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With the performance to rival a 911, has the Cayman's true sporting potential been finally unleashed by this sell-out success?

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The reason for this test is not because you might be thinking about placing an order for a new Porsche Cayman GT4.

If you failed to do that before the car was even announced, and if you weren’t a customer already known to your local dealer, you left it far too late to do that. To get one now, you’ll have to part with well over its nominal list price for one of the several hundred that were built – of which only around 50 are destined for the UK.

It is the first time a Cayman has been granted more power than a contemporary 911

No, the point of this test is not to serve as a new car buyer’s guide but simply to assess the state of Porsche’s most ambitious Cayman yet. The GT4 represents something significant for the Cayman. Not only is it the first time the ‘GT’ moniker has been applied to the sub-911 mid-engined coupé, but it is also the first time a Cayman has been granted more power than a contemporary Porsche 911.

It’s the first road-going Cayman designed and engineered in Weissach, home of Porsche’s ‘Motorsportzentrum’, where Porsche’s racing cars and GT-badged 911s are developed and tested. As a result, the GT4’s pedigree is impeccable. And tantalisingly so, containing as it does elements of high-end Porsches – from GT3 to 918 – along the way. It is nothing less than the greatest expression yet of what a Cayman can be.

Hitherto, the Cayman has been capped, partly because Porsche has been concerned about what damage a car with the intrinsic mid-engined balance of a Cayman could do to sales of the 911, and partly because some of its management were unconvinced that a faster and more expensive Cayman would be worthwhile as a sales or marketing exercise.

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As it turns out, both of those fears were unjustified. The GT4 sold out so quickly that it surprised even those who believed in the project from the start. And the numbers of GT4s on the road is so small that the 911 faces no threat.

DESIGN & STYLING

Porsche Cayman GT4 rear

“Old-school but not old-fashioned” is how Porsche’s head of the Weissach GT department, Andreas Preuninger, defined the Cayman GT4So you should expect that this is a car of purity, then, but also one that does not shy away from having cutting-edge technology alongside some hands-on goodness.

And so it proves. The Cayman GT4 is significantly different from the Cayman GTS that provides the base point, but it is not just stripped bare. Let’s take it from the front backwards. There’s a longer nose in order to accommodate the extra space that has been given over to cooling the new engine and providing better aerodynamics.

There’s a longer nose in order to accommodate the extra space that has been given over to cooling the new engine and providing better aerodynamics

The GT4 is the first Cayman to generate downforce at both the front and rear. The front wheels, which have a 13mm-wider track than standard, are suspended by mostly 911 GT3-derived suspension parts, such as split wishbones and larger wheel bearings. There are GT3-inspired wheels (although, with five lugs rather than a centre spinner, not actual GT3), which clothe brakes of precisely the same specification as those that come from the GT3 – carbon-ceramic discs by option, and as fitted to our test car.

The wheels fill the arches so thoroughly not just because they’re large and the track is wider, but also because the ride height has been dropped by a full 30mm – 10mm more than the Cayman’s optional sports suspension would leave it. The interior we’ll come to in a moment, but move further back still and you come across the most significant part – on paper, at least – of the GT4 equation: an engine that comes straight from the outgoing Porsche 911 Carrera S, a 3.8-litre naturally aspirated unit making a full 380bhp and landing the GT4 in the kind of performance territory that no small road-going Porsche without an engine in its tail has entered before.

Given the intrinsic poised weight balance of a Cayman, it is a tantalising prospect that has long been denied us. If you went deliberately looking for disappointment in the arrangement, you might argue that you found it when you realised that the engine is not one derived from the motorsport-bound GT3 motor and is a ‘mere’ Carrera S unit instead, but there are good reasons for that.

Firstly, this is (in base form) a £64,000 Cayman, rather than a £75,000 one (before options, at least). Second, and just as important, a GT3 motor’s induction system doesn’t fit under a Cayman’s engine cover, which would leave it making rather a racket in the cabin. The 3.8-litre flat six from the Carrera S it is, then, located by dynamic engine mounts that can stiffen, should you be driving briskly, which at times you will be, and driving the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox from the GTS.

A limited-slip rear differential is standard among rear suspension that also has its share of GT3 componentry, but being struts rather than a 911’s multi-link arrangement, it is obviously not quite so much as at the front. However, both the front and rear suspension on the GT4 does get three-stage adjustable camber shims to alter the front/rear handling balance, in case it’s not quite to your tastes.

