very, very fast. Its 0-100km/h claim has been lowered from 5.7 seconds to 5.1s, but pick the PDK and it tumbles to 4.9s. Get launch control, and it becomes 4.7s.
Only sometimes, particularly around town at low speed, does the new engine suffer some turbo lag, and yet when it does come on boost it can be abrupt.
Some throttle response is lost compared with the old model, no doubt, but the gain in speed simply harnesses the stellar chassis better than before.
There is no faulting the superb seven-speed dual-clutch, which in either normal, Sport or Sport Plus modes segues seamlessly from subtle to assertive to aggressive. However, the major sticking point now is noise – the loss of two cylinders and addition of a turbo has affected aural appeal, with a graininess and even harshness introduced with this four that leaves it sounding weedy or harsh depending on throttle position. Thankfully, it becomes sweetest when the accelerator is pinned.
Also, a major point of this new engine was to lower fuel consumption, yet on-test the turbo four consumed 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres more than 50 per cent higher than its 7.4L/100km claim.
Ride and handling
The 981 Cayman was already in handling terms a near-supercar for sportscar pricing. Quite simply the 718 Cayman takes that line and banishes the word ‘near’ from it, emphatically and wholly mocking the slightly condescending ‘entry level’ tag bestowed upon it by default of its pricetag.
Its steering is creamy smooth, immaculately sharp and feelsome, pointing a front-end with the weight of weekender bags rather than engine block over it.
Combined with vast tyre grip, the corner-entry speeds this Porsche can accept is mind blowing so far beyond anything under $200K.
An even greater secret to the Cayman’s dynamic success, however, is its depth of talent beyond managing to slurp up a twisty section of road quickly. The way this rear-wheel-drive coupe pivots around its driver and encourages an early application of throttle and the winding off of steering lock quickly, is masterful. Its balance – the point of handing front grip to back shove – is perfect.
Likewise the optional Sport ESC mode is superbly smart and subtle, while the optional locking rear differential allows the 718 to run the full gamut from being driven with fast focus, or in a tantalising tango, the rear-end moving in tightly controlled steps via the excellent (high-rev) throttle response.
And yet despite this seemingly hardcore character, the optional adaptive suspension proves almost startingly supple for a sportscar wearing such low-profile tyres. In any mode the Porsche’s nailing down of body movement is beyond reproach, yet the Sport and Sport Plus alternatives act to only tighten the screws slightly while never being anything other than comfortable and controlled.
Safety and servicing
Six airbags (including dual front, front-side and curtain protection), ABS, and electronic stability control (ESC) are all standard.
ANCAP has not tested the Porsche Cayman.
Porsche does not include a capped-price servicing program.
The Porsche 718 Cayman does not sound as sweet as the outgoing 981 generation.
Nor, around town, does the new turbo four-cylinder possess the perfect throttle response of the six-cylinder engine it replaces, and in the real world fuel consumption remains far from frugal.
Yet for all that the entry-level 718 is absolutely a more impressive driver’s car than before.
When optioned with every available piece of chassis technology equipment it still remains a sub-$150,000 proposition, yet it humbles the likes of the TT RS, BMW M2, Mercedes-AMG C63 or Jaguar F-Type. And virtually anything else for less than twice its asking price.
Driven enthusiastically, this Porsche’s extra turn of speed falls more seamlessly in hand with the stellar chassis. Where previously the entry-level six-cylinder was more about handling than performance, the two virtues are now in greater harmony than before.
It also emphasises that in sportscar circles ‘value’ is less about luxury equipment for the money, but more about the depth of engineering integrity that dictates the brilliance of the driving experience.
In that context the Porsche 718 Cayman should be seen as a supercar for sportscar coin.
Audi TT RS from $137,611 plus on-road costs
This Cayman should cop an earful of turbo-five vibes, but dynamics inferior.
BMW M2 from $99,990 plus on-road costs
Superb for the price and does not need options to shine, but 718 worth the stretch.
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