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Can the best sports coupé of the decade absorb a contentious new engine?

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Until now, Porsche has preferred to keep the two-peas-in-a-pod similarity of its mid-engined roadster and coupé on a mostly unspoken basis.

The Porsche 718 Cayman came almost a decade after the Boxster, during which sales of the original 986-generation Boxster helped turn the ailing manufacturer around and re-established a more affordable ‘recreational’ end to its sporting line-up.

Porsche-branded rear accent strip is the 718’s most prominent design embellishment. A new feature for the model, but not the firm

It wasn’t until the development of the 986’s replacement at the turn of a new millennium that a mooted coupé version was brought to life – and although it featured the same engines and platform (not to mention 90% of the look), Porsche was careful to distinguish it from the 987 with its own curiously crocodilian name.

Now, with the introduction of a new and slightly contentious engine line-up, the blood relationship between the Cayman and Boxster has been made explicit: you’re chiefly buying a Porsche 718. The choice between open-top and hard-top isn’t substantially different from choosing between the standard 911 and its cabriolet variant.

News that the Cayman is at last the cheaper option of the two models is welcome. Yet from an enthusiast perspective, it does all go a little against the grain because the Cayman’s unequivocal triumph has been to lodge itself in our mind as Porsche’s optimum ‘driver’s car’ – distinct even from the Porsche 911 in its reasonably priced delivery of rounded sports car brilliance.

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Dilution of that status is our chief concern, then. Which brings us to the big news of the 718 facelift: the flat four turbocharged engines that have proved highly capable yet uninspiring in the Boxster.

The choice is the same here as there: a 296bhp 2.0-litre unit and the larger 345bhp 2.5-litre motor that fills out the S model tested here. The 2.0-litre Cayman is the most economical, unsurprisingly, with an official WLTP combined figure of 32.8mpg, although if you enjoy the car as much as you should, you’ll probably not see anywhere near that. Insurance groups are, as you might imagine, high and range from group 44 for the 2.0-litre car up to 50 for the GT4.

Both engines are more powerful than the six-cylinder motors they replace.

The S, tantalisingly, is claimed by the firm to be quicker than the God-like Porsche Cayman GT4.

But better? That’s the 718-dollar question. 



Porsche 718 Cayman rear

Although it may not outwardly seem much different, the Cayman’s look has been comprehensively revised.

Only the bootlid, roof and windscreen are unaltered. The effect is to align the model even more obviously with the Porsche 718 Boxster, although the technical rationale behind the noticeably larger and more numerous air intakes all around is to ensure the 718’s new turbocharged engines are fed with ample air.

The metallic paintjobs are around one-third the cost of the Lava Orange, but none is as spectacular. No-cost yellow might be the best alternative

From the rear, it’s chiefly the sweatband-like accent strip, complete with ‘Porsche’ branding, that distinguishes the car from its predecessor.

Is it the best-looking Cayman yet? Several of our testers thought so.

The chassis has been reworked, too, with a view to enhancing the precision and lateral stability of a car already endowed with considerable reserves of both.

The Cayman has earned additional rebound buffer springs on the front axle to reduce lift while accelerating and, as with the Boxster, there are higher spring rates all round to further limit body roll.

The smaller boxer engine has delivered a slightly lower centre of gravity than its predecessor had, although ‘smaller’ should not be misread as ‘lighter’.

The addition of turbochargers has meant the latest Cayman emerges from the factory very marginally heavier than the equivalent six-pot model.

Still, Porsche has ensured that there can be no question of inferior power-to-weight ratios across the generational divide.

Forced induction comes in two formats: with a variable geometry turbo in the bigger-bore 2.5-litre S, and without in the standard 2.0-litre Cayman – but with only one turbocharger in both cases.

To enhance throttle response, both engines are capable of pre-charging their single turbocharger by retarding the ignition timing and keeping the throttle ajar. They’ll also both rev to 7500rpm – even if their respective outputs peak at 6500rpm.

Before that, predictably, both four-cylinder units will have delivered considerably more twist than their larger forebears: 66lb ft more in the case of the lower-rung model, and 37lb ft in the S. Partly to compensate for greater low-end muscle, the stiffness of the Cayman’s rear subframe has been increased – there’s now a trace of GT4 back there – and the rear tyres swell by half an inch of width.

And to keep the car suitably agile, Porsche has transplanted the more direct gear ratio of the 911 Turbo’s steering rack, making it 10% quicker than before.

In the S, the brakes have been beefed up, too, with the 911 Carrera’s four-piston calipers and thicker discs.

Our test car also came with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), which lowers the S by 20mm and includes adaptive damping. 


Porsche 718 Cayman front boot space

The 718’s modifications are sparing inside. The revised multimedia system is the most notable alteration, along with the repositioned air vents above.

The new touchscreen of the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system is the most notable evolution of the Cayman’s dashboard.

