Sonically inferior to its forebears, but dynamically superior
As night follows day, so too must a four-cylinder Boxster be followed by a four-cylinder Cayman. To avoid boring regular readers witless, I’ll spare them the lament about the loss of those two pistons in my recent Boxster review and instead say only this: I know Porsche was forced into the move by the imperative to reduce the emissions footprint of both itself and its VW parent, but for all the new engine brings in terms of power (a fair bit) and accessible torque (a huge amount), so something special and important has been lost in its sound, particularly in a car with no other brief than to be a great drive.
As significant is the fact that the Cayman – or 718 Cayman as Porsche would now prefer us to call it – has been subtly but significantly repositioned in the range. Hitherto Caymans have been more powerful and expensive than Boxsters, but both now offer identical powertrains and the convertible comes with a price premium of close to £2000. Given that Porsche sells far more Boxsters than Caymans and traditionally open cars have always cost more than their coupé brethren, you can see the sense.
Despite the engine’s unattractive noise, this is an astonishing car with the ‘S’ specification 350bhp motor and a six-speed manual gearbox. The fact the engine makes the car faster – a standard 718 Cayman is now as quick as the previous Cayman S – is almost an irrelevance compared to how much more usable a fat slug of turbocharged torque has made it. At last the car’s bewilderingly long gear ratios, so unsuited to the lovely but peaky old flat-six, make perfect sense.
In the meantime, those who felt the Cayman’s chassis could not be materially improved will find themselves in for a very pleasant surprise. Not only do changes to the suspension and steering (stiffer and quicker respectively) provide an even more thrilling approach to the open road, the additional workload provided by the car’s mid-range punch means its real strengths – traction and balance – can be exploited like never before. The test car I drove was fitted with all Porsche’s finest optional chassis goodies, including active roll bars, a limited slip diff, torque vectoring and big wheels. Even with sky-high expectations, I could scarcely believe how well it dealt with my standard Welsh mountain driving route.
Indeed, handling of this calibre you’d expect only from a GT-series Porsche, yet here it is in a car that’s quiet, compliant and would be a joy to live with every day.
So even given the disappointment of the sound, for those looking in this class the choice should not be whether to buy a Cayman, but which Cayman to buy. Experience in the Boxster suggests the smaller engine is smoother and sweeter and, in the Cayman, it comes in a car some £9000 cheaper than the ‘S’. Perhaps the extra grunt is worth it, though, in a pure driver’s car. Whichever you choose, it’s hard to see it being a decision you might come to regret.
Engine 2.5 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power [email protected]
Torque 310lb [email protected]
Transmission six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power to Weight 245bhp per tonne
Top speed 177mph