What is it?
“The Porsche 718 Cayman 2.0 is a Porsche without a flat six? Sacré bleu!” they cry. And they have a point, if, like them, you wish to live in the past.
Look, I’d rather six cylinders as much as the next man, but change is inevitable; it might not always be wanted, but accept it or you’ll stagnate in a pool of algaefied misery. The flat four is here, so let’s move on. Instead of trying in vain to haul back the past, time to judge this 718 Cayman on whether it’s the best £40k sports car you can buy today. We’ll touch on the noise later, but try not to dwell on it.
To recap: we have a 2.0-litre flat four instead of a naturally aspirated 2.7-litre flat-six. It’s got more power – a heady 296bhp – and, crucially, 66lb ft more torque smeared liberally across the rev range.
There are many other tweaks, including to the styling, infotainment and some GT4-spec bits in the suspension, but engine aside, the main theme is broadly a familiar one.
What’s it like?
Porsche says it’s more economical than its 981 predecessor. Perhaps, if you drive it like a parsimonoius cabbie having a slow day. Drive it like a sports car is intended to be driven and I doubt it’ll sup much less juice than before.
Lighter? Four things must weigh less than six things, right? Indeed, but in fact the 718 is a bit heavier than the old 981 – by 25kg, to be precise.
Oh dear. Perhaps the naysayers are right. It’s not looking like a six at Edgbaston then, is it, this four-cylinder replacement for the car once touted the ‘best reasonably priced sports car in the world’?
Hang on, though, there’s lots more to consider here. Before we get in and drive it, just look at it for a moment. This is a pretty car, don’t you think? Even if the grey of our test car doesn’t show it to best effect in the pictures, like the 981, it’s pointy at the front, muscular over the haunches and tapers away to a diminishing tail that’s the perfect full stop to its form.
Yet the subtle changes to the 718, such as the domed front wings, natty lights front and rear and black under-spoiler section at the back, make it better resolved than the 981. It remains compact, too, like 911s used to be in the air-cooled days. You remember those – the ones we were told we’d never recover from?
Next, open the door and slide yourself in to the seat. This one’s part-cloth; haven’t seen that on a Porsche since a fabulous 944 S2 my friend owned. It’s a timely reminder that along with 356s, 912s, 924 Carrera GTs and 968s, Porsche already has a well-trodden four-cylinder legacy.
Play around with the seat for a moment and yes: the perfect driving position. Just like the old car, it’s low and cocooning, with a nice thin wheel to grasp and perfect pedals for heels and toes to dance on.
Start it up. Okay, it sounds like a Beetle at idle. No, not McCartney in his prime singing Hey Jude. More like Ringo warming a rattly 1972 1300 on a frosty morning. Accepted: it doesn’t sound as good.
Clutch down – it’s beautifully weighted and lighter than before. Snick first – the gearbox is deliciously precise, just as before. Move off.
It’s better than before, honestly. Face facts: the old 2.7 actually felt a bit tardy. It had the chassis of the Cutty Sark powered by a calm southerly breeze. This little 2.0-litre turns that up to gale force by comparison, dishing up just the right amount of pace for a quick road car; in fact, 0-100mph in just over 11 seconds is properly fast.
Unlike some turbo units, it’s not horrendously boosty, either. Sure, there’s lag below 2000rpm, but higher in the rev range it’s less pronounced, and the torque feeds in relatively smoothly and predictably. It gives you more to work with in the mid-range as well. The 718 is infinitely more driveable in the real world than the old car as a result, and better placed to utilise the Cayman’s traditionally long gearing. Yet it will still rev its heart out to 7500rpm.
Granted, even at full chat it’s still nowhere near as melodic as the 981, but if you turn off the sports exhaust, which makes it unnecessarily boomy, it produces an arguably interesting series of tones.
So now you’re heading much faster towards that tight left-hander on your favourite back road than you would’ve been in the old 981; time to get on the brakes. The middle pedal is solid, inspiringly so, slowing you down confidently while acting as a fulcrum to jab the throttle between downshifts so you feel like Senna in that fabled clip from qualifying at Monaco in 1988.
Speed scrubbed, now turn in. You don’t think about the steering. The nose does what your hands, guided by your brain, are asking. This helm is so natural, with perfect weight build-up and accurate gearing. Negatives? A little more sensation through the wheel from the road surface and extra weight drop-off as you pick up understeer would be welcome.
The rest of the chassis is sublime, though. The way it settles mid-corner with sensational balance, or the slight rotation as you back off or feed on the power, is akin to alchemy in its execution. Meanwhile, the ride is as comfortable and well judged as it could be in a car built with performance at the forefront of the designer’s mind.
Should I buy one?
What are your options? An Audi TTS? A fine and capable car, but not a true sports car. Mercedes-AMG SLC 43? Nice-sounding six-cylinder motor that, in comparison to the Cayman, feels like it’s attached to the chassis of a Mk5 Cortina. The 718 makes even the excellent BMW M2 feel like what it is: a brilliantly engineered coupé. The Cayman, unquestionably, feels like a proper, undiluted sports car from the ground up.
The fact is that there isn’t anything you can buy for this money that’s a patch on the 718. And this boggo-spec car with its extra grunt, I would argue, is a better car than the old 2.7 981 in every area bar sound. If I had a 981 Cayman S, would I be upgrading to a new Cayman S? No, probably not, as that car’s lost a bit more. But for everyone else looking for change in their life, this is absolutely the best sports car £40k can buy.
Porsche 718 Cayman 2.0
Location Hertfordshire; On sale Now; Price £39,878; Engine 4 cyls horizontally opposed, 1988cc, turbo, petrol; Power 296bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1950-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1335kg; Top speed 170mph; 0-62mph 5.1sec; Economy 38.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 168g/km, 30%; Rivals BMW M2, Audi TTS
What is it?