You expect to experience all sorts of sensory assaults after a long, hard drive. The nose-wrinklingly acrid smell of brake pads, the ring-ting-ding three-piece of hot metal contracting and expanding, and the sight of feathered tyres and spots of fluid overflow. However, those spots are now slowly but surely spreading into an unusually large stain on the tarmac. It’s also red-tinged and slightly oily to touch. Coolant.
Identifying the cause doesn’t require the detective skills of Horatio Caine, because it’s still embedded in the radiator. A piece of wood has ricocheted off the front splitter, punched through the protective wire mesh and wounded the Cayman. Game over. The nice people at Porsche are very understanding, though understandably want to know what I hit. Sadly, I’ve no idea; something substantial enough to flick up and over the GT4’s ground-scraping snout, yet not big enough to register from behind the wheel.
It’s the last time the car will move under its own power today, but thankfully everything bar the static photography is done and to get to this point has meant covering 60km of unrelenting mountain road. It should have provided ample opportunity to get beneath the skin of Porsche’s latest motorsport division product, but instead I’m left with as many questions as answers, for reasons that will become apparent.
Rewind a couple of hours and the Cayman GT4 is waiting at Porsche HQ. With the paperwork signed and keys handed over, it’s time to hit the road. No keyless entry and go here, but inserting and turning a key feels appropriate in such a focused car. Compared to Porsche’s latest tech-laden interiors (911, Cayenne, Panamera), the Cayman’s feels a bit dated, but pleasingly so with the right mixture of digital (infotainment touchscreen with smartphone mirroring) and analogue (well-sited buttons for major functions).
Performance review: 2019 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
The first surprise is the every-which-way electric seat adjustment, enabled thanks to the fitment of optional Adaptive sports seats that account for $5150 of the $23,730 of extras fitted to this test car. None are particularly essential, the seats, contrast stitching ($6160), Bose audio ($2470) and LED headlights ($2320) accounting for most of the spend, the rest is trinketry like yellow seat belts ($570), high-gloss black model designation ($540) and Alcantara sun visors ($860). Of course, if you really want to go silly, there’s always a pair of ‘special colours’ (Miami Blue and Crayon) at $6750, sport bucket seats for $11,250 and $16,620 carbon-ceramic brakes.
The seat sinks lower and lower and lower until my bum must be virtually on the floor, but when I turn the key nothing happens. Oops, too many automatics recently. Dip the clutch, try again and the 4.0-litre flat-six growls into life. Like its 981-series predecessor, the 718 GT4 uses a large-capacity naturally-aspirated six-cylinder to produce power, but despite similar capacities the two engines are unrelated.
The newer car’s 4.0-litre is technically a derivative of the 9A2 Evo found in the back of 992 911s as a 3.0-litre twin-turbo unit, but by the time you’ve deleted the turbos, increased the bore by 11mm and the stroke by 5.1mm, lifted the compression to 13.0:1 and redesigned the crankcase, crank, pistons, conrods, cylinder heads and intake, you’re effectively left with a bespoke engine. Pleasingly, it’s compliant with future emissions regulations, so atmo ain’t dead yet, baby.
MOTOR review : 2019 Porsche 718 Cayman T
A quality common to all brilliant cars is they feel ‘right’ in the first couple of minutes, and the Cayman GT4 is no exception; it raises a smile by the end of Victoria Parade, a distance of no more than a couple of hundred metres. It’s the beautifully light and progressive steering, the instantaneous response of the engine to throttle inputs, the solid brake pedal and the accuracy of the six-speed manual gearbox.
It impresses further with genuine compliance. Adaptive dampers help, as do rear helper springs, but while the ride is taut and body control absolute, bumps are absorbed by the suspension and not transmitted to your spine. The gearshift requires some effort; it’s slightly notchy but not in the sense of inaccuracy, more the feeling of moving bits of metal around. Both the clutch and throttle are long in travel, so some coordination is required for smooth upshifts. You could always cheat and turn the ‘auto blip’ function on, but even at slow speeds heel-toe downshifts are a breeze, as the revs flare with the slightest roll onto the throttle.
