It takes a long time to get comfortable in most cars. You have to find the right seating position, the right wheel position, the best spot for the mirrors, and then, if you want to drive it fast, you need to work up to the limits. Slowly. But then there’s the Porsche Cayman GTS, which is your lucky sock in car form.
(Full Disclosure: Porsche loaned us the Cayman GTS for a video shoot and track test at Lime Rock Park. I believe I drove it for about 637,000 laps because it’s a sweetheart.)
Porsche has always been accused of deliberately neutering the Cayman so that it’s worse than the flagship 911. While a rear-engined car has some advantages, a mid-engined car has a more versatile architecture that makes it more balanced in a variety of situations. So Porsche built an entry level car that has an inherently better platform than the established player that has been around for ages.
But time and again, Porsche has kept the Cayman below the 911. It didn’t have a limited slip differential, every time a power increase has been offered, it’s about 10 to 15 horsepower (barring the new GT4) to keep its performance numbers below that of the base 911.
And I’ve always agreed that the Cayman, while a great car, isn’t a 911. The GTS is the first Cayman that has made me think “perhaps I don’t need a 911.”
Porsche’s models that have GTS written on them are always a blend of hardcore track car and a roadgoing car. In other words, they’re competent in both worlds without feeling like a compromise. That is the Cayman GTS in a nutshell (cue Austin Powers in a nutshell jokes).
The GTS has a modest power increase to 340 from 325 in the Cayman S. After that, think of the letters GTS as an appearance and performance package to make your ideal Cayman S. You get PASM, Sport Chrono, sport exhaust, and sport seats. There is also the option for sport suspension (which is what our car had) instead of PASM. That has stiffer springs, different roll bars, and a lower ride height. It’s a prix fixe menu of go fast goodies carefully crafted by your friends from Stuttgart.
And they’ve made something truly spectacular.
Those options that come standard on the GTS add up to about $11,500. Add in the power increase and the body changes you can’t get on the Cayman S make something unheard of in Porsche land: A value.
From the outside, the GTS has a revised front end with a more angular, aggressive aerokit. The doors have GTS written small in script, like the car is being signed by an artist. There are slightly different tail lights. It all adds up to a car that is distinctly more polished than the Cayman S, not that the Cayman S is ugly.
Inside you have the typical lovely Porsche fair: A great seating position, a sea of buttons that are surprisingly easy to understand, and lovely instruments. Nearly every surface is covered in Alcantara, a heavenly material that Moses may or may not have brought down the mountain along with the Ten Commandments. Historians haven’t verified that quite yet.
This particular GTS also has an additional performance feature along with the sport suspension. It’s an odd lever in the center console that is used to change gears. And you don’t just use it once, you use it every single time you need a new gear.
Yes, that was a cliched and now overused way of telling you that this car has a manual gearbox. The great news is that it’s sublime.
Unlike the manual in early 991 911s which was vague and rubbery. The newest manual from Porsche is reengineered and it’s a lesson in how to make a pleasurable shift yourself gearbox. Every gate is well defined, the throws are the perfect length, and it notches into each gear reassuringly. Granted, you won’t need to shift much.
That’s because Porsche equips its manual Cayman with the tallest gears ever to keep fuel economy at a maximum, but it reduces your fun of running the car to redline repeatedly and makes you shift less on track. At Lime Rock, I ran the whole track in third and fourth. One upshift per lap, one downshift per lap. More shifting would probably be slower, but shifting gears tells the car who’s boss. Without shifting, we have nothing.
It does auto rev match for you if you put it into Sport Plus, which I find unnecessary and the antithesis of the intent of a manual gearbox. The good news is that Porsche’s rev match is easily the best on the market, especially if you’re driving at the limit on a track. I’m on the tall side, which makes heel/toe in the Cayman kind of difficult.
I hate to admit this, but for the first time ever, I relied on and enjoyed auto rev match on track.
Oh, right, on track. In the company of the Alfa 4C, Mustang GT, an E30 M3, and a Golf R, the GTS was easily the star. I logged far more laps in the Cayman for a few reasons.
It was approachable. Within a couple laps, I knew exactly where to push the Cayman, how deep I could go into a braking zone, where to put on the power in a corner, and how it’d react in nearly any situation.
Other cars, like the 4C, were fun, but they lacked the linear response of the Cayman’s simply fantastic flat six and the precision of its inputs. The Cayman’s electric steering does feel a little video gamey in its reaction to inputs, like you’re pushing against resistance that isn’t necessarily connected to the road. Despite that, it’s accurate to a fault, you just can’t place it in the wrong place on the road or track.
That sort of approachability builds confidence. Confidence that lets you start getting on the power sooner and going deeper into braking zones. You know how compliant it is at the limit and can have confidence that the brakes (the stock steelies, in this case) won’t fade after deeper and deeper dives into a heavy braking zone. It’s a boon to have a car that is this predictable on the limit. Certain other cars (ahem Alfa 4C ahem) can react in ways that are baffling and almost deeply upsetting.
And as home as it is on the track, it’s just as divine on the road. There are many cars these days that aren’t close to enjoyable unless you get them near the limit. The issue with that is the limits of many modern performance cars are so damn high that the car won’t engage you until you start hitting speeds that would render you in jail or hospital, depending on how the drive goes wrong.
The Cayman, in all of its forms, is not that sort of car. Fun is attainable at speeds that wouldn’t cause grievous bodily harm. You don’t have to be sliding or going nuts to enjoy a Cayman. You can feel that it’s balanced at any speed and the precision of the inputs aren’t any different the faster you go. You get the same sensation from the engine if you run it to redline in second or in fourth. It doesn’t beat you up either, it’s a car that’s meant to sit in traffic, then conquer a back road, then go on the track for a fun session, and then get you home.
You might be lusting after the GT4 as the ultimate Cayman right now (yes, we are too). But the GTS is one of the most versatile and competent cars you can buy today. It doesn’t have all the trick components of a Cayman fettled by the works GT division, but do you really need that? I know you just said “yes” and are now feverishly typing a comment saying that I’m wrong, but think about it. The GTS hones what’s already so great about the Cayman without necessitating you go to a track to truly experience it. That’s the mark of inclusive performance, which is what automakers should strive for.
It’s a total crowd pleaser. This is the Back To The Future of cars.