Allow me to start this with a challenge and inadvertently you can help me with this. What is the direct competitor for the mid-engined, rear wheel drive, manual gearbox optioned Porsche Cayman..? Nope? Nothing? Me neither. Glad we agree on that.
I flew into Copenhagen, crossed an engineering marvel into Sweden past an IKEA or two and arrived in Malmö. At this point I was a little sleepy. Not for long – I got into the gorgeous hotel lobby and was greeted with an equally pretty smile that offered me something I could not refuse. No, get your minds out of the gutter, it was the key to the very new, and in my case, very yellow Porsche 718 Cayman S – I had not even put my bags down – no bad thing. If 718 is ringing the Big Ben in your brains it should, the digits are the same as those of the Boxster.
Let’s get into the good stuff and boy there is a lot of it as there is controversy. First impressions circling the car, like one of the many many bugs attracted to the traditional yellow finish, are that the Cayman has got smart. It’s tight, taught and just looks a whole lot more squat than the predecessor – get used to the word predecessor, it will appear a lot. I’ll leave you to decide on the new Porsche badge on the rear that has been mounted onto the new rear wing design that runs between the now clear rear LED light clusters. The LEDs look like crosshairs in a snipers sight scattered around the xenon ball that illuminate the road ahead.
Before setting off I’m baffled by the supreme quality of the interior. It’s not going to rival an S Class Mercedes-Benz for bells and whistles, but everything that in the cabin is built incredibly well. The infotainment has been greatly improved, the touch screen was very impressive, Apple CarPlay is a new addition and there is a 918 inspired wheel uncluttered and clear of any distracting buttons. Ferrari have a manettino switch and Porsche have their own interpretation, again, very 918esque. Considering the 718 S is priced at just under €65,000 it is very well equipped as standard, options such as the Sport Chrono Pack, Bose sound system and sports seats are not cheap but will certainly justify their price tags after a few months of ownership.
Enough of being teased with looks and touches, what’s this all new 718 Cayman S like to drive? No starter buttons here, poke the key in the hole, give it a twist and the P word pops into my mind. The predecessor had two more cylinders. A naturally aspirated six cylinder 3.4 litre petrol engine is enough to have most enthusiasts salivating, that 325 horsepower engine is no more. Instead the 718 gets a turbocharged 2.5 litre engine with four cylinders.
|Price||Horsepower||0-60 mph||Top Speed|
|Cayman (PDK)||$ 57,100||300 hp||4.9s||170 mph|
|Cayman (Manual)||$ 53,900||300 hp||4.7s||170 mph|
|Cayman S (PDK)||$ 69,500||350 hp||4.2s||177 mph|
|Cayman S (Manual)||$ 66,300||350 hp||4.4s||177 mph|
It’s not all bad news, power is up to 350 horsepower. The figures are as impressive as you would expect. 0-100 km/h takes just 4.6 seconds with the manual and 4.2 with the PDK Sport Chrono fitted. What they can’t put down on stay sheet are the tangible tickles and feeling a car gives you. Upon startup the changes are evident, it’s loud and turns heads – but the quality of the noise is far from the smooth creamy burble of a six cylinder. I slide the shifter into first, yes I’m really driving a manual car, release the clutch and gently creep onto the tarmac in one of the most beautiful cities I’ve had the privilege to visit.
Five minutes outside of Malmö the roads are empty and there is nothing but the blue sky and golden fields of corn for company. A long well sighted straight begs me to engage Sport+ and see what the engine, that has caused such a fuss with its turbocharged downsizing, is capable of. Depress the clutch shift down and pile on the gas. Nothing – then suddenly the turbocharging makes its presence known.
The cabin that was absent of a passenger was instead filled with induction noise, there is engine noise too and the horizon rushes towards you at an alarming rate. It’s fast, bloody fast. You can sense the but can’t you? You have to work for it – one of the identified drawbacks on the predecessor (there it is again) was that the gearing was rather long. It’s still something that could be improved, but instead it’s something that you learn to accommodate, an idiosyncrasy of the 718 if you will. The added turbo lag exaggerates the need to work the gearbox. It’s amazing what difference a couple of thousand RPM will make, from perfectly civilised to the intense sucking and sudden rush of speed. Writing about such an experience now it is still so clear in my mind that the 718 Cayman S on full throttle and turbochargers at full chat results in a four cylinder noise that is uncannily similar to that of a Subaru.
