The previous-generation Porsche Cayman was one of this magazine’s very favorite sports cars—so near-perfect, as I slid behind the wheel for my very first drive of the all-new 2017 718 edition, I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. After all, when a machine is already “near-perfect,” changing things carries the risk of making a great thing, well, less great.
I needn’t have worried. Not only had my colleagues already chosen the 718 Cayman S as a 2017 Automobile All-Star (a broken ankle precluded me from participating in last year’s judging), but despite having 50 fewer horsepower, the base 718 Cayman that showed up in my driveway recently won me over almost the moment I climbed aboard.
This is a vastly revised machine compared with its predecessor—tighter styling, reworked chassis, bigger brakes, more standard equipment. But the big news is the arrival of turbocharged flat-fours to replace the outgoing boxer sixes. Those sixes were simply divine, but the realities of meeting emissions and efficiency standards mean turbos are the way of the future. And Porsche has risen to the challenge, producing a new 2.0-liter turbo boxer for the base car that delivers 25 more horsepower and 67 more pound-feet of torque more than the previous 2.7-liter six.
This is a gutsy little mill, wringing out all 280 pound-feet at just 1,950 rpm, an impressive 300 horses at 6,500 rpm, and winding smoothly all the way to a 7,500-rpm redline. A unique “preconditioning” feature keeps the turbo on the boil under partial loads, helping to deliver the near-instant throttle response of a naturally aspirated mill. Does the new turbo four sound as lovely as the old six? Nope. Does it sound bad? Nope. It just sounds different, less silky, more mechanized. I’m happy to report that the single blower doesn’t overly mute the exhaust note. There’s still a very satisfying wail behind your ears as you wind the tach needle upward. And, importantly, the new 718 is quicker than the previous Cayman. Porsche claims a half-second reduction in 0-to-60-mph time, to just 4.9 seconds, and a 5-mph increase in top speed, to 170 mph.
I was delighted to find that my test car was equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission (a shift-it-yourself box being more and more of a rarity). Yes, Porsche’s fabulous 7-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic is optional, but the company says around 20 percent of buyers still opt for the manual. After trying the 6-speed myself, I have to say I’d be one of them, were I lucky enough to be able to purchase a 718 for myself. In typical Porsche fashion, gearbox response is superb, with a quick, nimble lever feel, excellent pedal placement (heel and toe downshifts are effortless), and zero fussiness in finding your desired cog. Blasting through a twisting two-lane with this box is driver’s-car heaven, the kind of immersive, rewarding, “live-wire” motoring experience enthusiasts dream about. You are connected to this Porsche.
The outstanding chassis only enhances that rapture. At the limit, there’s a whiff of understeer—maybe—but mostly the 718 just does exactly what you ask of it. No undue body motions, no wasted effort, just a joyous feeling of being “one” with a fine machine. And the peace of mind of being completely in control. Few cars are as confidence-inspiring when gunning hard as the new 718.
My test car was equipped with the optional PASM suspension with adaptive dampers ($1,790). Boasting a 0.39-inch lower ride height than the standard setup, the new PASM chassis offers a greater-than-ever spread between Normal and Sport modes. In Sport, the ride can get really firm—though on Southern California’s mostly unblemished tarmac, the added control felt worth the comfort tradeoff. My tester was further enhanced with optional 19-inch Cayman S wheels ($1,580) that—in concert with the PASM suspension, mid-engine layout, newly available torque vectoring ($1,320), and new, quicker electromechanical steering borrowed from the 911 Turbo—helped deliver a sporting-car experience you’d be hard-pressed to top anywhere. Look up the term “driver’s car” in a dictionary and you’ll probably find a photo of this new 718.
Inside, the new Cayman is all business. A new steering wheel design, based on the 918 Spyder’s, feels meaty and looks fantastic. Big analog gauges transmit essential info with ease. The Sport seats ($800) are as comfortable as they are form-fitting. The view to the front is Cinerama-worthy.
There’s a ton of value here, too. At a base price of $54,950, the new 718 Cayman offers almost as much performance as the previous Cayman S. What’s more, a lot of what used to be optional equipment is now standard—including front and rear parking assist, Bi-Xenon headlights, Sirius/XM satellite radio, and a six-speaker Sound Package Plus.
Yes, the new 718 is—dare I say it—even better than the near-perfect old Cayman. It’s just that much quicker, that much more agile, that much better-looking and more refined. Absolute perfection being elusive, I’d still have to call the 718 Cayman “near-perfect.” But it’s “nearer-perfect” than ever.
2017 Porsche 718 Cayman Specifications
|ENGINE||2.0.L DOHC 16-valve turbocharged flat-4/300 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 280 lb-ft @ 1,950 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||21/28 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||172.4 x 70.9 x 51.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||170 mph (est)|