Finishing things off at the Cayman’s rear is a wing as wide as pedestrian impact regulations allow. It, too, is adjustable, although if you angle it too high at the rear, you’ll upset the aero balance at the front. Fortunately, there are removable panels at the front around the diffuser, which, if taken out, restore the handling balance to normal. Theoretically, the GT4 is illegal with them removed, but given that they’re invisible from above and no MOT tester will be expecting to look for them, it’s fairly safe to say that setting the aero balance of the GT4 to your choice remains in your hands.

INTERIOR

Porsche Cayman GT4 dashboard

If there is one section where we can be brief, it’s this one because this is where the GT4 remains closest to the original Cayman set-up. Look for differences and you’ll find them – especially if, as was the case with our test car, the options list has been liberally ticked.

But by and large, the GT4 does well the very same things that a standard Cayman cabin does well, which is absolutely fine by us. The driving position is low and straight, with a hugely adjustable wheel – 10mm smaller in diameter than standard and the same size as a 918 Spyder’s – and an easy pedal layout and perfectly sited gearlever.

It’s only in details where the GT aspects make themselves felt. All of this goes to make the GT4 feel more special, no question, than a regular Cayman

It’s only in details where the GT aspects make themselves felt. The amount of Alcantara is reassuring. Specify the optional Clubsport pack (£2670) and you’ll find a half-cage behind your head. There are 918-derived buckets seats if you tick the box next to the number £1907. Somebody had done precisely that for our test car and, as a result, it has some of the most supportive chairs in motordom. All of this goes to make the GT4 feel more special, no question, than a regular Cayman. Yet it is no less practical.

There is a good-sized boot beneath the front lid, and flatter items can easily be stowed beneath the Cayman’s tailgate. That the engine is in the Cayman’s middle means that the rear boot isn’t as deep as in, say, a Nissan 370Z, but a combined capacity of 425 litres isn’t to be sniffed at. However, we’re not here to dwell on luggage capacities. Onwards.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The 385bhp Porsche Cayman GT4

It’s almost a shock to come across a car that requires you to exercise skill to get it off the line quickly these days, but remember: Andreas says this is an old-school car.

Sit at a standstill in the GT4, then, and flatten the throttle and the engine dials in around 4500rpm for you, as if it has launch control. It hasn’t. Release the clutch and full control of the revs returns entirely to you. Slip the clutch slightly, allow the tyres to slip slightly and you’re away, while being mindful of bogging down (a very real possibility with gearing as leggy as the GT4’s, but we’ll come to that in a moment).

The Cayman would be faster still if it didn’t retain the same gear ratios as the Cayman GTS, which were too long then and which remain too long now

Porsche claims a 0-60mph time of 4.2sec, which the GT4 will do, but not with two aboard and full of fuel, as per our tests. But at 4.6sec for the 0-60mph sprint and covering the standing quarter mile in 12.9sec, the GT4 is for most purposes just as accelerative as the key cars around it: a launch control-equipped BMW M4 wants 12.3sec for the standing quarter mile, for example.

The Cayman would be faster still if it didn’t retain the same gear ratios as the Cayman GTS, which most of our testers thought too long then and which remain too long now. It’s common for performance cars to have second gears that stretch just beyond 62mph, to provide a good 0-100km/h time.

Select second in the GT4 and it will do another 20mph on top of that. In a GTS, those ratios make the car feel like it takes an age to get into its sweet spot. Things aren’t quite so drastic in the GT4 because of the extra torque of its motor and the fact that its 310lb ft comes in from 4750rpm. But still, this is an engine that revs to almost 8000rpm and makes its power peak at 7400rpm. It thrives on revs and it sounds magnificent and displays a fabulous throttle response when it’s given them. But despite a terrific gearshift, the opportunity to get there is extremely limited on the road. Just as well, then, that the GT4 is quite the track car.

RIDE & HANDLING

Porsche Cayman GT4 cornering

Porsche knows that four out of every five GT customers take their cars on a circuit. But it also knows that they tend to drive the car to those circuits. So although there are 20in wheels with 35 and 30-profile tyres on the GT4, and a 30mm-reduced ride height, this car does not ride harshly.