The short drive concluded all rather quickly and I still had a lot to learn about the sports coupe that really sits in a league of one. Having only spent an hour behind the wheel I was keen to get a head start. Being first out of the hotel had its advantages, I swapped the yellow car, that proved tedious to photograph on the previous day, for what is in my opinion one of the coolest colours ever available on any car – Miami Blue.
My infatuation with Malmö only grew deeper. Seeing the Scandinavian city deserted and illuminated by the northern suns glow from behind the wheel of a small sports coupe is something pretty special. A ten minute trundle down the highway in comfort mode shows another side of the Cayman S. The exhaust stops barking and the ride is not overbearing. The navigation commanded me to pull off the highway, zooming out to a wider view the blue line that represented the course that Porsche had plotted had me excited. Minutes later the road came to a junction where the land ended and the sea began. The coastal road was the perfect playground for the Porsche. The fast sweeping bends left and right past wooden boats and fishermen highlighted just how fast, precise and accurate the steering of the 718 Cayman S is. Yes, it is an electric steering rack so feel is nigh on absent, but it works so well in conjunction with the balance of the chassis and allows for a super sharp turn in that cannot be matched by front engined rivals.
As the bends become tighter, the road hugged the jagged coastline and turning out of low speed turns drew attention to the mammoth traction that the Cayman S possesses. Even in first gear from a standstill you can floor the throttle and there is not a traction control light in sight, it just pulls and picks up speed in an addictive way.
As the waypoints ticked by I felt more and more comfortable with the car and just as well, the final destination was the Sturup Raceway – it was time to see what the 718 Cayman S could do on the track. Being a relatively low speed and extremely technical track, Sturup seemed to be well suited to the Cayman. Initial impressions are extremely positive. Again, the balance and traction dominate the experience. In sport+ and pushing hard the rear end very progressively and predictably begins to lose traction. It must be said that this is only something I experienced when reaching the car’s limits over dramatic undulations and crests, the mid-engine layout proving itself to be great both on and off track. Unfortunately I could not experience the manual transmission that I had loved so much on the road at the track. What this meant is that I really got to put the PDK through its paces and it certainly did not let me down. The shifts are mind-blowing and seamless. Left to its own devices the shifts are always where and when you would want them to occur.
Whilst being impressed both on the track and road there are drawbacks to the 718 Cayman. The predecessor was much more refined, sounded fantastic and to purists was a much more appealing package. People purchase Porsches for unhindered driving purity and many would argue that, as with the turbocharged 911, that dream package has been contaminated.
That brings me back to Sweden, the forests and the spectacular scenery. It is easy to read the specification list of a car and turn your nose up to the downsized turbocharged engine. I know, I am guilty of doing so with the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG S as well as the 718. Take a step back and consider why this is happening. When brands like Ferrari and Porsche are moving away from naturally aspirated engines you know it is not a fad that will simply fade. By no means is the 718 Cayman perfect, if there was a straight six option I would tell you to go to your dealer now and order one for you and your grandmother. But there is not and that is the reality of the situation.
If we want to enjoy the glory and beauty of the Swedish coastline and natures beauty we have to learn to live with smaller engines, hybrid technology and annoying eco modes. Look at it from this point of view and the 718 Cayman goes from being a compromised package that struggles to charm like its predecessors and becomes an eco warrior that is an outstanding sports car, presenting an entirely unique and engaging proposition to the sector. Whats more is that the 718 generation is the German brands first attempt at a mid-engined turbocharged car and it is so well accomplished and extremely potent. If this is a sign of what to come we should not be fearful…we should be excited. After all, the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40 had huge turbochargers…sometimes we have to go back to go forward. I wont be buying one for my grandmother but I might for myself.