We begin with an admission. I really like the turbocharged four-cylinder that you’ll find tucked away in the belly of the current-generation Porsche Boxster and Cayman.
It makes perfect sense on numerous different levels and I agree entirely with Porsche’s decision to drop two cylinders. But that puts me in an awkward position because I’ve just driven the new 718 Cayman GTS 4.0.
In place of the 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre flat fours that arrived with the fourth-generation Boxster and Cayman twins, the new halo variant reverts back to naturally aspirated flat-six power and, I have to admit, it is utterly wonderful.
Building on the underpinnings of the rest of the 718 Cayman range, the GTS 4.0 retains all of the dynamics and poise that shine in all variants, but adds the pedigree of a more muscular engine with the soundtrack to match. It doesn’t take long to realise that marriage works beautifully.
Hopping into the Cayman’s cabin, there’s a sense of familiarity and excitement. The interior is the same well-appointed and cozy space that welcomes you in the rest of the range but subtle GTS 4.0 branding reminds you this is the new hero of the family and has something more to offer.
Some sharp touches in our example included carbonfibre trims and other optional extras which can soon blow out the budget, but standard equipment levels in the new flagship don’t need adding to create a premium feel.
Like anything that wears the Zuffenhausen badge, the attention to finer details is obvious everywhere, from the click of a switch to the solid thump of a closed door and the high-resolution displays that extend into the instrument cluster.
But there are reasonable practical touches too. You’ll never haul an Ikea flat-pack kitchen home in the Cayman but the combined effect of the small luggage compartment behind the engine and the relatively huge, deep bin under the bonnet is a surprisingly accommodating load area.
Unlike its 911 bigger sister however, there are no rear ‘seats’ which are frankly a joke for the purposes of passenger accommodation but very useful for stowing more things.
Slotting in to the driver’s seat has a sense of occasion and the GTS 4.0 feels complete before you even turn the key.
Start the Cayman however, and the sound of two extra horizontally opposed cylinders is the anthem of performance and the promise of something a little more special. It’s not that the four-cylinder engines are unpleasant to listen to – on the contrary, there’s a charm to the almost Beetle-like thrum at idle and the near redline noise that is far more angry than a WRX STI – but a barking flat-six offers a little more aural silk which certainly suits this pretty coupe.
And the noise is ear-caressing at all engine speeds. Open the taps low down in the rev range and the six-pot produces a deep bass note that fills the cabin; keep your toe in and the sound becomes more vocal and tuneful about the mid-range speeds, but commit to an excursion all the way to the limiter and you’re in for a treat and a lovely dry howl that only natural aspiration can produce.
Porsche has nailed the soundtrack but it’s not at the detriment of power delivery and the 4.0-litre has a beautifully linear manner. You won’t shred tyres from 1500rpm with a notable lack of torque compared with turbocharged engines but the trade-off is a glorious strength that builds to the limiter at just south of 8000 rpm.
It’s essentially the same unit bolted into the 718 GT4 and Spyder albeit slightly detuned down from 309kW to 294kW and, while that has translated into a quantifiable tenth of a second reduction in acceleration, it’s still respectably athletic, clocking the milestone in 4.5 seconds.
That modest detuning is a metaphor for the entire GTS 4.0 package and what makes the model such a joy to pilot on the road and track. While it’s still a seriously potent recipe, it’s not the chemically sharpened scalpel that the GT4 offers with a corresponding pleasant ride and manner everywhere you go.
It’s certainly not out of its depth on the circuit where you can fully exploit its outstanding cornering grip and mid-corner stability. So much grip in fact, that no amount of throttle will snap the tail free unless it’s combined with a particularly slippery surface.
Brake deep into turns and wind a little more lock in than necessary and the Cayman’s tail starts overtaking the front and quick hands are essential to avoid pointing the wrong way. We learnt this from experience. Again, the lack of low-down torque requires more revs dialed in to counter oversteer.
A few clicks back from the limit though is where the Cayman is simply sublime on track. Classic Porsche steering feel is abundant, paired with the almost flat-raked steering wheel and a perfect driving position. With a slightly reduced ride-height and mildly more aggressive chassis tune, the coupe is obedient and composed with a classic mid-engined eagerness to turn.
