Porsche 718 Cayman S (2016) First Drive

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Porsche has introduced the 718 Cayman and Boxster in South Africa. The switch to a turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine marks a seismic shift for the Cayman and it's still brilliant, but... there's a but, reports our UK-based correspondent Kyle Fortune. 

Porsche 718 Boxter and Cayman range prices in South Africa

Cayman 6-speed manual/7-speed PDK R904 000
Cayman S 6-speed manual/7-spd PDK R984 000

Boxster 6-spd manual/7-speed PDK R918 000
Boxster S 6-spd manual/7-speed PDK R997 000

The prices as quoted here include a 5-year maintenance plan. Three-year maintenance plans are also available at lower cost and you can configure cars to exact specification and price estimates on Porsche South Africa's website.

Do you want to know what the Cayman S is like to drive? If so, read on:

By Kyle Fortune

The 718 marks the biggest shift in the Cayman paradigm since Porsche introduced its mid-engined 911 understudy and blew away all comers in the small sportscar marketplace. Yes, it might live in the shadow of its rear-engined relation, as some traditionalists argue, but the Cayman's arguably a more complete sportscar than the iconic 911. Porsche has had to evolve its littlest coupe in the face of emissions legislation, however. The Cayman gains the "718" moniker in a bid to link the newcomer to a past that only the most ardent Porsche fans will understand, 2 cylinders have been lopped off the flat 6 motor and a turbocharger added to compensate. That's as seismic a shift as when the 911 went from air- to water cooling. Arguably greater, even.

We'll get to the engine in a moment, as the updates don't only centre on the powerplant. There's revised styling too; the Cayman was always a good-looking sportscar and the 718's changes do little to alter that: it's a head turner. There are revisions to the chassis too, the 718 adopting some bits from the Cayman GT4, and the quicker steering rack of the 911 Turbo, so the already accomplished handling of the old car should be improved further. The interior gets all the new touchscreen interactivity that the newest Carreras get, though, as ever, there's a fair bit of options box ticking to build your perfect Cayman S. 


The rear 3-quarter aspect of the 718 Cayman is still one of the most evocative views in the sportscar world.

How does it drive?

The essentials remain the same. The Cayman, which we tested in manual S guise, remains a beautifully balanced sports car. The chassis is sublime, the steering quick and accurate, its weighting near perfect, the ride quality remarkable given it's riding on 20-inch alloy wheels (19-inch wheels are standard). Specified with PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) there's the choice of standard or sports settings for the damping, though the latter only adds unwanted frequency and intrusion on the road. It, like a sharper throttle map and louder exhaust in Sports and Sports+ modes, is accessed either via the normal button between the seats, or the configurable "mode switch" that arrives on the steering wheel with the addition of the Sport Chrono Package.

There was never anything wrong with the Cayman's dynamics, and Porsche's revisions with the change to 718 Cayman only enhance them further. There's no finer balanced sports car out there, certainly not at the price point the Cayman is at. There's a but, though, and it concerns the new engine.


The 718 Cayman features the first 4-cylinder turbocharged motor since the 968 model in the mid Nineties.

Porsche's hand was forced by legislation, as sports cars aren't immune to the creep of environmental regulations, which means downsizing. So the naturally-aspirated, high-revving flat-six of the pre-718 Cayman (and Boxster) have been replaced by a turbocharged four-cylinder. In the Cayman S it's 2.5 litres in capacity (2.0-litre in the Cayman), and in the S at least, like the 911 Turbo, it's a variable vane turbo, helping reduce lag.

No amount of turbine trickery can conceal the fundamental change the moment you turn the ignition key. Where the old car's 6-cylinder unit sounded exotic, the 4-cylinder's off-beat, Subaru-like rumble doesn't. There was an optional sports exhaust fitted to our test unit, which does little to add anything rousing to the mix: the previous Cayman created a soundtrack that you wanted to hear; in contrast, the 718 just generates mechanical noise.


By adopting parts from the GT4 and the 911 Turbo's steering rack, the 718 Cayman is nimbler than ever.

Sounds uninspiring, but it's faster in every way 

The compensation for the lack of aural appeal is an engine that's appreciably quicker, at any point in its rev range. The 4-cylinder's low-rev urgency is transformational, meaning you don't need to be wringing it out nor changing down the beautiful shifting 6-speed manual gearbox for pace, thanks to its peak torque (420 Nm) arriving at just 1 900 rpm. Maximum power (257 kW) arrives at a respectably high 6 500 rpm, but there's little incentive to really have the Cayman S's rev counter needle up there, as its delivery is strongest in the mid-range rather than the upper portion that previously defined it.

Naturally, this makes for a car that's faster more of the time (Porsche claims a 0-100 kph sprint time of 4,6 seconds for the manual S derivative), the added low-rev urgency arguably allowing you to enjoy its chassis more readily, and the Cayman S is indecently rapid and hugely responsive. It's particularly so in Sport and Sport+ modes – though why Porsche insists on forcing rev-matching blips for downshifts (that require PSM stability management completely off to disengage) in these modes remains a mystery. An easy life isn't necessarily something you want when you're in an engaging sports car. The pace might be greater in the 718, but the rewards simply aren't as hedonistic, as now the tuneless engine's strength is its performance, as opposed to its character.


The 718 Cayman (shown here in PDK guise) has an intimate interior replete with a touchscreen infotainment system.  

In isolation, and if you had never experienced the naturally aspirated 6-cylinder engine in the pre-718 Cayman S, you might be wondering what we're complaining about. The Cayman S is all the sportscar you could want: it's hugely capable, enjoyable, and still in a different league to its rivals on a purely objective and rational sense. What it has lost are those incalculable intangibles that made the previous 6-cylinder Cayman S a car that you'd look for any reason to drive, and that made time behind its wheel an occasion. You'll enjoy and even admire the 718 Cayman S, but it's simply not as captivating, largely because its earworm's all wrong and it's that little bit less engaging and demanding thanks to its greater torque and lesser appetite for revs.


The automatically deploying rear spoiler does not fit as flush with the rear bumper as before (it rests atop a black Porsche sill). 

Verdict

Porsche's changes to create the 718 Cayman S are understandably transformational. It's a different car as a result of its new powerplant, and it's not all good news. It's a more complete, rounded proposition as a result, but the engine's lack of charisma denies the 718 Cayman S an element of its makeup that was arguably its signature, that being the flat-6, naturally aspirated engine. Blame economy requirements and emissions, though driven as it should be the new engine consumed (an indicated) 10.36 L/100 km over a 480 km 7-hour return journey we did in it. Coincidentally, we completed the same round trip last year in a Cayman GTS. But whereas the memory of the GTS remains tattooed on our memory; that of the 718 is already fading...

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