2021 Porsche Cayman GT4 PDK review

Is this a rare case where the auto is better than the manual?

2021 Porsche Cayman GT4 review
9/10Score
Things we like
  •   Grip, balance & poise
  •   Atmo flat-six!
  •   Mega brakes
Not so much
  •   Gear ratios still too long
  •   Soundtrack is good rather than great
  •   Not as involving as manual

It’s funny how time can make even the most assured comments soften like a rotting peach. Take my remark on the manual version of Porsche’s sensational Cayman GT4 from last year: “It means – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – that perhaps the GT4 to buy will be the automatic version…”

Even now it reads like blasphemy (manual > auto right?), but in my defence the only criticism I could fairly level at the manual GT4 was that its gear ratios felt too long.

The top of second redlined at just under 140km/h, meaning that should you wish to exploit every last rev from the new atmo 4.0-litre flat six – and trust me, you did – you were effectively resigning yourself to the fact that, at some point, you’ll be having an uncomfortable conversation with the police.

Consider that and the prospect of a punchier, quick-shifting auto with an extra ratio didn’t sound too bad.

Now though, as I prepare to drive the first PDK GT4 to arrive in Australia at Targa Tasmania, seeds of doubt are beginning to creep in. “The ratios weren’t that long, were they?” a voice whispers, before adding “have you forgotten how sweet the manual gearbox is? It’s close to perfect!”

To quell the growing chorus of #savethemanuals ringing in my head, I switch my attention to the one area where the PDK is unquestionably superior: speed.

Opting for the PDK trims a full half second from the GT4’s 0-100km/h time, meaning this is a 3.9 second car. Keep your right foot buried and the PDK retains a four tenth advantage both to 200km/h and over the quarter mile.

The PDK unit itself is a seven-speed dual-clutch and is paired to exactly the same 4.0-litre flat-six as the manual GT4.

Power is unchanged at 309kW @ 7600rpm, although the 430Nm torque figure has crept north by 10Nm, which helps to offset a 30kg weight gain compared with the manual.

The price is up too, with PDK versions adding $4580 to the GT4’s sticker, not that it’s likely to curb demand. Porsche Australia wouldn’t speculate on the potential sales split, but if the GT3 is any guide, expect the PDK to make up the majority of sales.

But the question remains – has the PDK’s additional ratio fixed the Cayman’s primary flaw? Well, not really… The good news is the gear ratios are shorter, but they’re just not short enough to make a tangible difference.

Second gear still tops out well beyond the national speed limit, with redline arriving at an indicated 128km/h.

The silver lining is that this is a gem of an automatic. Smooth and soft-edged around town, it’s also telepathically fast and intelligent when you’re driving quickly.

There are two maps for the gearbox: normal, which instantly shifts into the highest ratio possible, and Sport, which will happily hold onto lower gears and keep the revs high.

There are paddles to play with, and we did appreciate their greater control through some of Targa’s more technical sections, but leave the ‘box alone and it does a stellar job of selecting the correct ratio at precisely the right time.

The PDK also has no qualms about dropping back to first (with a dramatic flair of revs) for Targa’s tighter hairpins where a driver of the manual GT4 would likely opt to stay at the very bottom of second.    

What I wasn’t expecting, however, is how much the deletion of the third pedal shifts the GT4’s character.

Drive the manual GT4 hard and a big chunk of its joy comes from the sensation of nailing crisp upshifts and revelling in the accuracy of the shifter as you juggle heal-and-toe downshifts. 

Pedalling the PDK version yields a different kind of satisfaction. With no lever to consider, your focus moves to maximising the other elements at your disposal.

You lean more on the chassis; your gratification now linked to how much speed you can carry into and out of bends.

It’s a subtle but significant personality shift that brings the GT4’s sense of balance and connection even more to the fore.

Michelin Cup 2s are the standard tyre, and in the dry, there’s a vast amount of grip to play with. You have significantly less grip in the wet (Cup 2s need heat to be at their best) but keep your inputs smooth and the GT4 never feels unpredictable or snatchy.

And the braking performance from standard steel rotors (carbon-ceramics are optional) is exemplary, both for stopping power and for feel through the pedal.

That the PDK is a faster car is unquestioned, but is it a better car than the manual? That depends on where you seek your satisfaction.

If speed and eking out every last tenth are your priorities, the PDK is superior. But if you place just as much emphasis on the experience of driving as you do outright performance, then the manual reigns supreme.    

9/10Score
Things we like
  •   Grip, balance & poise
  •   Atmo flat-six!
  •   Mega brakes
Not so much
  •   Gear ratios still too long
  •   Soundtrack is good rather than great
  •   Not as involving as manual

 

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