Still no auto-off electric handbrake for the Cayman. A small niggle, but one that will probably play out at least once a day for the duration of ownership

Like the Porsche 911, the display gets a more flush design than its predecessor.

A black border remains, but the old-fashioned plastic shroud has gone. As with a Volkswagen Golf, on-screen options change depending on the proximity of your hand.

The new set-up is much easier to use than the old one (the previous version being heavy on buttons and light on intuitiveness) and the manufacturer hasn’t sacrificed its distinctiveness. For example, the click-switch shortcut buttons below the touchscreen are retained.

Nor has Porsche lost its knack for charging extra for items that might otherwise be found as standard.

If you’d like Apple CarPlay or online functionality or even sat-nav, these are available as cost option ‘modules’ only.

On our test car, the addition of both Connect Plus (a smartphone internet interface) and the Navigation Module caused the bottom line to inflate by a slightly galling £1852.

Otherwise, this is essentially the same interior as before, which is no bad thing because the previous Cayman’s cabin provided our benchmark for two-seater excellence.

Our test car featured optional bucket seats (£2226), which are first rate, but the standard seats offer squab angle adjustment and a slightly enhanced level of comfort.

The driving position is highly commendable either way, managing to feel wonderfully low-slung without significantly diminishing visibility.

Placing the Cayman on the road is made easier by its compactness, but the car never seems unduly small inside.

Two adults sit close by design, yet never in claustrophobic proximity. There’s still plainly a shortage of storage space, although the familiar dashboard-mounted cupholder remains a neat solution.

Our test car’s optional GT sport steering wheel (£186) is both good-looking and ideally proportioned and, with the Sport Chrono Package selected (£1125), sprouts the drive mode dial introduced in the latest 911.

The selector’s placement has its advocates among Autocar testers, although none would argue that it’s as deeply satisfying to use as Ferrari’s Formula 1-mimicking manettino knob.

That said, it feels more substantial than it looks – a virtue of Porsche’s esteemed build quality, which remains outstanding even in this, its most affordable model.


345bhp Porsche 718 Cayman

Turbocharging has not suddenly made the car wheezy, slow, anonymous or unlikeable.

For anyone fearing a four-cylinder implant of total featurelessness, rest assured: the coupé has not succumbed.

The move to four horizontally opposed cylinders instead of six comes as part of a mid-life facelift that leaves many of the Cayman’s hard points unaltered

Objectively, it is in several ways better than what has gone before. Not least of these is the straight-line speed of the S model.

Our test car’s mix of a manual gearbox, a limiter on available revs for a standing start and the same slightly frail-feeling clutch we encountered on the Porsche 718 Boxster amounts to a car that you can’t launch away from the line particularly venomously.

Even so, the coupé managed 60mph in 4.8sec when two-up. That’s short of Porsche’s claim, but just 0.2sec behind the 3.8-litre 380bhp run-out Cayman GT4.

More winsome still is the in-gear performance. The previous Cayman’s naturally aspirated indifference to an open throttle at middling revs has been eradicated. So much so that from 60mph to 80mph in sixth, the S proved 1.3sec quicker than the GT4, thanks to the much earlier arrival of the same 310lb ft of peak twist.

This makes the 718 by far the most amenable Cayman yet to drive on a motorway. More than that, though, it furnishes the car with a new-found thrusting eagerness in the lower ratios, making it a fantastically fast, ever-ready real-world prospect in the way the outgoing version was not.

But there are several things that Porsche cannot make its new flat four do. The first is entirely conceal its nature.

Make no mistake: the throttle response is basically top notch with anything more than 3000rpm on the clock, because from there on out, the progressive build-up of revs is splendidly unencumbered.

But there is still a flat spot below 2000rpm (where you’ll find yourself at, say, 30mph in fourth) in which the car will wait sulkily for its turbo to wind up. Beyond 6500rpm, there’s also a very subtle tapering of effort where once there was only the moreishness of six-pot shock and awe.

Which, of course, reveals the second thing the motor can’t do: noise.

Or rather the right kind of noise. Because in outright volume, the S produces a substantial amount of it (especially from the optional Sports exhaust).

Unfortunately, as we found with the Boxster, it is pitched as a gruff beating monotone and arrives at the ears more like a grown-up and very angry Toyota GT86 than a recognisable product of Porsche. It’s hard not to chalk up that lack of distinctiveness as a disappointment. 


Porsche 718 Cayman cornering

If anything, the bar here is set higher than even our expectations of the engine.

The Cayman’s perennial place in our affections is, after all, based more on the way the car gets round a corner than how it arrived there.

Braking in the 718 Cayman can be left outrageously late thanks to superb stoppers and general stability

Unexpectedly, it is the GT4 that offers the most meaningful comparison here, too, chiefly because it is in that direction – faster, grippier and ever more purposeful – that the car appears to have been taken.

Given the 718’s technical kinship (not least its adoption of 10in-wide rear wheels) and Porsche’s professed desire for greater lateral stability, perhaps that was inevitable.

