First drive in new Porsche Cayman GT4 982C. The Cayman GT4 is a mid-engined track weapon for less than £80k that’s also sublime on the road. Catch it if you can. Words Georg Kacher. Photography Alex Tapley.
2019 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 982C drive How do you replace one of the best cars ever made? We’re first to drive the new coupe.
Few natural Predators
In any other car, a 34bhp power boost and improved aerodynamics would be cause for champagne-cork popping, straw-boater tossing and a chorus of hurrahs and huzzahs. Clearly the new version is going to be an improvement on the old one.
Clearly. But when the car in question is as near-perfect Porsche Cayman GT4, you need to keep the bubbly on ice and your hat on your head, because any change – any change – to that glorious balance of performance and agility, responsiveness and control, could go either way.
It fuses sharp handling and astonishing compliance, the emotional with the rational
Four years ago, I wanted to award the limited-edition GT4 six stars out of five. It wasn’t just the best Cayman, it was one of the best Porsches ever. The new 718 Cayman GT4 982C is more different than you’d guess from its name. Its engine is new, the aero is new, and the chassis and electronics have been heartily revised. The aim remains the same: a mid-engined sports car for driving; or, put another way, the 911 GT3’s baby brother.
The 4.0-litre engine is a naturally-aspirated six, largely based on the 3.0-litre turbo six from the 911 Carrera 992, but with a bore and stroke close to the GT3’s. It gains piezo injectors, which split each injection of fuel into as many as five ultra-precisely-measured squirts – part of the mission to make the engine cleaner but with no loss of performance.
It’s higher revving than the 3.8 six in the previous GT4, but like that car has a six-speed manual gearbox. It rides on 20-inch wheels, with variable damping, and a torque-vectoring system that employs a diff lock to aid rapid cornering. It sits 30mm lower than the regular 718 Cayman, which starts at £30,000 less, and makes 118bhp less.
You could argue the GT4 is better-balanced than a 911 GT3, but the window between hanging on and letting go is also more ambiguous
The aerodynamic changes are at least as significant as the new engine. Much of the development work for the Cayman GT4 and the 718 Spyder 982 was focused on bringing the Spyder closer to the Cayman; Porsche wanted it to be an open GT4, full stop. So as well as getting the upgraded engine, brakes and suspension, it also needed a new approach to aero. Putting a Cayman-style wing on the Spyder was not an option, so Porsche got busy with the underside. Although it was the needs of the Spyder that drove the project, it’s helped the Cayman too, the result being better downforce but no extra drag.
While the 4.4sec 0-62mph acceleration time still stands, the top speed increases from 184 to 188mph. Since the drag coefficient remains unchanged, the top-end boost is exclusively due to the more potent engine and the revised ground-effect pack featuring a larger chin spoiler, a redesigned rear diffuser and a more efficient tail rudder.
What effect does all this have on how the Cayman GT4 drives? First impressions: this is not for the faint of heart, nor a car for driving slowly; it’s a car for revving hard, for engaging with, for committed driving.
Follow the ridiculously premature suggestions of the gearchange indicator and you’ll lumber along with what sounds like a sackful of stolen silverware rattling behind you. So you rev it harder, and it comes alive. You need to stay focused, because it gets jerky if you find yourself in the wrong gear at the wrong speed. But stay in the sweet spot around 6250rpm, where the power and torque curves intersect, and it all makes sense.
The sounds from the mid-mounted boxer-six include a declutch clonk, intake chatter that enters fast-forward mode as the revs rise, fake heel-and-toeing triggered by the puerile throttle-blip feature, serious wind- and road noise above 125mph, and a rocket-in-a-tunnel full-bore exhaust note that can be fingertip-amplified for that special hooligan effect.
The new 718 Cayman GT4 is for revving hard, for committed driving, for engaging with
The difference in driving dynamics between the old Cayman GT4 and its successor is by no means instantly obvious. This is surely a very good thing. Gaining familiarity, I try to explore the new GT4’s limits. They’re high. Don your driving gloves, and the g-force meter will regularly show over one g, the hard-working brakes haul you up hard, the second-gear out-of-a-corner traction masquerades as four-wheel drive, the phenomenal lateral grip of the Michelin Cup 2s leaves black signatures on the exit of every apex.
There is no doubt about it, the Cayman GT4 still rules the kingdom of handling and roadholding. Like the version it replaces, this car is to the mid-engined fraternity what the GT3 is to the 911 class. In view of the less extreme weight distribution, you could even argue that it’s a sweeter, better balanced drive than the rear-engined 911. But because of the position of the engine, it also feels a little more ambiguous in the narrow window between hanging on and letting go. And when it does let go, 414bhp cannot produce quite as much correctional grunt as the 493bhp unit in the last GT3, which explains why PSM is again a two-stage affair, giving the driver the option of deactivating ESP but keeping a traction control backstop in play.
