A sense of pureness resonates through the entire cockpit as the engine is turned for the first time. That familiar uninsulated exhaust rasp prevails and pulsating notes from the rear of the 2 seater cabin hints at a huge boxer engine. It is not until the revs start to drop and stabilise at idle that one realise the noise experienced was derived not from the 3.4L NA we used to know but a new 2.5L turbo flat 4 instead. It even emits a familiar throbbing boom akin to a certain production engine from the orient that got purists hating on the shocking move by Porsche. Am I bothered? Read on to find out.
My first date with the Cayman S was in a 2nd gen, 2009 6 speed manual 987 that featured the 320hp 3.4L flat 6. It was and still is owned by Shedden of Exotic Mods, a mod shop for Euro performance cars. At the time, I felt it was truly one of the best cars I’ve driven. The sublime transmission, shift quality, power and sound of the mid engined coupe was what really solidified my love for Porsche cars. This was before any of the engine downsizing, modern PDK or rear steer era, making the Cayman S the sharpest driver’s car from Stuttgart at the time. I was especially impressed with how easy it is to capitalise on the compact coupe, without the extremities that came with mid engined cars, such as say, a Lotus Exige. The Cayman was spot on, completely rigid, non intimidating and extremely intuitive to drive. Not to mention the pampering cockpit, which was luxurious and perfectly executed.
Most of all, the heavenly manual ‘box made the NA flat six sing like no other. European performance cars at the time dominated with their high revving NAs with the likes of BMW M cars, or Porsche’s own 3.8 flat sixers. It was a time before the re-dawn of the planet of the force fed engines. While it was a hair raising experience, working these zingy NA screamers to make power, it was getting increasingly tiring at the same time, as the effort made were gratifying mostly at upper end of the revs. So you’re always either cruising or going extremely fast with nothing much to savour in the middle.
Then the turbo era arrived, and in good time too. Yes, the Golf GTIs were beginning to conquer the world with their DSGed 4 cylinder turbos while others followed suit, but it was not until Porsche, who’ve been late to the party with their 3L turbo flat 6 in its 991 Mark 2 that had cemented the golden age of forced induction. Porsche, for the longest time, had reserved its turbo recipe for its top shelf 911 only, so to see this piece of tech finally trickle down to more regular 911 models meant a giant deal to the enthusiasts, both good and bad.
THE NEW FLAT FOUR
Equally a big deal was their introduction of the 4 cylinder turbo to replace its iconic flat 6 in the 718 gen Boxster and Cayman models. Despite what seems to be a mass downsizing effort, this bold move actually brought about improved power delivery, driveability and efficiency. True, the classic atmospheric engine symphony is gone, being muffled by the addition of a turbine. But honestly though, the joy and excitement remains very intact, with new advantages to boot.
Despite rocking a different engine and audio, the new 718 Cayman S feels very mechanical. Engine ticks and vibrations are felt perpetually be it at standstill or on the move. The contrast between the newness of the coupe and the unmasked intrusion of engine noise is very obvious, turning it into an occasion everytime I operate it. This exact rumble from the rear is what I look forward to when starting up a Porsche coupe and this new Cayman’s still got it.
Except there’s now a big difference in how the turbo boxer 4 delivers power and also a certain newfound lightness in the 718 Cayman S as well. Not only in the sensation of overall weight but engine response as well. There is good meat available early in the revs all the way through mid range, which is kind of the opposite of its previous NA flat six.
The new engine also may not be as immediate but it sure make up with instant torque, through the use of Porsche VTG turbo (Variable Turbine Geometry), which electronically adjusts its turbine guide vanes to spool quicker at low rpms yet continue to provide more boost at the top end. The VTG Turbo even eliminates the need for a bypass valve, while keeping the turbine operating efficiently throughout the rev band, resulting in Porsche’s iconic flat torque curve.
As for how it sounds?, well the rumours you’ve heard online are true and there’s no escaping the familiar exhaust throb of a Subaru boxer-4 since the 718 Cayman S employs a similar engine layout. That unmistakable 2-throb per second exhaust boom is very pronounced especially at idle and low speed cruising but that’s where the similarities end.
