Porsche Cayman GT4 on test: stuck on the middle
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- Sublime steering and chassis
- Purist mechanical specification
- Genuine rival for the 911
- Car's a bit low
- Gearing's a bit tall
- It's also 911 money
The key thing about the Porsche Cayman GT4 is that it has the right stuff to wean Porsche tragics off their 911 addictions. People like myself.
It’s fair to say that Porsche has held the mid-engined Cayman back over the years, a protectionist philosophy designed to keep the iconic 911 at the top of the pecking order as the most talented sports car in the range.
In short, they were allowed to fully explore the potential of the Cayman’s mid-engined configuration without having to angst about whether people would think it was more exciting than the larger, more expensive 911.
And now, the GT4 is back. As before, the new 718 Cayman GT4 has a naturally aspirated, six-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine (developed from the current 911’s 3.0-litre but sans turbos), six-speed manual transmission with a 20mm-shorter lever than standard and a chassis made of serious stuff: new lightweight spring-strut suspension at the front and upside-down shock absorbers, control arms and subframes all borrowed from the 911 GT3.
The GT4 also looks pretty aggressive, which is not always the case with the Cayman. There are gaping holes everywhere at the front and a massive diffuser at the rear, plus that can’t-ignore fixed rear wing. Fixed, but manually adjustable; bring your tools.
It’s all circuit-functional of course: the new model has 50 per cent more downforce than the previous GT4, “without adversely affecting drag” says Porsche.
No turbos, no auto, not even a choice of drive modes - just buttons for the loud exhaust and sportier suspension setting. This is definitely a purist machine.
But still a relatively practical one, which is bang on-brand for Porsche. Visibility is good, the powertrain is strong and docile at low speed and there is even luggage space, with front and rear boots giving a Corolla-thrashing 405 litres.
The biggest impact on practicality is the GT4’s astonishingly low ride height, thanks to its 30mm-lower suspension and monster front apron. The bib scrapes on driveways that supercars sail over; it really needs an axle-lifter. And at the risk of sounding a bit old, it’s not that easy getting in and out. Much younger people agreed with me, so there.
That’s as a good a reason as any to consider the 718 Spyder GT4, which loses the roof but keeps the same engine and chassis; you could just drop right in and raise yourself up-and-out much more easily.
The GT4 ride is firmer than your average 718 Cayman, but far from terrible. Like I said, you really could drive this every day.
Any Cayman feels sublime at any speed: delicate steering, great balance. The GT4 is no different in that respect, but it also packs a massive punch: 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds.
The powertrain is impressively relaxed in everyday driving. But given the linear nature of the naturally aspirated engine and the fact that the soundtrack only truly stirs the soul once you get past 6000rpm (it’s redlined at a heady 8000rpm), it’s still a shame that the six-speed manual’s gearing is a too tall to let you enjoy it at sensible speeds.
Moaning about Cayman GT4 gearing has been a popular Porsche-nerd pastime since the original 981 model; in fact, there’s a healthy aftermarket industry out there offering solutions for the previous model. Some fiddle with the higher ratios, others supply a modified final drive. Point is, this is a thing.
It’s a bigger issue with the new model because of the aural character of the 4.0-litre engine. Nobody wants to wring a car out in first gear, so by the time you’ve really got the powerplant singing in second you’re over the legal limit (it tops out at well over 130km/h). Third? Forget about it.
There’s already been a bit of a kerfuffle about this in media and motoring circles with the latest GT4 and the upshot is that it’s not ideal but unavoidable, because the Cayman uses an existing ’box. It’s not like the 4.0-litre can’t pull at low revs; but when you want the full experience it’s an issue for road driving, no question.
The forthcoming PDK dual-clutch version will reportedly rectify the gearing issue; but that’s not a three-pedal manual, which misses some of the purist appeal of this car.
So one of the world’s best sports cars has an imperfection. But it’s still one of the world’s best sports cars. These are Porsche-world problems.
In most respects the Cayman GT4 is a precise, pitch-perfect high-performance machine. You just might have to do a few track days to really get the most out of the engine; but is that so bad?
BREAK IT DOWN
PORSCHE CAYMAN GT4
ENGINE: 4.0-litre horizontally-opposed six cylinder petrol
GEARBOX: 6-speed manual, RWD
PROS: Sublime steering and chassis, purist specification, genuine rival for a 911
CONS: Car’s a bit too low, gearing’s a bit too tall, it’s also 911 money