2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 First Drive Review

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It’s all pretty standard fare for a GT-spec Porsche. Indeed, in terms of architecture and hardware, the new GT4’s suspension is little changed from that of the previous model. So what’s the secret behind that Nürburgring lap time?

The new exhaust system provides a clue. Instead of the central exhaust outlet that has been a trademark of the Cayman from the beginning, the burned gases from the 718 GT4’s 4.0-liter engine exit via two large-diameter outlets spaced more widely apart to allow room for the rear diffuser’s central venturi. The diffuser is not just there to make the GT4 look racy, insists Markus Atz, project manager of the GT model line at Porsche. “When we talk about a diffuser, we mean a diffuser,” he says, explaining that this one delivers 30 percent of the downforce on the rear axle with virtually no increase in drag. The diffuser, plus a redesigned rear wing that produces 20 percent more downforce, work together to deliver an additional 26 pounds of downforce at 124 mph and 268 pounds of downforce at 188 mph.

At just 1.3 miles in length, Knockhill Racing Circuit, just 30 minutes outside of Edinburgh, Scotland, isn’t exactly the Nürburgring Nordschleife. But it packs quite a punch, with 200 feet of elevation change, corners hiding over crests, and curbs that will pitch both inside wheels into the air if you take liberties with your line. It’s the perfect place to get acquainted with the 718 Cayman GT4. Fast.

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First thing you notice is that, despite having the same tall gearing as the previous model (second gear will still take you past 80 mph), the 718 GT4 makes better use of the ratios than the 981, even though it has the same peak torque. That’s because the 718’s torque curve climbs in almost a straight line from just over 2,250 rpm to 5,000 rpm, rather than dipping between 2,500 and 3,500 rpm as in the 981. Also, although the 718’s 4.0-liter engine hits peak torque 250 rpm further up the rev range than the 981’s 3.8-liter flat-six, it delivers that twist action for longer: for 1,800 rpm versus about 1,250 rpm.

As in the 981, the six-speed manual transmission is a delight, the shortened lever delivering a glorious light, oily, mechanical action with a flick of the wrist. There’s an auto-blip function, activated by a button on the center console, that will automatically match revs on downshifts. If you’re used to heel-and-toeing, you’ll probably leave it switched off, but it works well.

During our Best Driver’s Car testing we complained of understeer in the 981 GT4. New N1 specification Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 ultra-high-performance tires—245/35 ZR20 up front, 295/30 ZR20 at the rear—plus the standard torque vectoring has banished any hint of it in the 718. This new GT4 is a beautifully balanced car, the front and rear axles working in harmony through both fast and slow corners. In fact, it’s probably the best balanced Porsche in history, stable and progressive at the limit. This, combined with the sublime precision of the steering and the glorious crispness of the throttle response, allows you to place the GT4 exactly where you want it, exactly when you want to, and to effortlessly adjust your cornering line if needed.

Knockhill’s fearsome Duffus Dip, where, after a third-gear right-hander on the top of a crest, the track swoops dramatically downhill into a fast left, failed to dent the GT4’s extraordinary composure, even at speeds that had the Porsche experts busy keeping the rear end of their 911 GT3 RS pace cars under control. My ride in a GT4 driven by ex-Formula 1 driver Mark Webber, now a Porsche ambassador, was a near-religious experience. The stability and balance—for a road car on road tires—was astounding.

Let’s put it out there right now: The 718 Cayman GT4 might be the best casual track day car in the business, offering the best balance of price, performance, and sheer drivability. It comes as no surprise, then, that Porsche offers its mighty PCCB carbon-ceramic brakes as an option if you want to upgrade from the standard 15-inch steel rotors (not only are the PCCB rotors 1.4 inches bigger up front, and 0.3 inch bigger at the rear, but they weigh half as much as the standard brakes). You can also option sports seats and a Club Sport package that includes a steel half-cage, floor-mounted fire extinguisher, and a six-point racing harness that’s compatible with the HANS (Head and Neck Support) safety system mandatory in all professional racing categories.

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Oh, and a PDK transmission will be available in a few months for those who really want to chase lap times. The six-speed manual is fun, say the Porsche engineers, but the PDK is fast. No one will confirm it on the record, but it’s whispered a PDK-equipped 718 Cayman GT4 has already lapped the Nordschleife seven to eight seconds quicker than the manual car.

It’s great on the track, but what really makes the 718 Cayman GT4 a truly compelling Porsche is that it’s terrific on the road. It feels wonderfully light and alert and has all the power you need—and, in truth, can enjoy using—in a real-world environment. It’s remarkably civilized, too. Yes, the ride is firm, but on the narrow, twisty, bumpy Scottish roads, with the dampers in Normal mode, there was just enough compliance to make it perfectly livable. There’s tire noise, too, but even the most luxuriously appointed 911 can’t hide the fact that it runs on aggressive performance rubber. Our testers had air conditioning, cruise control, an audio system, and a 4.6-inch screen for Porsche’s PCM infotainment system. In short, all the accoutrement needed for a daily driver.

The 718 Cayman GT4 is scheduled to arrive in the U.S. in spring 2020, though the car is available to order now, priced from $100,550. That’s around the same money Porsche is expected to charge for the entry-level 992-series Carrera that should be revealed in the next few months. Which raises an interesting point: In the past, Porsche kept the Cayman firmly in the 911’s shadow. But this GT4 is the first Cayman that, for someone after a tightly focused yet superbly rounded, accomplished, and livable sports car, could rightly be considered an alternative to an entry-level 911.

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