A free-breathing flat-six mounted in the middle. A manual gearbox. Rear-wheel drive. And a lightweight, shrink-wrapped body tailor-made for Welsh B-roads. The old Cayman GT4 was pretty close to perfect, an instant icon. Which gave Andreas Preuninger, head of Porsche’s go-faster GT division, an unenviable task. For a car where less is more, how do you offer, well, more?
The new GT4 still has six cylinders, whereas lesser 718 Caymans make do with four. It’s still naturally aspirated, with no turbos to mute the soundtrack or soften right-pedal response. It still has a manual ’box, although a paddle-shift PDK arrives next year. And it remains lighter (1,420kg) and usefully smaller than the ever-expanding 911. The differences here are in the details, and they coalesce into something that surpasses even the 2015 original.
Contrary to internet wisdom, this isn’t a downsized GT3 engine. The 4.0-litre six is a modified 911 Carrera motor, serving up 420hp at 7,600rpm. Zero to 62mph in 4.4 seconds matches the old GT4, while top speed increases from 184 to 188mph. A price of £75,348 is around £22,000 more than a 718 Cayman S, but don’t expect to flip it for a profit. Used examples of its predecessor were advertised at £100,000 or more soon after launch, but this is a series production Porsche, not a limited edition.
This latest GT4 also has a soft-top sister in the Boxster Spyder. The open version is mechanically identical and also shares the same chassis, with variable PASM damping and 30mm lower suspension. The Cayman’s upswept diffuser and fixed spoiler (the Boxster has a pop-up wing) muster up to 50 percent more downforce with no extra drag. Porsche says both cars are ‘specifically designed for use on the racetrack’.
I won’t be venturing on-track today, but the rollercoaster roads around Wantage – close to the Cotswolds – are the next best thing. I arrive at Porsche HQ in Reading, collect a 911-shaped key and collapse clumsily into a carbon bucket seat (a £3,788 option). The infotainment looks dated and the fabric door pulls are a token gesture, yet the GT4 still feels special – particularly with a half-rollcage (part of the £2,778 Clubsport Pack) inches behind my head.
Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 on test.
Vital stats: 420hp, 0-62mph in 4.4sec, 25.7mpg and 249g/km. Price before options: £75,348.
Not sure on the price as tested as this car is LHD German-spec. Options fitted, though, include carbon-ceramics (£5,597) and the Clubsport pack (£2,778). pic.twitter.com/XK0mpoGYdc
— Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) August 8, 2019
Around town, the engine sounds fretful and uncouth: a pit bull straining at the leash. Light the fuse, though, and it breaks free with a belligerent bellow, chasing the 8,000rpm redline with frenzied intensity. If super unleaded is your drug of choice, this is Class A contraband. The six-speed stick-shift is quick and accurate, blipping the throttle automatically when you change down, while the PCCB carbon-ceramic brakes (another option, at £5,597) are totally fade-free.
Still, it’s the steering I savour most. Devoid of any buttons, the Alcantara-wrapped wheel has just one purpose: being a constant and joyful font of feedback. The Cayman turns in with unflappable resolve and virtually no sense of inertia. It feels taut but complaint, like a loosely clenched fist, while the lightly-treaded Michelin Cup 2 tyres form a molecular bond with the road. That said, it might be rather less reassuring on a rainy day.
Andreas Preuninger recognised the essential rightness of the GT4 and hasn’t reinvented the recipe. It’s a couple of years since I drove the first-gen car and, from memory, the new one doesn’t feel hugely different. The improvements here are incremental. Thankfully, that means this remains one of the most lucid, tenacious, exuberant and downright exciting cars on sale. Short of spending six figures on a supercar, I’m not sure anything betters it.
Top speed: 188mph
CO2 G/KM: 249
MPG combined: 25.7