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Dissecting the Porsche Cayman GT4

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It's an exciting time for fans of the manual gearbox. First, Ford reveals its Mark III Focus RS, which finally will be imported to the U.S. Then, Porsche announces the much-anticipated Cayman GT4. Both the Ford and the Porsche will be available only with a six-speed manual gearbox. The hardcore Cayman is a gift from Porsche to appease traditional enthusiast buyers upset by the fact that the latest 911 GT3 only comes with a paddle-shift PDK transmission.

The Porsche Cayman GT4 is a concoction of the best bits from the 911 GT3 and the 911 Carrera S, stuffed into Porsche's mid-engine sports car. It's a modern German OEM hot rod. The suspension, steering, and brakes come from the GT3 and the 3.8-liter flat-six engine is from the Carrera S, though at $85,595, the Cayman GT4 is $45,400 cheaper than the 911 GT3.

Obviously, you have to give up a few things to save nearly $50K. While the six-speed is a blessing, Porsche saved cash by simply dropping in the standard Cayman's gearbox. Problem is, its ratios are too tall. (See my December column on this subject at Cars that Need a Fix to be Truly Fabulous. Sure, the Cayman GT4 is a touch lighter -- by only 10 pounds, at 2,955 -- than a Cayman GTS, and it has 45 more horsepower, but I was hoping for a proper close-ratio manual gearbox in this hardcore mid-engine Porsche. We'll see how it plays out once we get behind the wheel.

The GT4 also lacks the GT3's bespoke six-cylinder engine with its proper dry-sump oil system. The GT4 uses the integrated dry-sump setup found in its more pedestrian Porsche flat-six engines. The rear differential on the GT4 is a mechanical limited-slip, and not the GT3's electronic diff, which needs the PDK gearbox to run its hydraulic pump. The 911 GT3 also features rear-wheel steering, while the Cayman GT4 does not. Porsche claims, correctly I think, that a mid-engine car doesn't need it. Finally, the Cayman GT4 goes without the trick center-lock wheels fitted to the 911 GT3. The GT4 uses 911 Turbo five-bolt hubs. None of these missing items is a deal-breaker, and their absence is surely worth the cost savings.

The good news is that the majority of the brilliant 911 GT3's chassis components make it onto the Cayman GT4, including the mega-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 track-focused tires. Porsche claims the GT4's steering is even better than the GT3's, thanks to the latest tuning and software. Sure, the GT3's electric power steering lacks the buttery feel and tactile feedback of the company's old hydraulic system, but it's still one of the best of its kind. I can't wait to try it out in the Cayman GT4.

As noted in my "cars that need a fix" column linked above, the 911 GT3's stability and traction control defeat buttons are much easier to use than those in the standard 911. These simple switches let you disable only the stability control or both the stability control and traction control. I'm happy to report that the Cayman GT4's center console buttons are pretty much identical to the 911 GT3's, except for the Sport button. On the 911 GT3, it's labeled "PDK Sport" and puts the dual-clutch gearbox into a more aggressive shifting mode. As the Cayman GT4 is a manual, a dedicated button quickly turns the automatic throttle blipping/rev matching on or off -- a very smart feature.

As with the 911 GT3, Porsche offers a plethora of options for the Cayman GT4. Putting an order spec together can be complicated (Porsche Car Configurator). For my order, I'd build the GT4 on the simple side. I went through the same OCD process on the 911 GT3, when I attended the launch in Germany.

I like traditional exterior colors for a focused, track-ready Porsche. White always works well, and it's a no-charge option. I also like silver, either the $710 Rhodium Metallic or the more expensive $2,580 GT Silver Metallic. I know I sound like a broken record if you've regularly read my columns, but make sure to tick the box that deletes the GT4 badge from the rear bumper. It's a cleaner look and that large rear wing should be enough notice that you aren't driving a garden-variety Cayman. (Speaking of badges, it's interesting that it says "GT4" and not "Cayman GT4" on the car's rear, same as for the 911 GT3.) For wheels, I'd stick with the standard gray (platinum satin) wheels rather than the silver or black option. It should be noted that the $685 black wheels are now satin (low-gloss) and not the unattractive high-gloss black like the 911 GT3's.

Inside, I'd add the $1,090 leather interior with Alcantara option, which applies the simulated suede material to the lower parts of the dash, including the glovebox. It's a nice, relatively inexpensive addition. I'd also spec the fabulous $4,730 carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) bucket seats, which weigh about 33 pounds each and which Porsche nicked from its own 918 Spyder. The aggressive seats perfectly fit the focused nature of the GT4.

Other options I'd spec include the (no charge) larger fuel tank -- bumping capacity from 14.3 gallons to 16.9 gallons -- and maybe the PCM navigation option for $2,965. Sure, you don't need navigation on a car like the GT4, but a touchscreen is standard, so you may as well have the option to call up a map on the large display. Plus, the PCM option adds a USB port for iPod and smartphone integration. With the base audio system, you can only listen to your external music player through the standard 3.5-mm aux-in audio plug.

For brakes, I'd stick with the standard 15-inch steel rotors, a system from the heavier and more powerful 911 GT3. I think the $7,400 PCCB carbon ceramic option with the monster 16.1-inch front rotors is overkill on a minimalist car like the GT4, and the yellow calipers are far too disco for my taste.

This build gets you a mega Porsche with all the right extras for a bit less than $100,000. That's still a ton of money, but if the Cayman GT4 drives as impressively as the specs suggest, the mid-engined two-seater may turn out to be one of Porsche's best modern models. It's nice to have the German company again building cars in the same spirit with which it began back in 1948.