Porsche is so confident of the Cayman’s ability that even the standard mode of the PASM (adaptive dampers) suspension is said to be tuned for the Nürburgring, not for a pockmarked back road. The Sport mode is for more modern, flatter race circuits and keeps body movements in even tighter check. But in either form, the GT4 is seldom harsh.

If the non-GT3 engine makes the GT4 feel GT3-lite, the chassis gives you the real deal, the whole GT Porsche experience

Instead, it’s keen and secure, everywhere, with outstanding body control of the kind that distinguishes a fast Porsche. Yes, on really poor roads, there is ultimately a touch less deftness to the ride than, say, a just-departed era Lotus Evora, but rarely would you want for more comfort than the GT4 offers. And if you do, there are other Caymans that offer it. You wouldn’t want to compromise here on the kind of control that a GT4 will give you.

If the non-GT3 engine makes the GT4 feel GT3-lite, the chassis gives you the real deal, the whole GT Porsche experience. The GT4 steers as convincingly as any car with electric power assistance has done. It has the right weight, the right speed and gives you as many messages as any electrically assisted Porsche. And poise and balance are from the top drawer of chassis control. The GT4 is one of those cars that just feels ‘right’. Its control weights are spot on, the gearshift precise and the brake feel exemplary for a carbon-ceramic system (which costs £4977, but the power and resilience of it make it worth every penny).

After a time, it really doesn’t matter that you’re not getting near the GT4’s limits on a good road. The engine is so punchy, the steering so sweet and the gearshift so delectable that it’s easy to get into a delicious rhythm and flow. And on a track? As ‘On the Limit’ explains, it’s better still.

On the limit

A 45/55 front/rear weight distribution is the precise reason that you’d want to see what a GT version of a Cayman is like on a race circuit. No surprise, then, that it turns out to be magnificent.

With the dampers in Sport mode, it resists body movements impeccably, and the optional carbon-ceramic discs wipe off speed time and again without the merest hint of complaint.

The adjustable shims on our test car were left in the middle of their three positions, which gives the GT4 fine turn-in and secure, stable handling. There’s more grip than power like this, no doubt, while the handling nudges into steady-state understeer and takes provocation to offer anything much more lively than that. We’d prefer the set-up to be a touch looser at the rear, but even in this state, you can coax the GT4 into a slide by braking on turn-in or giving it ‘the send’. The terrific thing is that the choice is largely yours: the GT4 is a blank page and you its author.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Porsche Cayman GT4

If you want to buy a GT4 now, you’ll have to give its owner more money than he or she parted with in the first instance. Initially, at least, this is one of those depreciation-proof limited-run cars. Whether it’ll stay that way ultimately remains a question that only collectors’ desires will answer, but for now it rather mitigates one of the few criticisms you could level at the GT4.

Although its list price is an enticing £64,451, by the time you’ve added options worthy of this special-edition Cayman, you could land yourself a price the other side of £80,000. We’d make the argument that’s probably worth it anyway, but if it won’t depreciate from the place you started, it’s hardly relevant. In terms of speccing up the GT4, none affects handling, so fill your boots. We’d have the seats, the Clubsport pack and the carbon-ceramic brakes.

Drive it hard on a circuit and you’ll do well to return 10mpg. Sit back and enjoy the leggy gearing and you could get more than 30mpg

Fuel consumption is as you’d expect. Drive it hard on a circuit and you’ll do well to return 10mpg. Sit back and enjoy the leggy gearing and you could get more than 30mpg. In economy, as in most areas, the Cayman is a great all-rounder.

VERDICT

5 star Porsche Cayman GT4

Let’s assume that you start with five stars here because the GT4 is fabulous to drive but, in the spirit of harsh criticism, you try to lop off half-stars for the Cayman’s failings. What to remove for the fact that this car doesn’t have a full-on GT engine?

Well, it won’t fit, and the base price is £64,451 and you can’t have one for that. So five stars it stays.

The terrific thing is that the choice is largely yours: the GT4 is a blank page and you its author

The gearing is too long? With this engine, you notice it less than in a GTS; and Porsche GT boss Andreas Preuninger likes it that way because he likes second as a driving gear. Were it not for him, there’d be no GT4, so we’ll let that go, too.

Some options are expensive? At the moment, somebody will pay you what you paid for them anyway, which makes that irrelevant. And that’s that.

The Cayman is one of those rare things, a five-star car, one that has everything relevant going for it and nothing of note to go against it.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.