Comparison review: 2019 BMW Z4 v Porsche 718 Cayman
A quick word on looks; subjective of course, but almost perfect in my eyes. The proportions, the stance, the obvious aero devices like the massive rear wing and jutting front spoiler and the less obvious ones like the air curtains ahead of the front wheelarches, the rear ducktail and the substantial rear diffuser that necessitates the split exhaust. They aren’t just affectations, though, with the 718 GT4 generating 72kg of downforce at 200km/h, or roughly double that of its predecessor.
That was no doubt helpful in shaving 10 seconds off the lap time at the super-fast Nurburgring, but through the constant second-gear twists and turns of Reefton Spur the GT3 suspension components (adjustable for camber, toe and ride height) and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (245/35 front; 295/30 rear) are more relevant.
Can a car be too capable? There’s an argument the Cayman GT4 falls into that category on the road. The cornering speeds are simply absurd. There seem to be inexhaustible reserves of grip; every time you think you’re at the limit, adding a few km/h proves that not to be the case. It’s like hiking in the Himalayas: cresting one enormous mountain only reveals another, even more vertiginous peak to scale. It’s clear a track is required to really probe the outer edges of the GT4’s dynamic envelope.
Nevertheless, there are hints, as the chassis is beautifully reactive to throttle input. Easing off quells any slight understeer, lifting sharply tucks the nose in, though there is too much traction – blame the wide, grippy Cup 2s and mechanical locking diff – for it to be truly throttle steerable. Helping those rear tyres stick to the road is incredibly tall gearing, a bugbear from the previous GT4 (and manual Porsches in general) that’s sadly carried over to this new model.
Second gear stretches beyond 130km/h and third to more than 180km/h; with each successive gear the gap narrows, so it’s perfect for a fast, flowing track, but on the road you’re essentially stuck in second with the very occasional foray into third. It’s frustrating because the gearbox itself is divine, getting better the faster you move your hand until it feels like you barely need to dip the clutch to engage the next ratio. As sacrilegious as it will be to the purists, the forthcoming dual-clutch version of the GT4 will make better use of the engine.
It’s a cracking engine, too. The old GT4 engine was great, but it was clearly from a regular 911 rather than a bespoke GT unit; the new 4.0-litre straddles the gap between the two. It doesn’t have the manically ferocious top end of a 911 GT3, but it now sings to 8000rpm (up 200rpm), the extra 26kW over its predecessor providing a greater incentive to chase the redline. At first the noise seems a little subdued, but a press of the exhaust button unleashes the sort of howl we’ve come to expect from Porsche’s motorsport models.
Our mechanical malady prevented us from performance testing the GT4, but it would be atypical of Porsche to enhance the claims of 4.4sec and 304km/h.
The only real question mark surrounds the brakes. The pedal is nice and firm and their stamina impressive, but they also feel slightly wooden and large inputs don’t seem to slow the car with the severity you expect. Apply any steering lock during the process and the ABS seems to trigger quite early, further eroding confidence. It’s not really a fault as it’s easy to adapt to, more a case of one piece of the package not quite reaching the dizzying heights as the others.
It’s clear that a track is required to truly experience the Cayman GT4 at its best. There’s plenty to enjoy on the road – the razor-sharp engine, the impeccable handling and surprisingly supple ride – but there is so much grip that corners become a game of ‘How quickly dare I go?’. And then there’s the gearing issue. Put simply, the public road is too small a canvas for the Cayman GT4 to paint its best work. Ideally, for road use you would sacrifice some of that grip for greater involvement, which happens to neatly describe the new Boxster and Cayman GTS 4.0. Once the world rights itself, experiencing the GT4 in its intended environment is a high priority. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest it will be one of the world’s great driving experiences, not least because there aren’t any sticks on a racetrack.
PORSCHE 718 CAYMAN GT4 SPECS
Body 2-door, 2-seat coupe
Engine 3995cc flat-six, DOHC, 24v
Bore/stroke 102.0 x 81.5mm
Power 309kW @ 7600rpm
Torque 420Nm @ 5000-6800rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Suspension struts, adaptive dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, adaptive dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
Tracks 1538/1534mm (f/r)
Steering electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
BrakeS 380mm ventilated discs, 6-piston calipers (f/r)
Wheels 20.0 x 8.5-inch (f); 20.0 x 11.0-inch (r)
Tyres 245/35 ZR20 (f); 295/30 ZR20 (r); Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2
PROS Special engine; beautiful dynamics; looks; ride
CONS Gearing too tall; too grippy to exploit on the road