England is not like California. In England rain is a tradition. We look to the skies and wonder what that bright orb is above our heads. Eventually we recall dim memories of something called the sun.
A couple of weeks ago, a little sun entered my life in the form of the latest version of the legendary Porsche Cayman, now designated with the number 718 in memory of a long-ago racing car. Unfortunately, the weather failed to play ball and was typically appalling.
I therefore am obliged to apologize for the dirty state of the car in some of my images.
We went searching for the origins of the famous book Cider with Rosie by the writer and poet Laurie Lee, and naturally it rained. The combination of road dirt and water soon reduced the metallic Graphite Blue paint to a dull gray. What it could not do was dampen our spirits. This car is very, very special.
Porsche sports cars do not change, they evolve. We used to say the Cayman of old was the best driver’s car around yet the German brand seem capable of making the best even better. The version tested here is the basic 718. Change in the modern world is inevitable and downsizing is all the rage at the moment. Thus, in an effort to boost performance but reduce pollutants, the old flat-six engine has gone, replaced by the same new flat four-cylinder engines with turbocharging as is featured in the sibling 718 Boxster.
As a result, both coup and roadster have an identical engine output for the first time. The entry-level version (in the British market) starts with 296 horsepower from two liters of displacement. The faster S model delivers 346 horsepower with a displacement of 2.5 liters.
There are many other tweaks, including the styling, infotainment, and some suspension parts lifted from the GT4, but otherwise the 718 Cayman is the same as before, only different. The changes are subtle; the domed front wings, the neat Bi-Xenon light clusters, and the under-spoilers all add up to a convincing whole.
As ever with Porsche, the options that make the car this special cost extra. The basic car in the UK costs around £40,000 ($49,304) but with standard options, the tested vehicle retails at a mighty £53,605 ($66,074) although with your lighter taxation in the USA, American buyers may pay less.
Features & Options
The options on this car added approximately £14,000 ($17,256) to the base price. These are things you actually want so buyers might as well just accept this is the Porsche way, clench their buttocks and bank balances and ante up.
20-inch wheels painted gloss black: Check. Sports Chrono Package: Check. Navigation, GT steering wheel, Torque Vectoring: Check. Check. Check. The list goes on.
In fact, surprisingly, the only thing you don’t want is the Sports Exhaust System which will set you back about a grand and a half. Porsche’s of old had a sound of their own and anything that amplified that glorious auto symphony was welcome. Not any more.
Despite their best efforts, the 718 Cayman ticks over with a sort of flatulent bellow worthy of a low drinking den at closing time. It gets marginally better under performance but, let’s face it, a turbo-four is never going to reach those aural heights beloved of sports car drivers. Save your money and savor the quiet hum of German engineering at its best instead.
Our test car luxuriated in the presence of Sports Seats Plus (at extra cost, natch) that are part leather and part Sport-Tex cloth. Play around with the electrically adjustable seat and there it is – the perfect driving position. It is low and cossetting as it should be. The wheel is a delight to fondle and the pedals sit just right for some old-school heel and toe action if that’s your thing.
Although the PDK automatic gearboxes with flappy paddles are great (and make the car fractionally faster) it seems to me the six-speed manual gearbox is the way to go on this motor. It is crisp and notchy and even a novice driver should have no problem with finding the right ratio at the right time. Sublime.
Surround visibility isn’t great but the addition of reversing sensors eliminates potential parking pain. All the Bluetooth and infotainment options you need for great sounding tunes and the like is to hand on the 4.6-inch color screen; the navigation system is simple and effective.
If a long weekend away at a quiet romantic venue appeals, then there is no need to skimp on luggage. The space aft of the engine will take a decent sized overnight bag and the deep front well will swallow a carry-on suitcase, making the 718 a versatile companion. This is the only occasion when three won’t be a crowd.
The Oily Bits
Proper He-Man engines are in decline. Get over it. Move on and embrace our turbo-charged future. Porsche says on the combined overall cycle, this car should return 38 miles to the gallon. The trouble is, this sporting beauty is so damnably drivable that the truth is probably way below that, especially as 62 mph comes up in around five seconds. A parsimonious parson might achieve that lofty fuel figure but you won’t.
The two liter engine has an aluminum block and pistons, four valves per cylinder, and VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift, if these things matter to you, driving the rear wheels.
Stopping power is courtesy of 4-piston aluminum monobloc fixed calipers front and rear, with internally vented and cross-drilled discs. As I was obliged to prove at one point on the wet roads of Somerset, these well-modulated stoppers really work. I am less keen on the electrically controlled parking brake which is a touch inaccessible and takes a bit of getting used to.
On The Road
Finally we reach the important part of the proceedings. We traveled to the village of Slad which is where the author Laurie Lee called home. The Slad Valley in which the village nestles forms the backdrop to Cider with Rosie. The winter weather did the scenery no favors, stripping bare the earth and trees, but it is plain to see that summer would soon transform it back into a bosky haven of rolling green, so fondly remembered by the writer.
We dined sumptuously in the ancient Woolpack Inn, a second home to the author, but it was the drive to and from that was the highlight of the day. In terms of their driving dynamics, the new 718 Cayman models follow in the tracks of the classic 718 cars, say Porsche. Thanks to their outstanding agility, the historic mid-engine sports cars won numerous races in the 1950s and 1960s, such as the Targa Florio and Le Mans.
Lateral rigidity and wheel tracking have been improved in the completely re-tuned chassis of the Porsche 718 Cayman. Springs and stabilizers have been designed to be firmer and the tuning of the shock absorbers has been revised.
The steering, which has been configured to be 10% more direct, enhances agility and, importantly, driving fun. The rear wheels, which are one-half of an inch wider than before, in combination with the redeveloped tires, result in an increased lateral force potential and hence in greater cornering stability.
Know what? It works well.
Wait! Belay that: it works brilliantly. The 718 Cayman is as wonderfully set up as ever it was. If you like cars simply for the pleasures of driving, it is as close to perfection as you can get. Inevitably, there’s a touch of turbo lag below 2000 rpm, but keep the revs higher and the torque feeds in smoothly and predictably. There’s plenty of mid-range punch and the engine is more than prepared to rev its socks off as required.
So many cars, so little time. Is this the best car I have EVER driven? I can’t say that for sure but what I can say is the Porsche 718 Cayman is one of the finest sports cars ever made. Even at the price quoted, it remains a tremendous value.
If you can, you should. I would.
Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite
Porsche 718 Cayman Gallery
Photos: DriveWrite Automotive, Porsche Cars North America, Inc.