Imagine, if you will, you’re given an incredibly delicious cake. It’s made with the finest ingredients by a master baker, but you’re not allowed to eat the icing. And everyone knows the icing is the best part.
This brings us to the 2019 Porsche 718 Cayman. Porsche has built a benchmark sports car but the inability to access the full gamut of its abilities leaves a bitter taste in the driver’s mouth. Allow me to explain.
Drive the Cayman hard, which you’ll certainly want to do, and sadly the unnecessarily conservative ESP – dubbed Porsche Stability Management – continuously intervenes even when things are well in hand.
It’s a feature that’s crept into a number of modern Porsches, but whereas it’s arguably acceptable in a two-tonne sports-luxury limo like a Panamera, in a sports car whose primary role is to provide driving enjoyment it’s very disappointing. Very un-Porsche.
Let’s be clear, this is not a huge deal. Depending on your level of driving ability (and how you use it) you may never witness the tell-tale flashing orange light on the instrument display. Nevertheless, the numerous owner threads online suggest a certain number of customers are equally disappointed not being able to enjoy their sports car unshackled.
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On the road PSM Sport provides enough latitude to dig deep into the Cayman’s reserves. Wearing 235/45 and 265/40 tyres front and back respectively, the base 718 has more grip than its 220kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four can naturally overcome, so any electronic intervention is limited to the exit of slippery corners.
Hit the track, though, as Porsche owners are wont to do, and the situation becomes more complex. Our circuit of choice is the tight, tricky Bryant Park hillclimb and the 718 is fabulous, displaying exquisite balance and delivering swathes of feedback to the driver.
Encouraged by its communication you switch PSM off, keen to discover what thrills are offered right at the very limit, only to find this section of the Cayman’s personality walled off by an electronic guardian.
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It’s a very strange situation. On a slippery surface you can drive through the ESP intervention, drifting the 718 at some impressive angles despite the incessantly flashing orange light expressing its disapproval at you doing so.
What’s even stranger is that pinpointing what’s triggering the intervention is virtually impossible. Trail the brakes on one corner and the rear will swing wide in an easily controllable arc, do the same thing on another and it’ll be stopped before it can move a metre.
Likewise under power – at times the wheels will spin freely, other times the traction control locks them down. It erodes confidence when you’re not sure what the car is going to do next. More often than not ESP will step in, but you can’t just assume it will.
It’s a true shame as in almost every other respect the 718 Cayman is a five-star sports car. It rides with incredible deftness, is brilliantly practical with 425L of luggage space (150L front, 275L rear), refuses to wilt no matter how hard you drive it and is now incredibly quick to boot.
The 2.0-litre flat-four is the car’s weakest point, but only if you compare it aurally to the screaming flat-six which preceded it. There needs to be about 3000rpm on the tacho for anything to happen when accelerating from rest, but once rolling throttle response is excellent, it revs in a linear fashion to beyond 7000rpm and while the note isn’t especially tuneful, it’s not awful.
It’s also much quicker than Porsche claims, bolting to 100km/h in just 4.38sec (claim is 4.7sec) and crossing the quarter mile in 12.65sec at 177.86km/h. To put that in context, its naturally aspirated predecessor could only manage 5.80sec to 100km/h and a 13.93sec quarter mile at 163.38km/h. The 718 is one seriously fast car.
With an as-tested price of $137,840 it’s also quite an expensive one, our test car wearing $22,940 worth of options, though previous experience forgoing them does little to harm the overall experience.
What does harm the experience is that damned non-killable ESP. There is so much to commend the Cayman and even its biggest flaw will be a non-issue 99 per cent of the time, but the moment it should cement its brilliance – laps of a clear, dry racetrack – instead leads to frustration. The cake is delicious, but I want the icing, too.
All about the drive on MOTOR car reviews
2019 PORSCHE 718 CAYMAN SPECS
Engine: 1988cc flat-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 220kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 380Nm @ 2150-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 4.38sec (tested)
Price: $114,900 ($137,840 as-tested)
Like: Incredible chassis; impressive performance; daily useability
Dislike: Overzealous ESP; options can blow the price out; engine sounds ok, not great
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars