The 718 Cayman GT4 is still the same Porsche we fell in love with

Despite a few compromises, the spirit is still there
by Stephen Dobie | Feb 2, 2020
PHOTO: TopGear.com
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What we have here is a second coming. The original Cayman GT4 launched in 2015 to unanimous, unfaltering praise—and one of the wildest waiting list scraps in modern performance cars. Porsche had finally allowed its littlest car to fulfill potential previously stymied by the 911’s place in the market. Well, so the conspiracy theorists would have it.

The result was mesmeric, a car that—while still quick, grippy, and supremely capable—had put fun and involvement higher up its priority list than lap times and G numbers. You could only have a manual gearbox, power was sub-400hp, and all the neat little touches of Porsche’s motorsport products (straps of fabric in place of interior door handles, optional cage and fire extinguisher) were present and correct. On the road, the latter could feel pretty frivolous. Doesn’t mean we loved them any less.

Unenviable shoes for the new GT4 to fill, then, but it now sits in an entirely different range. Newly prefixed by ‘718’ and powered in its lower specs by four-cylinder turbo engines, it’s fair to say the current-gen Cayman’s broken the hearts of Porsche fanboys and girls, and shone an even brighter light on exciting new rivals like the Alpine A110 and the Toyota Supra.

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Despite also wearing 718 badges, the GT4 has avoided such controversy. It keeps a six-cylinder free of turbos, and its peak power is saved for revs in the high sevens. It’s a new engine, a 4.0-liter that’s actually derived from the 3.0-liter turbo in 911s rather than parachuted down from GT3s. An odd route to reach a seemingly similar result, though its output sits somewhere between the old GT4 and the contemporary GT3: 414hp and 420Nm, good for 0-100kph in 4.4sec and a 255kph top speed.

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Those actually aren’t much better than the corresponding figures of either the previous GT4 or, indeed, of other 718s, largely down to this being the heaviest car in its range. Nope, those fabric door pulls really don’t do much. Extra weight may be surprising, but it’s come from supposedly good stuff. Just look at that new wing and diffuser setup. This thing means business, and delivers it: downforce is up 50% on its predecessor.

Given the last GT4 sat in such a sweet spot, that does make us ponder if its successor has suddenly gone too serious. The price is more serious, after all, with a price of entry of £75,000 (around P5.02 million). Our test car totalled £94,506 (roughly P6.32 million), thanks to a plethora of options, some of which you might hope were fitted as standard. But hey, Porsche has never been particularly benevolent with equipment.

On the road

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Of course it’s brilliant. The GT4’s chassis hasn’t changed too much from before—Porsche isn’t mad—and the changes that have been made involve additional knowledge borrowed from the 911 GT3. Which is like borrowing your piano-playing technique from Elton John.

The steering is sublime, the gearshift is basically perfect, the brakes are progressive even in dreadful conditions—every control has been developed by the nerdiest of driving nerds to be as satisfying and communicative as possible. If you’re buying a GT4 over anything else at this sort of money, you’ll care about this sort of stuff.

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But what’s most impressive is how simple this thing is to drive. It looks hard as nails and feels laser-focused in its intentions, yet it rides amiably in town, cruises reasonably quietly on a highway. and even does decent fuel-economy numbers (up to 12km/L if you’re not being immature). It looks every inch a track special, but it could feasibly be your only road car. Porsche is capable of witchcraft.

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It gets better the harder you drive it, naturally. And the GT4 actively encourages such behavior, especially on track. With information spilling out of every control—and about the friendliest, most flattering chassis at any price beneath you—this is a car that fills you with confidence quickly. It forgives mistakes without clumsily stemming your flow, and rewards commitment like few other cars on sale. You want to rise to its level, desperate to match its talent levels by dragging up your own.

Much as the GT4 before it, then, save for one area: noise. There’s no escaping it: This car doesn’t sound as good as before. It’s no longer as high-pitched or highly strung, and there’s little of the old car’s intensity as you home in on 8,000rpm. Drive this car in isolation and you won’t be offended—its engine is still pretty atmospheric among a sea of turbocharged rivals—but it can’t help but feel a little neutered by modern emissions regulations if you’ve experienced any flat-six Cayman before it.

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There’s enough of a difference that I’d look to buy a secondhand Cayman GT4 rather than a brand-new 718 Cayman GT4. But I know that a few weeks of acclimatizing to the new car would be enough to get over myself and just revel in how damn good every other element is. Well, except for the gearing, which still sees first as the only ratio you can legally chase the redline in on anything other than an open highway. But the previous, ‘perfect’ GT4 suffered the same, and we’ve long since made our peace with it...

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There’s a refreshing lack of driving modes, too. You’ve only a few button presses on offer when you clamber inside, to activate the sports exhaust, the auto rev-matching, or the tougher suspension mode, and to deactivate ESP or traction control. Think of them like difficulty levels on a driving sim: Use the car’s heel-and-toe shifts to try and inform your own, and loosen the electronic shackles when you’ve spent some time on track and you’re feeling up to it. The car is nicely firm in its standard damper setting, and I’d be surprised if you ever felt the need to sharpen it up on road.

On the inside

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It just feels right in here. Especially if you’ve spent an additional £3,788 (around P254,000) on the optional bucket seats, though be prepared for a stern test of your flexibility every single time you enter or exit the car, even if you’re of slight build. Give a colleague an impromptu lift and they might fairly assume you’ve got sadomasochistic tendencies. Once settled into the seats, though, you’ll never want to leave, and you even get electric height adjustment to make them more amiable to different sizes and builds.

Everything else is typical Porsche fare—simple but perfect ergonomics, a big central rev counter (an important priority in an old-school nat-asp sports car), a steering wheel of ideal size and positioning, tons of visibility...it’s the feng shui of fast cars in here, and any rival that chooses to do things differently is being wilfully different to its own detriment.

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This being a Porsche Motorsport model, there’s also alcantara in all the right places—entirety of the ‘wheel and on the gear knob—with even more optional. Oh, and you want the fire extinguisher. Not because there’s any risk of a blaze, but just because it’s as geekily cool as options boxes get.

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As mentioned earlier, this could very feasibly be your only car if its lack of back seats aren’t an issue. With 420 liters of cargo space split between the front and the rear, it’s every bit as roomy as other 718 Caymans, and you’ll get a decent-sized bag or case in the front compartment, which drops right to the car’s belly. The interior is full of handy cubbyholes (even possessing two coat hooks), and unlike some track specials, there’s aircon and satnav as standard. There’s no compromise to be made here.

Final thoughts

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This is a thoroughly easy car to lavish praise upon. Steering gets no sweeter, manual gearboxes get no more satisfying, and handling gets no more flattering. Whether you’re a beginner or expert at fast driving, this car will welcome you with open arms and encourage you to dig right to the core of your own abilities.

It brings a race-car vibe to the road without eroding the Cayman’s famed everyday usability. It’s an astonishing achievement. But then, so was the first Cayman GT4, and there’s no escaping the sound and the character that have been lost to meet ever-stringent emissions regulations. That’s not something we ought to be haranguing Porsche for, though; the fact that it has kept this car alive despite tougher new rules is to be admired. Much like the GT4 itself.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: TopGear.com
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