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Porsche’s cheapest sports car is no compromise

By Trent Giunco, 04 Jul 2019 Reviews

porsche cayman

The entry-level Porsche 718 Cayman proves that there is genuine value in searching lower down the food chain

It’s easy to assume that the base-model Porsche Cayman is going to be an exercise in badge hierarchy, a model that plays on brand cachet at a relatively affordable price and not outright performance. However, assumptions can be misleading. The reality is that the cheapest Porsche sports car, one sans an S or GTS moniker, is every bit the real deal. 

It is not, however, a straight cut equation, our test car is fitted with myriad options that take the base price of $114,900 to an as-tested sticker of $137,840. Therefore the value proposition is starting to look a little shaky. For that amount you could buy an Audi TTRS, which is demonstrably quicker in a straight line and comes with an epic five-cylinder soundtrack, but the trade-off is dynamic deficiencies. Despite the fact the Cayman receives only a 1988cc flat-four turbo, there’s substance here. Comprehending and letting go of the downsized displacement and culled cylinder count is key.

Read next: 2019 Porsche 718 Cayman T performance review

With 220kW and 380Nm, the entry-level Cayman isn’t a powerhouse. Still, with the slick seven-speed PDK and a high-rpm launch control, it hunkers down off the line, squatting and firing to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds during Wheels performance testing. What’s more, it goes on to a 13-dead quarter mile at 176.3km/h – suffice to say, with Sport Chrono optioned, the baby Porsche doesn’t hang about.

Away from the strip and the 2.0-litre feels a little keener to rev than its bigger 2.5-litre sibling. Once above a whiff of lag, it pulls hard to redline, meaning there’s real purpose taking it there before the seven-speed PDK ’box fires into a higher ratio. The four-pot has an inherently endearing work ethic, resulting in a 1365kg mid-engined coupe that’s genuinely exciting to steer. You’d be a harsh critic to feel overtly let down by the powertrain. 

The glaring elephant in the room is, of course, the soundtrack. Yes, it doesn’t sound like a howling flat six – not even an offbeat Boxer from Subarus of the noughties. But the flat-four doesn’t quite deserve the vitriol it’s dished out. (Why do I feel the need to shield my face when saying that?) Punter reactions mean that Porsche has to carefully consider the next-gen’s powertrain, but the boosted unit isn’t as acoustically challenged as the online white noise it creates.

Celebrating driver's cars: 911 GT3 Touring

Dynamically, the ‘boggo’ Cayman lives up to Porsche expectations. Turn–in from the tactile steering is amazing. You can place the 718 where you want and it hooks in, vehemently sticking to your chosen line. You can carry exorbitant entry and mid-corner pace without hesitation, before mashing the accelerator past the apex without fear of the 265-section Pirelli P Zeros being overpowered at the rear. There’s something refreshingly rewarding about being able to use the car with abandon, without being reckless. It’s manageable power at its best. A sensation as liberating as it is rewarding. 

Where the Cayman is starting to fall behind is found inside the cabin. It’s still an inviting space to be, but up against the likes of the 992 911, the 718 is looking dated. The infotainment screen, while featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is small, the climate controls require myriad buttons and the cruise-control stalk looks as though it’s been nicked from a Mk V Golf GTI. 

In terms of functionality it works; there’s a surprising amount of room for a diminutive sports car and the pop-out cup holders are a throwback worth keeping. There’s even genuinely useable luggage space, with the ‘frunk’ and traditional rear boot offering meaningful storage capacity for that weekend getaway – one you’re going to want to do more than once. That’s because road noise is well suppressed and, despite the optional adaptive suspension (10mm lower), the Cayman breathes with the road once the dampers are softened off and the tempo relaxes. There’s no discernible detraction to the body control for doing so, either.

Read next: Porsche Cayenne 2019 Car of the Year review

In truth it’s obvious that the Porsche range isn’t a case of diminishing returns – far from it. What we’re merely highlighting is the fact that this isn’t the poor man’s 911 or the poser’s 718. Ultimately, the base Cayman might not be the biggest or the most expensive Porsche sports car, but it has a purity and level of dynamic ability that warrants its company. Assume anything less at your own peril.