Poor man's Porsche or the world's finest all-round driver's sportscar? Jonathan Crouch checks out the Porsche 718 Cayman coupe.
This latest 718 Cayman ditches the old flat six engine in favour of a more efficient turbocharged four cylinder powerplant, yet still offers more power. As for the name, well in case you were wondering, the '718' reference refers not to the engine but a series of classic Porsche mid-engined models that won numerous races in the 1950s and '60s. Enough with the briefing; what's this car like?
As ever, Porsche determinedly refutes suggestions that what we have here is simply 'a Boxster with a roof' but that's essentially what it boils down to. Not that there's much wrong with that, the exemplary handling balance of the brand's entry-level model enhanced by a body almost twice as stiff, enough to make this car the darling of the red mist brigade in the motoring press, if not as strong a seller as its maker would have liked. So what to do? Porsche could certainly make this car quicker, even sharper to drive, more efficient to run and higher tech to use - and sure enough, all of that was done for the launch of the original version of this third generation model, back in 2013. It wasn't quite enough, even with the subsequent launch of more focused GTS and GT4 versions. Will this 718 version fare any better? It'll be interesting to see...
So, what's it like? Well, the cabin envelopes you like a proper sports car should. You sit low, and there are no seats behind you; just a bulkhead that separates you from the new flat four turbo engine, just thirty centimetres from the small of your back. That'll be either a 2.0-litre 300bhp unit if you've opted for the standard Cayman or a 2.5-litre 350bhp powerplant if you've chosen the Cayman S. If you're wondering, that's now equal to what you'd get from the same engines fitted to equivalent Boxster models. Both powerplants are, as before, mid-mounted, that being the major point of differentiation between this Cayman and its pricier 911 stablemate, which has its powerplant slung out behind the back wheels. Here, in contrast, it's hunkered down in the middle of the car, something that has all sorts of beneficial effects on this car's handling dynamics. Even if you don't plan to thrash round the Nurburgring, you'll notice a balance and friendliness to a driving experience that feels, well, just right. You'll be wanting some numbers. The basic 2.0-litre Cayman with a PDK auto 'box and the Sport Chrono package will accelerate to 62mph in 4.7 seconds and run onto 170mph. Go to the other extreme and plump for a 2.5-litre Cayman S with PDK and Sport Chrono and you'll be able to demolish the 62mph sprint in just 4.2 seconds with the engine pulling strongly from 4,000rpm and taking on a lovely guttural bark as the revs rise towards the red line and the cars hurls itself on towards a top speed of 177mph.Turn-in is crisp at whatever speed you choose and body roll's well contained too. What we have here is a masterclass in sportscar excellence.
Does it look like a 911? The uninitiated might think so but visually at least, the Cayman is no longer a lesser, rather clumsy copy of that car. As for the '718' series changes, your eye is immediately drawn to the nose with its much sharper profile and ultra-slim Bi-Xenon front lights above the air intakes. In profile, there are strikingly sculptured wheel-arches and side sills - and a wider look to the rear, emphasised by a high-gloss black strip with integrated Porsche badge between the redesigned tail lights. Behind the wheel, the upper part of the dash panel including the air vents is new. The smarter sports steering wheel is fashioned in a '918 Spyder' design. Plus an extensive range of connectivity options have been added to the 718 cockpit, along with the Porsche Communication Management infotainment system as (at last) a standard feature. Mobile phone preparation, audio interfaces and the 150-watt Sound Package Plus are all part of this package. Practicality remains as before, with a 275-litre boot out back and a further 150-litre compartment in the front. That means a 425-litre total that's actually more than you get in a Volkswagen Golf. A two-seater Porsche sportscar that carries more gear than your average family hatch? The surprises keep on coming.
What Porsche advertise the Cayman at and what it rolls out of dealerships costing are usually two quite different things but in terms of list pricing, if you think of the base 2.0-litre model as costing around £40,000 and the 2.5-litre S variant as being pitched at about £50,000, then you won't go too far wrong. To save you checking, that means that at last, a Cayman is priced at exactly the same level as its Boxster open-topped counterpart. The standard Cayman features 19" alloy wheels, auto stop/start and sports mode, an audio CD system with colour touch-screen control, a universal audio interface offering MP3 connectivity and a three year warranty. A central feature of the new interior is Porsche Communication Management (PCM) with mobile phone preparation, audio interfaces and the Sound Package Plus with 110 watts of audio power. PCM can be extended with optional modules to thoroughly adapt it to personal requirements. For instance, the navigation module including voice control is available, which makes it easy to input driving destinations. In addition, the Connect Plus module is available as an extension of the navigation module; it provides online navigation services and enhanced online audio features. With Porsche Vehicle Tracking System Plus (PVTS+) as standard, the 718 Cayman offers the highest class of vehicle security. All new Cayman customers also get the opportunity to explore the potential of their car by participating in a complimentary course at the Porsche Experience Centre, Silverstone. It's hard to imagine a more enjoyable day you could spend with your new toy.
So to the efficiency figures. The launch of the 718 Cayman represents a return by the brand to building sports coupes with flat four-cylinder 'boxer' engines. The addition of a turbocharger significantly boosts torque while improving fuel economy. In the 2.0-litre 718 Cayman, the four-cylinder flat engine with PDK has a Combined fuel consumption figure of just over 40mpg (around 5mpg better than the previous model). In the 2.5-litre 718 Cayman S, the 2.5-litre turbo engine with PDK returns just under 40mpg combined (around 4mpg better than the previous model). CO2 emissions vary across the range in the 160 to 185g/km bracket. Each 718 model is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission as standard. The Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) auto transmission, which now features fuel-saving 'virtual gears' previously introduced on the 911 model series, is available as an option. The PDK transmission features a 'sailing' mode whereby the engine is decoupled during periods of trailing throttle or on longer downhill sections, dropping the engine revs to a mere 700rpm, further saving fuel. Prod the throttle and it will instantly resume duty. Residual values have held up reasonably well on the last Cayman and there's no reason to believe that this model won't follow suit. Here, it seems, is a car you can buy with your head as well as your heart.
Whether this improved Cayman can finally upstage its pricier 911 stablemate - or indeed whether this is the car a modern 911 really should be.... well, we can't help wondering whether these are really irrelevant questions. If you like one of these Porsches, you'll probably be unconvinced by the other, with fundamental differences that are small but highly significant. As ever, perhaps a closer rival to the 718 Cayman is the car it was designed upon - the 718 Boxster, which drives almost as well and offers the option of open-top summer driving. Ultimately, what it boils down to is that Porsche has two brilliant cars on its books and as problems go, that's not a bad one to have. What's not in doubt is that the Cayman makes the dilemma of where to spend a sports coupe budget limited in the £40,000 to £50,000 bracket about as straightforward as it can be. In the real world, it's one of the quickest cars you can drive and one that makes you feel special every time you sit in it. True, the asking price isn't cheap, the options are expensive and there are more powerful rivals that cost the same. But it's also true that for the money, nothing else offers as complete a driving experience.