Porsche 718 Cayman 2017 Is Impressive
In a world where downsizing is portrayed as a virtue, does smaller mean better? That’s the question raised by the standard Porsche 718 Cayman and its mighty-mouse engine. As in the brawnier Cayman S, which we’ve already reviewed, the regular car has ditched its naturally aspirated flat-six for a turbocharged flat-four—one that produces 300 horsepower from just 2.0 liters of displacement, a specific output (150 hp per liter) that beats that of the 350-hp S’s 2.5-liter unit.
Okay, so Volkswagen will sell you a Golf with a similar amount of bang per cubic centimeter, but the fact that Porsche’s entry-level sports car now has a power output that starts with a “3” is worth celebrating. The last time Zuffenhausen brought us an engine this size was in the 924, with a motor that, in its original form and running with the U.S. emission controls, produced just 95 horsepower. How things have changed. Porsche says that even the base Cayman now is capable of returning a 4.5-second zero-to-60-mph time when specified with the optional PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox and a 4.9-second run with the six-speed manual. Is there any point in paying the substantial premium for the S?
When Not to S
For street driving, probably not. We drove both the basic Porsche 718 Cayman and the S at the launch event in Sweden where we confirmed, on some of Skåne County’s quietest roads, that the 2.0-liter’s relative lack of urge when compared with the 2.5 is obvious only at the sort of commitment levels that risked getting us arrested and deported. As in the S, the smaller engine’s abiding characteristic is its torque, with the peak 280 lb-ft of torque arriving at just 1950 rpm. The result is the sort of effortless, any-gear progress of a big-cube powerplant, the 718 Cayman pulling hard at the sort of engine speeds where the old car’s 2.7-liter flat-six would just be clearing its throat.
The flip side, as is usually the case in these modern tales of turbocharged progress, is that the new Cayman can’t match its predecessor’s keenness for being revved hard—or deliver the zinging soundtrack it used to make in proximity to its redline. While the new car’s fuel cutoff is just 300-rpm shy of the old one’s, it has markedly less enthusiasm for touching it. The ironed flatness of the engine’s torque curve means there’s little obvious reduction in acceleration when one upshifts 1000 or even 2000 rpm early. And although the new car gets louder as the limiter approaches, it lacks its predecessor’s spine-tingling change in pitch. As we noted in the 718 Boxster and Cayman S, the new engine also has a tick-tick-tick idle note that anyone over 35 might associate with an air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle.
Other differences between the stock Cayman and the S are barely detectable on public roads. The 2.0-liter feels fractionally slower to respond than the 2.5 when asked to deal with big throttle openings at low engine speeds, in part because it lacks the S’s variable-vane turbocharger, in addition to having 20 percent less displacement. According to Porsche, the standard car actually produces higher peak boost—19 psi versus the S’s 16—but we wouldn’t say you can feel that. The chassis delivers similarly abundant grip and what felt to be identically keen responses thanks to the new, quicker-ratio steering lifted from the 911 Turbo.
When to S
On the track, it’s a slightly different story. We were allowed a few laps of the Sturup Raceway near Malmö and can report that the S does possess a clear performance advantage that allowed it to edge away from the standard car on the straights. There was, however, no apparent difference in cornering speeds.
But for most buyers, the need to decide between the six-speed manual and the optional seven-speed automatic is likely to be a more significant choice than the one between Porsche 718 Cayman and Porsche 718 Cayman S. Based on our experience, we’d lobby for sticking with the stick, both on the general principle that sports-car drivers should change their own gears but also because the PDK doesn’t seem to have been particularly well-optimized around the new engine’s torque output.
Left in drive, it seems too keen to downshift under small throttle openings, even with the Dynamic Mode Selector (which comes as part of the optional Sport Chrono package) left in its most cautious Normal mode. Taking direct control of gear selection solved the problem, but the manual gearbox also allows the new engine a better chance to demonstrate the breadth of its midrange muscle.
While we mourn the passing of the six-cylinder engine, we acknowledge that the regular Porsche 718 Cayman offers generous compensation with its improved performance; it feels like a more sizable upgrade than the new Cayman S does over its predecessor. While U.S. Cayman buyers have tended to presume that the S is better, with the majority previously going for either it or the GTS, the basic car now feels close enough on everything except on-track performance to make us doubt the value of the S’s $12,400 hit to the wallet. This feels like the smarter choice.
Porsche 718 Cayman S – Video: