Road Racer - Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
Porsche turns the heat up on the 718 Cayman range, producing another brilliant GT4 model.
Is this junior supercar all the sportscar you’ll ever need?
The folk at Porsche are an obsessive bunch, always pursuing the improvement of perfection. While it sells more trucks these days, it can be easy to forget Porsche still makes some of the best sports cars around. Like the 718 Cayman, which is pretty good in any of its guises but the GT4 remains special.
With the previous iteration, Porsche finally allowed the Cayman to take a chunk out of the 911, giving the GT4 genuine poke and a dose of aero to make it stick. And in the new generation, Porsche has honed the GT4 package to an even finer point. These GT cars are fashioned as road-going racers, and with the track in mind, Porsche says this new GT4 is 12 seconds faster around the Nordschleife at the Nurburgring than the old car, with a time of 7:28 minutes. That’s also faster than the old Carrera GT BTW.
It’s achieved by a combination of extra power, improved wind management and tuned handling. Compared with the old car, the new aero kit is said to produce 50 per cent more downforce at speed while the drag remains unchanged. The wing contributes to the extras, but so does the rear diffuser, which not only looks the part with its high exit exhausts but helps deliver 30 per cent of the downforce.
The front end is sliced with aero holes to either reduce turbulence or help generate downforce, while the front section of the undertray is dimpled like a golf ball to reduce drag. The ‘sideblades’ capture air for the engine, but also loose stones, as do the flared rear guards, so best plump for paint protection around these areas.
Cayman GT4 uses struts all round but much of the componentry is shared with the GT3; subframes, control arms, dampers and ball jointed connectors for the ultimate in response and control. Adaptive dampers are standard, as is a 30mm ride height chop. Helping this Cayman bite more fiercely into the bends is a mechanical limited slip differential with Porsche Torque Vectoring. The latter brakes the inside wheel and drives the outside tyre harder to reduce understeer to virtually nil while helping it power out of bends faster. There are also active engine mounts to reduce the weight transfer during hard cornering.
In the world of turbo everything, the GT4’s atmo six is a charmer. The 309kW 4.0-litre unit isn’t the same as that in the GT3 however; it’s based on the block from the current turbocharged 911s, the 3.0-litre unit given a decent boring. Its oversquare with bore and stroke dimensions of 102mm and 81mm respectively, so loves a rev or 8000, the latter being the maximum engine speed. Without blowers to bolster the torque, its 420Nm isn’t tapped until 5000rpm and peak power lives at 7600rpm. To help with efficiency it uses piezo-type direct injection and there’s a particulate filter to clean up the exhaust smut. Speaking of the pipes, the new sports exhaust has the usual noise valve to provide ‘emotive acoustics’ as Porsche says. In another nod to efficiency, the 4.0-litre features cylinder deactivation, turning the six into a triple when all pots aren’t required.
Just about every contemporary mid-engined sportscar now has a two-pedal transmission, so the GT4’s six-speed manual trans is a genuine rarity. However, both this and the 4.0 GTS will be coming soon with the option of the PDK. But it’s a novelty being in charge of the gears, especially when the componentry is so sweet. The clutch isn’t overly heavy, or too springy on the return, the take up just right. The action of the stick itself is nuanced. It snick snacks its way around the gate, your hand merely guiding it, for it knows the way.
Once behind the wheel, you quickly realise this GT4 is a bit special. There’s an appreciable connection to the machine, things aren’t damped or dulled for refinement’s sake. A typical Porsche, it’s light on the convenience and safety doodahs but in the GT4 there’s something about slotting the key into the ignition to crank the six over, and it fires up menacingly. It’s fairly loud at idle too, but in a good way.
The ride on city tarmac can tend lumpy over the gnarly bits while the performance tyres make some interesting noises. But it’s civil enough, the engine tractable, happy to mooch about and cruise on the motorway.
There are no modes to fiddle with here, just a few switches to firm the ride further, tune up the exhaust and switch out the stability systems, leaving you to concentrate on the drive.
A couple of things quickly become apparent when upping the ante. You certainly don’t need the sport damping mode on road, for that’s a pure track setting. And with the GT4 riding low, you need all the give you can get. If the trail turns too bumpy, a cooling of the jets is required or you’ll be testing that ground clearance. But over most roads we traversed, this did okay on the compliance ledger. The damping is firm to suit the engineering brief, yet can finesse most bumps into submission, the GT4 refusing to be jostled off line.
Another is how tall this Cayman’s legs are. The loooong ratios also point to a track focus, a constant swapping of cogs isn’t ideal for maintaining stability. But on-road, the chances to savour those gear changes diminish. Drat, and double drat, as Dick Dastardly would say. You could just leave it in third and chomp your way through bends using the Cayman’s corner velocity but that seems hardly appropriate. So we went for overkill on the gear swaps, short shifting along the straights, braking late for the tight bends and ripping the lever into second.
Given the innate balance of the chassis, it politely tolerates your heavy-handed approach, even when treading overly on the brake pedal trying to remaster the heel and toe technique. However, it can take care of all the throttle-blipping heroics, allowing you to smooth the braking, as Porsche’s auto blip function is simply perfect every time.
This has gobsmacking front end grip. The Gator has always been a gripper in the bends, but the GT4 goes next level. It sticks fast with its Dunlop Sport Maxx Race 2 tyres, pumped tracks and rear weight bias. Not to mention the helping hand of the torque vectoring diff. The steering is perfectly weighted - no need for a mode button to alter its operation - and it delivers instructions instantly, the front end responding obediently. The messages back are clear too. Its corner stability and traction are equally impressive, the rear solidly planted, the tyres making the power stick to allow fast and plentiful application of the gas pedal.
The six feeds on revs, yet there’s urge enough in the midband too while the sound is one to savour. There’s a sonorous howling of induction and an equally rousing rasp from the exhaust as it spins toward 8000rpm. The brakes are inspiring, with a sorted pedal feel and strong retardation.
But is it all too much of a good thing for the road? Probably, it hankers for a track outing this, and perhaps the 4.0 GTS model is more suited to the road. Hmm, a hell of a dilemma for the fortunate few.
Should they opt for the GT4, it wouldn’t be impossible to live with; it’s easy enough to get in and out of, the two boots (one in the nose, and one under the rear hatch) offer reasonable luggage space, though cabin storage is sparse. There’s good rearward vision for a coupe, complemented by a decent parking camera. The transmission auto blipper is also handy in traffic and, as Porsche hints, reduces wear on the components too. An idle-stop function on a car like this seems odd, but it does help refire the engine again quickly if you happen to stall it, apparently.
The optional $4800 Adaptive Sport seats here we didn’t love, the squab lacking in comforting foam, the backrest with minimal lumbar adjustment. The GT4’s grab handle door pull looks cool, but does require a decent yank to get the job done. Engine din is a constant, not that we’re complaining for it’s good to hear what’s powering you but the note goes flat when the cylinder deactivation is in operation, and that’s fairly persistent. Those performance tyres can be loud on coarse chip surfaces when you are just cruising, however the engine note makes for effective noise cancellation.
All said and done, these foibles don’t remove any of the gloss from the GT4, a car with the driver at its core. The $217,000 price tag can be viewed as rather ridiculous or alternatively as a bargain compared with the Lambos and McLarens of this world. However you view it, let’s hope Porsche keeps this sportscar thing up, as it’s really quite good at it.
Model Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Price $217,000
Engine 3995cc, flat 6, DI, 309kW/420Nm
Transmission 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Vitals 4.43sec 0-100km/h, 10.9L/100km, 249g/km, 1439kg