It’s the stability of the GTS that makes is such a loyal companion and not at all the twitchy bag of nerves you might expect from a short-wheelbase and mid-engine weight distribution. And pushing hard couldn’t tire the brakes either. If you option the 4.0 with the carbon-ceramic brake package it will be largely cosmetic in its benefit over the standard six-piston calipers and iron rotors.
With the automotive playground that is a proper race track at your disposal, the Cayman GTS 4.0 shines, but unless you happen to have regular access to similar facilities, it’s most likely the majority of your time in the Cayman will be spent adhering to the word of the law and driving a little more responsibly.
On the open road however, there is still much to be loved about the Cayman.
Its ride, while firm, has been engineered to sit between the four-cylinder brethren and the GT4 and the result is bang on. If you’re after outright luxury and opulence then may we advise shopping in markets outside the two-door sports coupe arena, but if you are prepared to live with the low position, taught suspension and snug cabin, the GTS is a genuine daily.
Surprisingly little road noise is transmitted through to the cabin by the Pirelli P Zero rubber on 20-inch wheels and the Cayman will eat sedate kilometers with ease. Find your favourite road however and there’s even more fun to be had.
Away from the wide expanses of circuit tarmac, the precise steering positions the nose with accuracy on narrower public byways and the excellent balance enhances the sense of confidence at speed.
Just enough suspension compliance removes the worst of Victoria’s road imperfections with only the biggest lumps and bumps causing the big hoops to crash. Thankfully the big rims are stronger than the fine satin black spokes look.
But a little time on public roads highlights the GTS 4.0’s Achilles heel and it will be a big problem to a lot of drivers.
For all the development of the new Cayman flagship, Porsche didn’t have the resources to perfect the right manual gearbox and an existing ‘off-the-shelf’ unit had to be subbed in. The result are extraordinarily tall ratios.
Combined with the 7800 rpm redline, the Cayman GTS 4.0 will crack 70km/h in first and you won’t need pull third until the digital display is flashing about 130km/h. That means a massive majority of the beautiful engine’s performance is strictly out of bounds for public roads.
The only option is to short shift in all but first gear and play around with the flat-six’s decent mid-range grunt but that’s like buying the latest water-cooled gaming PC and only ever using it to check your emails.
A solution of sorts does exist however. Arriving later this year, the GTS 4.0 will be available with the resoundingly good PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission and a significantly shorter final drive, promising rev-wringing action in a few more gears … and a slightly less jeopardised driving license.
It’ll cost more than the six-speed manual but perhaps the bigger problem for many purists is the conundrum between perfect gear ratios on the end of steering wheel paddles, or the compromised but more involving option involving a third pedal and gearstick.
And then there’s the pricing. At $172,000, the GTS 4.0 is still significantly cheaper than the entry-level 911 but brings a lot of the same appeal and, confusingly, it’s also slightly cheaper than the 2.5-litre four-cylinder GTS that the 4.0 will supersede. A bargain? Not exactly.
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While the flat-six is glorious and doubtless lends an new level of power and aural theatre to the Cayman it’s a whopping $36,500 more than the excellent Cayman S manual and it gets a decent set of cogs in its manual box.
That makes it hard to justify the extra cash if you’re on a tight budget but, at the same time, the noise of six-cylinders spinning up to nearly 8000rpm is hard to put a price on.
The new flagship of the Cayman range is almost perfect. Its new engine is the icing on an already established fantastic recipe that offers access into proper Porsche pedigree performance and more than just a taste of 911 nous.
Its ridiculously tall gearing is disappointing but not a disaster and there is still a lot to be loved about the 4.0, but it commands a very high price for something that is essentially flawed. Despite all of this it is still an incredibly easy car to recommend as long as you are prepared to live with a chain around its neck.
Model Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0
Engine 3995cc flat-6cyl, DOHC, 24v
Max power 294kW @ 7000rpm
Max torque 420Nm @ 5000-6500rpm
Transmission six-speed manual
0-100km/h 4.5s (claimed)
Economy 10.8L/100km (claimed/combined)
On sale now