It certainly means that a modicum of the previous car’s deft adjustable poise has been whittled away.

The Cayman’s stern hold on the road now feels almost at Porsche 911 levels. However, if the coupé needs to be driven that bit faster to access the chassis’ talent, then that’s probably appropriate because the 2.5-litre engine tends to have you pedalling faster than you might have been in the previous S.

Key yourself into all the available energy and the 718 harnesses it with real aplomb. The steering, probably sweeter with the addition of the lower-mass carbon-ceramic brakes, is a model for electric assistance.

It’s densely progressive, communicative, beautifully benign with any slip angle in the mix and sharper now without feeling the least bit overactive.

But the real enhancement, doubtless embellished further by the lower PASM suspension, is the sublime amalgamation of body control and ride quality.

The higher spring rates that supply the superbly managed turn-in and mid-corner control don’t constrict its ability to stay wonderfully pliant on the average B-road.

In its most comfort-orientated default setting, the 718 soaks up the huge punishment presumably being taken by the optional 20in rims, leaving its driver serene in a matchless brand of tacked-down composure – even as the car’s appetite for speed edges you towards ever more frenetic, rear-drive reward.

In this respect, as a classic affordable sports car in a contemporary mould, the 718 remains without dynamic equal.

The 718 Cayman S takes to a circuit so matter-of-factly — and utterly brilliantly. Although it doesn’t have the straight-line punch of some £50k cars, the engine does its best impression of a naturally aspirated lump when surging through gear after gear beyond 3500rpm, and the optional carbon-ceramic brakes will soak up as many flat-out laps as you’re likely to want to throw at them.

The genius of the chassis is to first deliver just enough throttle-on stability to allow you to carry as much speed as you want through faster corners but then to bring in balletic cornering balance and tender adjustability of attitude for those who call for it by entering any given bend on a trailing throttle.

Set the tail wagging that way and there’s enough power to develop a 100-yard powerslide in second and third gears — and exiting that slide can be done with supreme precision and confidence through Porsche’s ever-forgiving steering rack.


Porsche 718 Cayman

The barometer here is twofold: how do the latest Cayman’s running costs stack up against the previous one’s, and how does it compare with its rivals.

That’s a gauge for any car, of course, but doubly pertinent for a sports coupé that has been separated from two of its cylinders.

Porsche enjoys some of the industry’s best residuals and despite the contentious engine – the Cayman is no different

Buy the standard Cayman and fit it with the PDK gearbox and Porsche claims you will see 40.9mpg combined and 158g/km CO2. That’s 5mpg and 25g/km more efficient than the car it replaces and a similar amount clear of BMW’s M2.

However, buy the car with a manual gearbox and the larger engine and the advantage narrows. At 34.9mpg, the S’s official average is only 3.5mpg ahead of the old 3.4-litre GTS’s.

At MIRA last year, the even more powerful GT4 returned 9.4mpg during track use; 10.3mpg from the new S shows just how immoderately thirsty a turbo engine can still be.

During TrueMPG testing, the 718 averaged 28.4mpg, which isn’t awful but neither is it a cast-iron economic reason for preferring the car to a nearly new example of its larger-capacity predecessor. Our test car’s 54g/km reduction in CO2 emissions over the GT4 encapsulates the incentive to Porsche as an organisation. But the £270-a-year reduction in road duty it represents hardly seems persuasive recompense for a repeat buyer.

If you are keen on getting a 718 Cayman we would advise sticking with adaptive Sports suspension (£1133) and locking rear diff with PTV (£890), and avoiding the biggest optional rims. However, we haven’t tried the standard Cayman in the UK so don’t yet know if the S is worth its premium. 



4.5 star Porsche 718 Cayman S

The last Cayman for which we wrote a verdict was the GT4, a car that powered towards five stars as straightforwardly as a football rolling into an open goal.

It’s easy now to see that outgoing car as a Concorde-like high point for Porsche’s coupé: oversized in engine, thirst, cost, noise and attitude – and sensational for it.

Still the greatest sports coupé out there, even if the Cayman doesn’t sound like it

Naturally, the new 718 is a lesser prospect, yet proximity to the GT4 underlines its few real shortcomings – and the deficit in mechanical sound and fury will come across as the chief diminishment to a great many.

Levelling such a charge is all the more justifiable when the new four-cylinder engine doesn’t offer any real running cost advantage.

But a wholesale dismissal of the car is a long way from fair.

The 718 Cayman S is by some distance the most complete sports coupé on sale and easily talented enough in the handling department (our ultimate measure of such things) to overcome slight misgivings about the way the crank is now turned.

In the long term, memory of its past power source will eventually fade. The manifest and numerous qualities of the 718 will not.

That is why the Cayman S heads our top five, holding off the likes of the BMW M2, Audi TTS, Lotus Elise Sport 220 and Alfa Romeo 4C.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Porsche 718 Cayman First drives