Review: Porsche 718 Cayman S
Feb 26th, 2018
It still amazes me that Porsche’s mid-engine sports cars, the 718 Cayman and Boxster, don’t get the respect they deserve from people that call themselves Porsche purists. People proclaiming that the rear-engine 911 is the only real Porsche conveniently neglect the fact that the very first car to wear a Porsche badge, the 356-001, had its engine in the middle, and no roof. It only became rear-engined as Porsche geared up for production, the Volkswagen-based floorpan helping to save costs and add a little practicality. And while the 911 remains the world’s most successful racing car, with tens of thousands of race wins to date, the truly dominating performances in long-distance road races, hill climbs, and endurance classics like Le Mans and Daytona have all been from mid-engined marvels like the 550 Spyder, 908, 910, 917, and more lately, the RS Spyder and 919 Hybrid.
So, the 718
’s lineage is as legitimate as any other Porsche’s, and after several days behind the wheel of the latest Cayman S (this one done up in the colours of Pirelli Tire North America for our track rental fleet
), rest assured its performance, handling, and general brilliance is pure Porsche as well. It is great to look at, it goes like hell, it has an amazing chassis, and in the best Porsche fashion, it’s tough enough and practical enough for you to experience its excellence every day.
One primary point of controversy with the same so-called purists has been the replacement of the previous Boxster and Cayman’s
naturally-aspirated flat-six engines with turbocharged flat-fours, developing 300 hp in the “base” 718 models, 350 hp in the S models, and 370 hp in the GTS models. It’s true that they don’t sing as musical a tune as the old sixes do – but the offbeat idle, throaty midrange, and aggressive bark as you close in on the redline are still full of character. These are, despite the 2.0-litre displacement in the regular 718s and the 2.5-litre displacement in the S and GTSs, still very much Porsche engines, with the distinctive feel of a horizontally-opposed engine, as well as some shared components with the Le Mans-winning powertrain of the 919 Hybrid (itself also a four-cylinder).
Even fitted with a turbocharger, the new engine family still loves to rev, negating one of the typical objections to forced induction. Chasing the redline is still a major thrill, and thanks to the massive torque unlocked by the turbo, you get there a lot faster and more often. That same torque – 280 lb-ft in the base car and 309 lb-ft in the S – has also unlocked the brilliance of the mid-engined chassis, imbuing it with a playfulness that wasn’t there in most driving situations. You no longer need to wring every last rev from the engine to make the 718 dance; the slug of low-end grunt starts at 1,500 rpm, giving you access to throttle-adjustability in almost every driving situation. That, combined with the newfound speed – even the least-expensive manual car will hit 60 mph in less than give seconds – means the 718 has graduated up a class in performance, while still remaining accessible for a Porsche.
The 718 – in Boxster or Cayman
trim – is also surprisingly practical, given its sleek exterior. The mid-mounted engine means there’s room up front for the traditional Porsche “frunk,” as well as a spacious rear trunk in the Boxster and a cargo area under the Cayman’s rear hatch. The interior is spacious and easy to access, no matter how tall you are, and fuel economy in everyday driving is impressive given the performance on tap. The lack of all-wheel-drive availability isn’t really an issue, either. Install a good set of winter tires – you’d have to do the same even on an all-wheel drive 911 Carrera 4S, 4GTS, or Turbo – and a 718 is unstoppable in most winter conditions – and more fun to throw around.
A recent pricing flip-flop – the Boxster, with its power drop-top, is now the more expensive model starting at $65,100, while the Cayman now starts at $62,700 – means that the better-handling coupe is also the more attractively priced. As you would expect, our track rental car
features all of the most desirable high-performance options, including the instantaneous-shifting PDK transmission, the Sport Chrono package with its steering-wheel drive mode control, active suspension management, and torque vectoring. Pfaff Tuning
has also installed a throaty AWE exhaust and lowering springs.
While this specific car has been loaded up – with killer 18-way power sport seats, high-end Bose audio system, navigation and more – all 718s share Porsche’s spectacular build quality and an intuitive driver interface. While infotainment functions are largely handled by a touch screen (and Apple CarPlay for iPhone users), easy-to-use buttons and switches control everything else, meaning you can really focus on driving, and not on surfing through menus.
And, in the end, it’s the driving that’s both 718 models are all about. You sense how special they are the moment you first turn the wheel, and every moment in motion from there is pure joy. With a half-dozen variations to choose from, your need for speed and your budget will dictate which model is right for you – but no matter which 718 you decide on, you’re getting a pure dose of Porsche
perfection. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.