The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4: the long-awaited moment, in our opinion, when the Cayman finally does what it has been threatening to do ever since it appeared in 2005, and transcends its 911 sibling. Controversial? Don't care. This thing is epic to the power of a million.
In the Metal:
While the Cayman has never quite approached the realms of 'pretty' across any of its three generations so far, its compact, mid-engined shape wears the overtly motorsport-like addenda of the GT4 so well that instead of beauty, this machine has an undeniable purposefulness that's every bit as alluring as sweeping design lines and the pursuit of aesthetic gracefulness. With its jutting front splitter, towering fixed rear wing, substantial diffuser and a set of 20-inch alloys, then what you have is, in its own way, one of the best-looking modern Porsches of the lot.
The interior is almost as good, even if we must admit that common caveat about any model of the 718 family these days in that its architecture is starting to look dated. As more and more Porsches 'go digital', both in terms of once-physical switchgear and once-analogue instrument clusters, the seven-inch Porsche Communication Management (PCM) infotainment, the climate control buttons ahead of the stubby gear lever and the old-style speedo-and-rev counter (only the Cayman's right-hand 'dial' of the three in the cluster is digital) betray the age of its source material, but as you're not buying the GT4 for the connectivity standards to your smartphone, this is really not a major issue. Instead, revel in the perfect driving position, the sheer quality of all the fixtures and fittings, the view out over that low, rakish bonnet and - if you've optioned up the full carbon-fibre bucket seats and the Clubsport Package that brings in the half-caged rear cabin and a fire extinguisher in the front footwell - the feeling that you're in a race-car refugee that has somehow made it to the road. On kerb appeal and pre-drive ambience, the 718 Cayman GT4 is impossible to fault.
Right, let's start with the 'negatives', of which there are two. And they're flimsy, but we'll go through them nonetheless, in the hope of salvaging some shred of critical respectability in the process. The first is that the GT4 can shut down three of its cylinders when cruising to save fuel; no bad thing, you might think, but you can actually hear the tone of the engine changing pitch on a constant throttle as the Porsche switches from one bank of cylinders to the other to prevent an imbalanced amount of piston wear in the long run. You can turn this natty feature off and on with the Auto Stop-Start function, but if you want to save some fuel then you have to accept this is a constant aspect of motorway driving. If it really irks you (and it mildly intrigued us, more than anything) then you'll have to drown it out with either the car's decent stereo, or some more revs. The latter is preferable, if not strictly legal... depending on which gear you're in.
That last sub-clause brings us onto 'flaw' two, which is the 718's gearing. It's long. Longer than an awfully long thing that has been put on the rack and stretched into something even longer than a long wheelbase long ship captained by Long John Silver off the coast of Long Island. Put it this way, some fevered (and possibly erroneous) calculations of km/h-per-thousand-rpm had us figuring that the Cayman will stride to 135km/h at the top of second gear, and nigh-on 190km/h when redlining in third. That means that, if you want to hear its mid-mounted 4.0-litre flat-six approaching its 7,600rpm point of peak power and subsequently arriving at its 8,000rpm limiter (and you will want to), then on our public roads it will be illegal to do so in any other ratio besides first.
However. In mitigation, the short-throw action of the six-speed transmission is fantastic. The brakes fitted to our test car, (optional) Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) affairs, have precisely the right pedal progression to match the incredible throttle response, so heel-and-toe downshifts are almost impossible to fluff in this car (and the 'Auto Blip' button on the centre tunnel is probably not strictly necessary as a result) and you can therefore make shifting gear to elicit more revs an exciting act, rather than a mundane chore. And the normally aspirated engine has enough low-down torque from 1,500rpm anyway that you don't need to be constantly downshifting to elicit meaningful acceleration in all of fourth, fifth and sixth gears; it's a fast car, no matter what revs are showing on the tacho and which gear you're currently in.
It has been geared for its homeland of Germany and for its natural environment of the racetrack... pick a venue with a high level of commitment like, ooh, Spa-Francorchamps for the full effect. Alternatively, Porsche could have put in a gearbox with four short cogs and then overdrives for fifth and sixth, but that would have felt vaguely unnatural in road driving. In short, it has engineered the transmission to perform in the widest possible variety of scenarios and, as it is more than workable and enjoyable to live with while remaining within the constraints of the law in this part of the world, we can't even really call the gearbox something we dislike.
