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As with a fine wine, the desirability of a Porsche Cayman can be a relative matter. Just as there's arguably no bad batch of Chateau Margaux Bordeaux, there are only best, better, and good Caymans. The best cost more than the base model tested for this report, which tilts toward the merely excellent end of the spectrum-still among the world's best sports cars, but not the way we'd order one for our own garage. Our track testing and road experience reveal why.
What's in a Name?
Now known as the 718 Cayman for 2017-the numerical designation also was applied to its roadster equivalent, the 718 Boxster-Porsche's mid-engine sports coupe wears handsome new bodywork that includes new front and rear fenders that wrap around a pair of refreshed headlights and taillights. Reworked front and rear fascias, as well as bigger air intakes aft of the doors, cap off the evolutionary design changes to the exterior. Porsche didn't ignore the car's cabin, either, sprucing it up with a redesigned upper dashboard and the addition of a responsive 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system. The finished product keeps things fresh without straying far from tradition.
More revolutionary is the 718 Cayman's mid-mounted 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four. With 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, the four-cylinder engine's output bests that of its six-cylinder predecessor by 25 horsepower and 67 lb-ft of torque. The new engine makes peak horsepower some 900 rpm lower, while peak torque comes on at just 1950 rpm and holds steady until 4500 rpm-the same engine speed the old flat-six needed to hit to unleash all of its pull. Here's a dive into the technology behind the new engine.
At the track, our Guards Red 718 Cayman test car needed just 4.3 seconds to rocket to 60 mph, 10.5 to hit 100 mph, and 12.8 to cover the quarter-mile at 109 mph. These figures barely trail the numbers put up by our lighter and more powerful 2014 Cayman S long-term test car, while roundly beating the last flat-six base Cayman we tested, which needed 5.3 seconds to reach 60 mph, 12.9 to hit the century mark, and 13.9 seconds to travel 1320 feet.
As with previous 718 Boxster S roadsters we've tested, which relied on a bigger and more powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged four, the 718 Cayman's engine is a bit of an aural disappointment, lacking the top-end wail of yore. While our test car's optional $2890 sports exhaust system added a little more zest to the soundtrack, it just doesn't quicken our pulse as effectively. The little four-cylinder also failed to sip less fuel despite having better EPA fuel-economy numbers. During its stay with us, the 718 Cayman averaged just 20 mpg, no better than what we coaxed from the aforementioned 2014 Cayman with a six-cylinder and a manual transmission.
Aside from the sound, though, the greater concern was this 2.0-liter engine's powerband. Given its smaller displacement and greater boost levels (20.3 psi maximum versus the S model's 14.5 psi), we were on the lookout for turbo lag, and it wasn't hard to find. Starting from a standstill, then revving the engine to about 3500 rpm before engaging the clutch, produces those strong acceleration times. On the move, however, the 718 Cayman can feel weak below 2000 rpm, measurably so in our top-gear 30-to-50-mph test. This car took 1.4 seconds longer to complete the same feat than did the less powerful 2014 Cayman with a six-speed manual. Stepping up to the 718 Cayman S brings both more displacement and a variable-vane turbocharger, so the more pronounced turbo-lag issue belongs only to the base model. Proof: In that same 30-to-50-mph top-gear acceleration test, the 718 Cayman S's droptop counterpart, the 718 Boxster S, took only 0.3 second longer than did the six-cylinder 2013 Boxster S. Both roadsters sported six-speed manual transmissions.
I'm a Hustler, Baby
You have to shift this Cayman to keep it on the boil. You don't get the aural rewards for doing so that the former naturally aspirated six delivered, but needing to mind the tachometer and your gear selections is a good thing in a sports car. Being so engaged is the reason we'd choose the manual transmission over the PDK dual-clutch automatic, although the latter is most assuredly faster. That's especially true with the updates to the 718 Cayman's six-speed manual transmission that now snicks into gears with the same ease and gratifying deliberation required to move the pickup switch on a Fender Stratocaster. A light and communicative clutch and a firm brake pedal that's positioned perfectly for heel-and-toe downshifting assist in making the most of each and every gearchange. As in Caymans past, the new car's controls are nearly ideal in their feel and execution. A revised rack-and-pinion steering system swiped from the 911 Turbo improves on-center quickness by 10 percent. Fitted with a $320 GT Sport steering wheel-a three-spoke unit with a diameter of 14.1 inches, about an inch less than the standard wheel-our 718 Cayman test car's electrically assisted tiller proved both precise and impressively feelsome. This Cayman dives toward an apex like a race car and carves a supremely balanced arc through any curve.
When stopping is in order, tapping the 718 Cayman's brake pedal triggers binders sourced from last year's Cayman S. The front rotors now measure 13.0 inches in diameter, an increase of 0.6 inch compared with the previous Cayman, while the rears measure 11.8 inches. Although the 718 Cayman comes standard with 18-inch wheels, our test car wore a set of $1580 19-inchers. On the staggered-width (front to rear) Pirelli P Zero tires, coming to a halt from 70 mph required a shockingly short 141 feet-seven fewer feet than the 2014 Cayman-with no evidence of fade after repeated stops. The 718 Cayman also circled our 300-foot-diameter skidpad at a blistering 1.03 g. Remember: This is the base model.
Our test car's $1790 active damping system includes a ride height lowered by 0.4 inch, no doubt a contributor to its handling performance; it might be best suited for Caymans intended only for weekend touring and track-day duties rather than daily commuter chores, though, as we sometimes noticed the car scraping its underside when we crossed railroad tracks or drove over speed bumps. Other options on our test car included a $1320 torque-vectoring system (really a locking differential with some well-timed automated tapping of the brakes) that contributes to the Cayman's sharp-edged cornering ability. It also had a bigger fuel tank (16.9 gallons, up from 14.3) for $140, a navigation system for $1730, and Porsche's $1300 Connect Plus system, which includes a USB port, Apple CarPlay, in-car WiFi, and more. Our car also had automatic dimming mirrors and rain-sensing wipers for $690, seatbelts in Guards Red for $350, two-way power-adjustable seats with additional bolstering for $800, and seat heaters for $530. While this list of options barely scratches the surface of the goodies available to customers-the better to pad Porsche's profit margins, of course-we should note that our test car also came with-free of charge-a luggage net in the passenger footwell and a smoking package (lighter and ashtray).
Thanks to its two generously sized cargo holds, modern creature comforts, and relatively comfortable ride, the 718 Cayman makes for a pleasant traveling companion. Careful attention to the options list can optimize it for either its best performance or more relaxed touring intentions-but can also make one reconsider which model would make the best starting point. Our 718 Cayman wore an as-tested price of $68,390, which is some $1000 above the base price of the more powerful 718 Cayman S. Dig deeply into the list of possible add-ons, and a 718 Cayman can sprint past the $90,450 base price of the least expensive Porsche 911. Similarly, we bumped the sticker on a Boxster S past $94,000 in this fantasy build.
Much as a small change in temperature or rainfall can affect a particular year's yield of wine grapes, the 718 Cayman's turbocharged four-cylinder engine alters the Cayman's essential flavor. Then the consumer has to determine how much he or she is willing to pay for which variety and vintage. Regardless, the Cayman remains among the best driver's cars you can buy at any price.
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