As the 718 Cayman S climbs from heavy breathing to full chat, the tune changes to a angry, mechanical grunt only achievable via the Cayman S’s naturally short exhaust travel. Sadly, the classic flat 6 scream is gone and replaced by what I would describe as a low frequency, blunt exhaust note relatable to the recent turbo era F1 cars. I found it especially similar at the downshifts. There’s a lot of metallic noise and activity going on right behind me which complete the mechanical symphony, and it is precisely this rare experience that make all the difference in their version of the turbo flat four as opposed to that of FHI’s EJ20/25. It’s not what most would call good music but is still deemed characteristic in my books. So even if it does sound like a WRX at times, you can be assured it’s a better version of that in here.
2018 PORSCHE CAYMAN S PDK (718)
Engine: 2.5 Turbo 4 cylinder
Zerotohundred: 4.4 seconds
Top Speed: 285km/h
Transmission: 7 speed PDK dual clutch
Price: RM700K onwards
Test Drive Application: porschemalaysia.com/
Despite the evident changes made to the new 718 Cayman, it remains very pure. Just as pure as the first 987 but with plenty of refinement and maturity. There is certainly more electronics now and instead of the manual box, this one has the much perfected 7 speed PDK transmission.
A slow drive out of the car park instantly reveals the intricacy of Porsche’s Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (Double Clutch Gearbox) as its innards shuffle, click and tick in real time to deal with available rev, speed, and throttle input to provide a consistent pace even in heavy traffic. I suppose most DCT boxes today are equally as refined as the PDK but in here, there’s something about it being audible, uninsulated and raw that makes it all the more dramatic. Its a bit like having a loud mechanical watch sitting just behind me.
On the long sweeping twisties of Karak Highway, the Cayman S felt incredibly well damped, calm and nimble, in fact even more alive than the bigger, longer 911. What’s even more prominent is how flat it is through the curves of Genting Highlands while it exudes a sense of relentless mechanical grip, coupled with a sharp front steering. It feels light footed, reacting to every steering input for any change of direction with little drama, or shift in weight. All without the nifty active rear wheel steering that its bigger 911 brothers now feature. The benefit of lightness also help the midship Cayman S handle bumps and dips with plenty of grace, further differentiating itself from Porsche’s flagship rear engined 911.
At the benchmark Genting Highlands mountain drive, I found myself on a few occasions over speeding before the hairpins, as the fronts ever so gently washes out in comparison to the more down-to-earth selection of test cars i’ve taken on the same route. Although I’m confident it would have carved them beautifully if it wasn’t wet that afternoon. The Cayman is blessed with the ability to mask speed with its commendable chassis and at the same time raising driving confidence. It is very communicative as well and this characteristic is uncannily similar to the new era Carreras, although it’s worth noting the Cayman S is more go-kart like.
In terms of power, I’d say the 350hp supplied by the new turbo 2.5L flat 4 is better than good, more than adequate. Punch the throttle and acceleration is instantaneous as it continues to dart ahead with impressive G’s and noticeable passion from the PDK box, by way of deliberate but calculated kick to the back during upshifts.
I am absolutely in love with the Cayman S’s driving characteristics, the perfect cockpit felt awesome to be in and is matched with unrivalled seating position, not to mention strategically placed and weighted tools of the trade, namely the precise steering, throttle and brake feel. On the inside as a driver, there’s nothing diluting the fact that this is a Cayman and not a 911. It’s just as nice a place to be in, apart from the 911’s bigger cabin. In fact as a daily driver, I very much prefer the accessibility of the Cayman over the 911.
In reality, the smaller Cayman S is endlessly more engaging to drive than any non GT 911. It is also a killer proposition given its lightweight, mid engined chassis which is undeniably the perfect platform for a driver’s car. But because of its inherent hierarchy within the Porsche family, the Cayman will always be second to the 911 and therefore restricted in its overall physique, performance and status.
While this predicament is hardly noticeable from the inside, it is very apparent from the outside judging from the more sedate, less bodacious appearance. The good news is, whatever ancient stigma about the Cayman being a poser or poor man’s Porsche is passé now, therefore if you’re eyeing on this mid engined performer for a daily driver and can come to terms with all its natural born differences, I’d say you’re in for a great buy.