Porsche has just officially unveiled the ultimate Cayman, a model it’s calling the Cayman GT4, and does it ever look like it’s going to be good. Essentially a hopped-up, hardtop version of the Porsche Boxster, the Cayman comes with marginally higher performance and a marginally higher price. Even in its highest-performing trim level, though, it’s always stood in the shadow of the iconic Porsche 911. In GT4 trim, however, that may just change.
Even from its introduction, the Porsche Cayman sat uncomfortably in the middle of the Boxster and the 911. Its price and horsepower figures were right where they needed to be to slot the Cayman exactly in the middle. As good as the Cayman was, it was hard not to feel like it deserved to be allowed to be better. Unfortunately, a better Cayman could potentially be better than the 911 Carrera. If the Cayman were truly made as good as it could be, would that impact sales of the entry-level Porsche 911 Carrera?
Ready to answer that question, the Porsche Cayman GT4 shares several components with the venerable 911 GT3 and packs a high-revving, 3.8-liter flat six that produces 385 horsepower. It’s not a ludicrous amount of power for a Porsche, but it’s good for a run from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than 4.4 seconds, 0.3 seconds faster than the 325-horsepower Porsche Cayman S and 0.2 seconds faster than the 350-horsepower Porsche 911 Carrera. That’s pretty quick.
While it’s intended to be used as a daily driver, expect the Cayman GT4 to be right at home on the track and an absolute joy to drive. The body has been lowered, the chassis has been stiffened, and an aerodynamics package provides downforce to keep the wheels firmly planted at high speeds. A limited slip differential comes standard, as well as upgraded brakes and a host of electronic driving aids.
It looks like Porsche’s tuning has worked, because the Cayman GT4 lapped the Nurburgring in 7 minutes and 40 seconds. That’s comparable to Mercedes’s SLS AMG, as well as the previous generation 911 GT3. It’s even about half a second faster than some older supercars, like the Ford GT and the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera. That’s some serious track day performance out of a car that you can park in front of Chipotle without much thought.
Remarkably, those numbers were put up using a manual transmission. That’s right: There is no dual-clutch transmission available on the Cayman GT4. While Porsche’s spectacular PDK dual clutch transmission is lightning quick and perfect for optimizing lap times, it’s hard to replace the feeling of shifting your own gears while driving a truly wonderful car. Making the Cayman GT4 manual-only shows that Porsche cares about the driver experience and is focused on maximizing driver enjoyment.
The Cayman has its engine in the middle, not the back, though, and that means it’s always had the potential to knock the 911 from its throne. Yes, it may forever be stuck with its reputation as the Porsche you buy when you can’t afford a 911, and yes, it has a lot in common with Porsche’s entry-level model, the Boxster, but that doesn’t mean that the Cayman is a bad car. It has actually always been a very good car. Unfortunately, convincing Porsche to make the Cayman as good as it could be proved to be an uphill battle, as its performance closed in on that of the more expensive 911.
For years we’ve known that the Porsche Cayman had what it took to potentially be better than its big brother. The Porsche 911 is an amazing car, but no matter what kind of engineering magic Porsche’s engineers are able to cook up with each successive generation, it’s impossible to escape the fact that the engine is in the wrong place. A rear-engined car is going to have some inherent benefits, but ultimately, the best place for an engine to go is in the middle. The added weight over the back tires in a rear-engined car improves acceleration, but moving the engine to the middle gives the car a more even weight distribution that improves balance and handling through the corners.
When customers begin to get their hands on the Cayman GT4 after its debut at the Geneva Auto Show in March, that’s exactly what we’re going to find out. Something tells us that it won’t, though. Making the Cayman GT4 manual-only is a great way to appeal to enthusiasts, but it’s no way to market a car to the masses, and that’s probably intentional. For those who can still drive stick, however, expect the Porsche Cayman GT4 to be absolutely amazing.
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