Porsche Cayman GTS comes of age as sports car
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Model sits well alongside the great 911
It's getting harder and harder for us old Porsche reactionaries to defend the 911 against its smaller sibling, the Cayman.
It's been a decade since the original Cayman was launched and throughout that time, Porschephiles have argued about whether it's a more accomplished driver's car than the 911. The old-school says the 911 is the classic Porsche and that nothing can match the precise steering and unique handling character of that rear-engined machine.
The Cayman club says that the smaller, lighter and more responsive mid-engined sports car is a far better engineering base to work from, and that the main thing holding it back is its maker: Porsche has resisted producing truly focused high-end versions of the Cayman, which the conspiracy theorists argue is to preserve the 911's status as a more expensive/better driver's machine.
Porsche Cayman GTS
The stripped-out Cayman R from 2011 was a toe in the water, but its mission was to be lighter rather than more powerful and dramatic.
But Porsche seems to be warming up to the idea of the Cayman as a hard-core performance machine, because it has just launched the first-ever GTS version.
Gran Turismo Sport (GTS) is one of those iconic badges that links current Porsche models with the marque's glorious past. It was first used on the 1963 904 Carrera GTS, a racing model that could also be registered for road use. That's been the GTS ethos ever since: high-end models that have production-car capabilities and comfort, but have the performance and handling character to easily take to the track.
That's not to say Porsche is particularly precious about the GTS badge. It was used on the 924 and 928 in the 1980s and 1990s, but really made its comeback with the Cayenne crossover in 2007. It was then introduced into the 911 and Panamera ranges, so it's very much part of the Porsche family.
Now the Cayman has earned its stripes and the new GTS is the fastest, most powerful and most exciting version ever built.
What makes a Cayman a GTS? The 3.4-litre flat-six engine is the same base unit that's used in the Cayman S, but power and torque have been increased by 11kW/10Nm to 250kW/380Nm. Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) with 10mm lower ride height and the Sport Chrono package are both standard. The latter contributes to a 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds and includes dynamic transmission mounts, which automatically adapt to the driving situation: for normal running they are softer, but in hard cornering they become rigid, mimicking the construction of a racing car in which the engine is bolted directly to the body of the car.
The Cayman GTS rides on 20-inch alloy wheels with mixed tyres: 235/35 at the front and 265/35 at the rear.
Porsche Cayman GTS
A Sport Plus function is also standard. When activated, it stiffens the PASM chassis and removes the restriction on the sports exhaust system (note the black pipes on the GTS). On cars such as this one that are fitted with the optional PDK dual-clutch transmission, a "race course" shifting protocol is enabled and drivers can use launch control to slice another 0.2sec off the 0-100km/h time.
It's hard to describe the driving experience without sounding over-the-top, but the Cayman GTS is a sublime machine. It's seriously fast of course, but more importantly than that: the steering is delicate and precise, the chassis is beautifully balanced and the whole thing is radically responsive.
We're talking about an ideal combination of ferocity and finesse. The engine howls when you flick the Sport Plus button and the monster tyres provide massive grip, but if you can resist the temptation to drive angry the Cayman GTS can also be a sports car in the purest sense.
The car as tested is a great all-round package, but you can make the GTS more focused if you choose. There's a six-speed manual gearbox available, and an even sportier no-cost-option chassis package that deletes the PASM and drops the car down 20mm lower than standard. If you want to increase your cornering speed, the Cayman can also be specified with Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) for $2900, which can feed more power to the outside-rear wheel in tight turns.
Porsche Cayman GTS
That's the serious stuff, but the Cayman is also a model aimed at road-car customers so there has been an effort to sex up the exterior as well. The front bumper is unique to the GTS and the headlights have a smoky finish. The rear apron is also modified and the badges are gloss black. All quite understated, but it does succeed in giving the GTS a rather special look.
The interior is far from racer-basic. Indeed, part of the appeal of the GTS is the combination of track-ability with interior luxury. The cabin is snug but sumptuous, featuring leather and Alcantara upholstery, interior trim elements in a material Porsche calls Galvanosilver, a seven-inch touch screen with navigation and an upgraded audio system called Sound Package Plus (or optional Bose sound on our test car).
So, better than a 911 then? Not in an absolute sense,when there are models like the 911 GT3 and Turbo on offer. But on bang and chassis finesse for your buck, you could certainly make a strong case for this car.
Porsche Cayman GTS
It's true that the Cayman GTS is getting up towards 911 money anyway: the base price is $169,000, but by the time you've ticked a few option boxes, such as the PDK transmission ($6600), Platinum finish for the alloys ($1630) or Bose sound system ($1370) fitted to our car, you've hit $180,000. It could easily be more. But what a car.
An entry-level 911 is still a wonderful thing, but this sensational top-of-the-range Cayman for less money would be truly tempting.
I admit I've never thought that before.