The revised steering system is a reminder that, for feedback and precision, nothing beats a set-up neither burdened by the weight of an engine nor handicapped by part-time traction duties. This rack-and-pinion system is a joy, every bit as good at taking you by the palms as it is being guided by your hands. Totally devoid of distracting finger exercises, the single-function alcantara three-spoke wheel is a very special control unit that bonds man and machine to perfection. In the Cayman GT4, it’s above all the steering that encourages you to take a minor road just because you can. Every turn-in is followed by a reward, because winding off lock generates its own unique haptic dynamics, because weight and gearing feel like natural elongations of the driver’s arms. The awesome directional agility is backed up by a comforting calm over the rough stuff, bumps and potholes, camber changes and longitudinal grooves. On sub-standard ground, the helm is soothingly well damped and detoxifyingly stressless.
The classic manual six-speeder is a lovely transmission too. But I would still rather have the PDK ’box, thank you very much. Let me explain. The manual gets full marks for quick throws, accuracy and ease of use. Praise is also due to the nicely progressive and sufficiently power-assisted clutch. And yet, when you drive the GT4 in high-rev knife-between-teeth fashion, upshifts must for the blink of an eye split massive momentums, which takes its time or the cogs will grind in anger. Also, life is sadly not all about having fun on the twisties. More often than not, you’re stuck in traffic, pottering along at 20 to 50mph or inching forward in stop-and-go increments. The ability to stick it in Drive is a real boon in such all too common circumstances. I’m told a PDK will be available from August 2020, in both the 718 Cayman GT4 and its open-top partner, the 718 Spyder 982.
Although carbon-ceramic brakes are coming down in price from one model year to the next, they are still a £5597 option on the new GT4. They only really make sense when the car in question spends enough time on track to justify the expenditure. If that’s not the case, don’t bother; stay with the slightly smaller red-calipered standard set-up. After all, PCCB needs hot discs and pads to deliver, it doesn’t like heavy rain and standing water, it can be noisy in cold weather, and it costs an arm and a leg in replacement parts. The yellow test car was of course fitted with yellow PCCB calipers, yellow belts and yellow contrast stitching, so we felt compelled to exercise the fade-fee stopping power, relish the totally consistent pedal effort and marvel at the extra initial bite all of which duly yellowed the complexion on the passenger’s face. At 1420kg, this featherweight Porsche is indeed the dream tool for late-brakers and lift-off-then-turn-in artists.
The options list also includes a Clubsport package (rollcage, harnesses etc) for £2778, two-zone climate control for £539, cruise control for £228 and a variety of different seats, steering wheels, lighting and audio upgrades. The 414bhp Cayman is a more involving drive than the top-notch Toyota Supra, faster than the super-sweet Alpine, more challenging than the Audi TT RS sprintmaster, more complete overall than even the Jaguar F-Type R, less compromised than a Lotus Exige and Evora.
But the Porsche is beginning to show its age. You still can’t have a head-up display, the infotainment dates back to the days when the Game Boy was invented, the archaic ergonomics are ho-hum and the traditional less-is-more approach to engineering doesn’t quite cut it any more. But we still love the GT4. There’s nothing like it. And nor will there be many more like this in the future. We’re approaching the end of the line for petrol-fuelled sports cars that are this pure, this thrilling, this responsive. After all, the next Cayman due in 2024 sheds the combustion engine in favour of a couple of e-motors while swapping the 64-litre petrol tank for an underfloor battery pack. This is one of the last opportunities to purchase an old-school GT Porsche; the next-generation 911 GT3 will be another, and rather more expensive.
Weissach’s own yellow bird is not so much about ultimate performance, and it really isn’t the best trackday special this kind of money could buy either. What the GT4 achieves with true greatness is to fuse potentially conflicting elements such as sharp handling and astonishing compliance, emotional involvement and rational investment potential.
Using conventional means and minimum electronic assistance, this car offers a remarkable balance of abilities. It can now fly with the fastest birds on the autobahn, is one of the most exciting backroad tarmac peelers, absorbs surface vagaries and irritations like nothing else in its class, is forgiving and emboldening alike. If driving satisfaction is all about maintaining the flow, finding the right rhythm and mastering the dialogue between input and response, then this is a fabulous car.
While it’s every bit as competent and rewarding as the first GT4, it’s less astonishing because it does not really push the envelope any further. Maybe the PDK version will achieve that; we’ll see. And if you don’t need a hardtop, the Spyder is a big leap forward compared to its predecessor. The Cayman didn’t need to make a great leap forward, and hasn’t. Instead, it’s the Spyder that’s taken great strides. Where the previous Spyder was little more than a modified 718 Boxster fitted with the GT4 engine, the 2020 model is the real McCoy. It looks significantly better, has a more practical watertight roof, is more generously equipped, and now costs nearly £2000 less than the Cayman GT4.
If you’re lucky enough to already have a Cayman GT4, the new one doesn’t offer a compelling reason to trade up to the new one. Proof that it’s very difficult to improve on greatness. But for the rest of us, wow, what a brilliant car the 718 Cayman GT4 is.
295-section rear Michelin Cup 2s no wider than before. Ceramic brakes optional. Bucket seats £3788. Half-cage part of £2778 Clubsport pack. Ease the faithful in on the six-speed manual. Quietly introduce PDK later. Clever. Never mind a budget GT3 – GT4 is like a half-price Supercar. Non-turbo 4.0-litre flat six makes 414bhp – but it’s not a de-tuned GT3 motor.