Which then leaves us focusing on what a preposterously, disgracefully, terrifyingly, fantastically talented sports car this is. For those who want to sneer and pick holes, the GT4's engine might not be the actual 4.0-litre from the ultimate 991s, complete with its 9,000rpm redline and hollow-timbred scream; instead, it's a 992 Carrera's 3.0-litre motor, stripped of its two turbos and then bored out to increase the swept capacity to 3,995cc. And, evolved '9A2' it might be, but this is one of the truly phenomenal internal combustion engines of our time.
The noise it makes, from idle to redline, is tremendous. There's a purity to it, a richness that's plainly to die for, but once you get past 5,000rpm the real acoustic fireworks begin. Trust us when we say that, once you've heard a Cayman GT4 operating at 6,000-7,000rpm and more, you will not for even the briefest nanosecond wish it had the 991 GT3's 4.0 mill instead.
And as this Cayman weighs less than a tonne-and-a-half with even a driver and fuel onboard, then the performance results of 420hp in such a trim shell become blatantly self-evident from kilometre one. With rapier throttle response, instant urge from the six-cylinder lump and the reach of that gearbox, acceleration is unrelenting and addictive in equal measure. For anyone who has been whining on about the shift to four-cylinder propulsion in the 718 lineage, here is the perfect riposte from Stuttgart.
Quite remarkably, for all its huge rear spoiler, slender 30-profile rear tyres, hip-hugging bucket seats and normally aspirated engine, the 718 Cayman GT4 is an unusually gifted daily driver. Thanks to standard-fit Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) with two-stage damping (and a 30mm lower ride height, which you wouldn't think would help with comfort levels), the Porsche is civil beyond expectation when it's pottering about town or holding a steady pace on an open road or motorway. Admittedly, it's not limo-like for refinement, as there's plenty of tyre roar, an underlying firmness to the way its focused suspension deals with large compressions and it's hardly the quietest of cabins considering there's an engine lurking in there with you, but for something so overtly track-focused it works on the public highway with a dignity it has no real right to display.
The pay-off for sacrificing some of the urbaneness of the other 718 Caymans, of course, is then handling from another plane of existence to almost any other road car entirely. The turn-in, the weighting, feel and feedback of the steering, the balance of the chassis, the adeptness of the damping when it's operating under high lateral loads... the 718 Cayman GT4 is magical. Astounding. A masterpiece of midships marvelousness. To drive it at even 40, 50 per cent on one of your favourite challenging roads is more rewarding than it would be to thoroughly wring the neck of pretty much every other semi-affordable sports car in production right now, but if you get brave with the Cayman and decide to take it to the limits of its adhesion, it will reward you by showing you things you didn't think it was possible for such a short, mid-engined, rear-drive machine to do. It makes you guffaw out loud with its cornering ability. It spikes your adrenaline as it dissects left-right-left combinations in a flurry of poise, boxer-six yowl and delicate, dancing grip. It reminds you about every last reason why you fell in love with the straightforward act of driving in the first place.
It is stellar. It is abnormally good. It is, when you boil it all right down to the essential reduction, better than a 991.2 GT3 manual. And that is not a summation we offer to you lightly, we can tell you; yet it's about the only way we can convey just how blinding the Cayman GT4 is as a driver's machine.
What you get for your Money:
No, we've not lost our marbles - you're seeing full marks here. For a car that is €140,000. Without options. That, when fitted, will easily push it to €170,000 or €180,000, if you start getting tick-box happy. But here's our reasoning: this is a genuine, Motorsport-developed Porsche that is absurdly brilliant in every regard, it's (slightly) easier to get hold of than a 911 GT3 and we reckon that if you could afford to buy it, you'll probably not lose a single Euro on it from this point onwards. Oh, and the final attempt at convincing you: we know of cars that are double the 718 GT4's optioned-up price to buy, which deliver a driving experience only half as nourishing as the Porsche does. QED.
The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 is, for our money, the greatest product this singular German company makes right now. When you consider what thoroughly astonishing vehicles it is up against when making such a bold assertion, you can see why we think this is a phenomenally special car indeed. Utterly magnificent in every detail; it is as simple as that.