Never pity Porsche enthusiasts. For all the griping, armchair moaning, and whiny forum posting about turbocharging and electrification, those who love P-cars—us included—have it unbelievably great. More than any other automaker, Porsche has stayed shockingly true to itself even as the all-electric Taycan looms on the horizon. Remember, we are living in a timeline where you can still purchase a 500-hp, naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six that revs to 9,000 rpm in the GT3.
That doesn’t stop the complaining, which in 2016 grew its loudest since the 911 abandoned air cooling. That’s when the Cayman and Boxster dropped their free-breathing flat-sixes for a pair of boosted flat-fours. If you believed the purists, this was sacrilege on most high, but once folks drove the cars, they realized the torquey little fours improved performance tremendously. Still, critics and fans warn to stick with the 2.5-liter found in the S and GTS models—and to stay well enough away from the 2.0-liter found in the base and all-new T variants. That two-point-oh is a dog, they say. And until this shiny Guards Red 718 Cayman rolled up to our office, I’d only driven the 2.5-liter in both S and GTS configurations, and I had nothing to say in contradiction. A stint in this base Cayman, then, was an attempt to both go straight to the source and satiate my curiosity.
Let’s get right to it. In terms of outright performance, balance, feedback, and fun factor, the 718 Cayman is one hell of a car. And I must note that while this is indeed a base Cayman with the 2.0-liter engine, Porsche gussied up this loaner with a few performance-enhancing options. First, as much as I’d have liked to sample the purist-spec six-speed manual, this was equipped with the excellent seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission, so off-the-line launches and quick downshifts were more impressive than those possible with a three-pedal car.
It was also fitted with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), along with the ever-popular Sport Chrono package. The latter adds Sport and Sport Plus modes to a steering-wheel-mounted selector, along with launch control and active driveline mounts. However, the Cayman was not fitted with ceramic brakes, Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV), or Power Steering Plus—all optional extras this car definitely doesn’t need.
The 2.0-liter is a direct replacement for the older, last-gen 981’s base 2.7-liter naturally aspirated flat-six. It isn’t really all that different from the bigger 2.5-liter, only differing in cylinder bore and its different turbocharger. Both engines are downsized iterations of the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six in the 991.2 Carrera, with the 2.0-liter carrying the same bore and stroke of the six-cylinder, but with slightly taller pistons. As expected, they share a bunch of similar parts with the big-boy Carrera, including main bearings, alternator, fuel pump, vacuum pump, camshaft bearings, intake valves, timing chain, connecting rods, and piston rings. Tell that to the 914 owner who chants “one of us, one of us” when you roll up to the next Rennsport. Stay in your lane, Mr. Volkswagen.
In a way, that makes it more intriguing than the older six-cylinder. It’s charming in the same way the Lamborghini Urraco’s V-8 was a Countach V-12 with four cylinders lopped off. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that forced induction makes it torquey—real torquey. Compared to the older 2.7-liter, the 2.0-liter has 73 additional lb-ft, for a thumping total of 280 delivered at much lower rpm. (Peak torque starts at 1,950 rpm compared to 4,500.) This means that as equipped, this test car can scramble from zero to 60 mph in a very respectable 4.5 seconds. Packing 300 horsepower means it continues to pull after the torque peak, only stopping when it hits its 170-mph top speed.
Out on the open stretches of ridge roads in the San Gabriel mountains north of Los Angeles, the 718 Cayman’s acceleration is strong, not waning until the speedo points somewhere north of 80 mph. Even then, you’ll continue to accumulate speed until things get uncomfortably blurry. Contrary to what you might hear, the flat-four rumble doesn’t cheapen the experience. It’s gruff and unapologetic about its small displacement; as one coworker put it, “it’s rude, in a good way.” If the Boxster were launched with this soundtrack from the get-go in 1996, this would likely be a nonissue.
For tighter, twistier stuff, I buzzed over to the canyons bordering Malibu. The Cayman ripped through the switchbacks at a pace you’d expect of something far more expensive, with smooth, quick steering and impeccable mid-engine balance. Pure grip from the medium-performance Pirelli P Zero tires was impressive, allowing you to learn the capabilities of the car long before you ran out of roadholding (or talent). The brakes and the suspension damping were similarly remarkable, though are you really that surprised? This is the same Cayman/Boxster playfulness we’ve known and loved for 23 years.
When you’re done messing about and need to make it through L.A. traffic and pick up a few bags of groceries, the Cayman settles down to VW Golf docility with a semi-cushy suspension tune and silken gearshifts from the automatic transmission. Thanks to the mid-engine configuration, there’s two storage areas for all your Oreos: a flat-loading duffel shelf around back, and a reasonably cavernous compartment up front.
So it’s good—really, really good. Better than you might have heard. Of course, I do think without that snappy PDK, this might be a different experience, and I’m not sure all its character will translate during a quick test drive at your local dealer. If you’re interested, do make sure to take one for an extended period of time. Legally, of course.
In typical Porsche fashion, this doesn’t come cheap. As equipped, with the aforementioned hot hardware, upgraded and heated seats, and navigation, this “base” car comes out to $71,930 after delivery. That’s a skosh more than the $70,000 718 Cayman S, an upgrade that’s probably worth it, even if you get a stripped-out model.
2019 Porsche 718 Cayman Specifications
|ENGINE||2.0L 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||18/23 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||172.4 x 70.9 x 51.0 in|
|0–60 MPH||4.5 sec (mfr)|
|TOP SPEED||170 mph (mfr)|