Historically, the Porsche Boxster and Cayman never received the same amount of love as their 911 older sibling. Sure, there were great variants like the Cayman GT4, but never any absurd Turbo or Turbo S models, as if the mid-engine cars were purposely undercut to keep the 911 on its king’s throne. This, I suspect, has led many to believe the 911 to be inherently the superior car. They are wrong. The 2018 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS is as perfect a sports car as they come.
(Full Disclosure: Porsche wanted us to drive the 718 Cayman GTS so badly that it dropped one off at the office for us with a full tank of gas. It was yellow. Yellow!)
I’ll let you in on an ugly little secret: Most cars are extremely boring to drive nowadays. They’re all turbocharged, have four cylinders and use electronically assisted steering. They all make largely the same noise. By and large, they all drive the same too.
But Porsche, in equipping the Cayman with these very same ingredients, managed to coax something wonderful and spirited out of the mix. Fun is possible, you just have to try a little harder to manufacture it for the public. And the public, in turn, has to have deep pockets.
I was taken with the mid-engined, fixed-roof Cayman the moment it came out in the mid-2000s. Its looks and lines have always been more delicate and subtle than the 911's, which is cursed with wearing the same face for the next 3,180 years for the sake of “tradition.” (You think Porsche will ever change that face after the 996 “runny egg headlights” debacle? Hell nah.)
The 718 moniker, adopted in 2016 for the 2017 model year, merged the Cayman and the Boxster under one name and swapped out the flat-six engines for a turbocharged flat-four engine. They come in 2.0- and 2.5-liter variants.
So no, you no longer get the free-breathing yell of a flat-six, but the flat-four sounds just fine, too. A little mechanical and missing the overall velvety throatiness of the six, but not bad. Definitely better than your standard-issue inline-four turbo engines.
The Cayman comes with either a six-speed manual or Porsche’s seven-speed PDK. My press loaner was optioned with the latter.
From the 2.5-liter, turbocharged flat-four now comes an extremely admirable 365 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque. Porsche says that a zero to 60 mph time is achieved in just 3.9 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package, and that top speed is a claimed 180 mph. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t think the Cayman is “fast” compared to a 911, please see yourself out now.
This is the GTS version of the Cayman, which is currently the top-trim Cayman that you can buy. It sits above the base model and the mid-level S version. The GTS gets a unique front facia, darker tinted headlights, bigger, black wheels and GTS lettering on its body. Beneath the surface, it’s been lowered slightly, rides more stiffly and comes standard with Porsche’s Active Suspension Management. There’s also torque vectoring and a mechanical rear differential for enhanced stability.
On top of all that, the engine’s been upgraded and has improved airflow. The turbocharger has a bigger compressor. All of that results in a 65-HP increase over the base model and 15 over the S.
Maybe it’s by virtue of driving a lightweight, mid-engined sports car or maybe it’s because Porsche is just really damn good at making cars, but getting into the Cayman felt a lot like pulling on a very snug and slim pair of gloves. As our esteemed reviews editor Andrew Collins pointed out in his first drive review, this is a car you wear rather than ride in.
But whereas Andrew applied this bit of criticism to the car’s diminutive size, I actually think it’s a wonderful way to describe the way it drives. (I’m also quite a bit shorter than he is.) Though the steering is electronically assisted, it’s still sharp and crisp, owing to the fact that there’s hardly any weight in the car’s nose. It turns on a dime, the skinny wheel feeding the road information to your hands beautifully.
The power is instantaneous, immediate and more than adequate; you don’t need to lean into the throttle for very long until you have the Cayman shooting around and past slower traffic. Does it urge you to drive like a dick? Yes, but that’s because you can. Whether or not you should is up to you.
The steering wheel might be a tad too minimalist for some, but I liked it. Wrapped in Alcantara, it lacked buttons for the radio, cruise control or navigating the infotainment screen. All it had was a little dial for changing the car’s driving modes, located conveniently near my right thumb.
Though quick, the Cayman doesn’t have rip-your-face-off power. But it doesn’t need it. This isn’t a car for winning drag races and it’s not the car for setting blistering Nürburgring lap times, either. It’s for manageable, usable fun.
The performance is attainable. Sure, it’ll get you into trouble if you push it, but there’s still plenty of spirited driving to be had while doing the speed limit. It’s not a one-trick power pony, see.
Its mid-engine setup means that it feels like a dancer when it’s in motion, happily pivoting around the weight in its middle when nosing into corners. Never sluggish, the car is able to toss its 3,098-pound body around with less abandon than it has any right to. I suspect it’s because Porsche hit on a near-perfect power-to-weight ratio, one that translates directly into agility, nimbleness and joy.
I’ve heard some criticism that the flat-four isn’t as “good” as the flat-six, but other than the sound, which is subjective, I didn’t find anything displeasing about it. If there was any turbo lag, it wasn’t very discernible and the 7,500-rpm redline is actually quite high for a turbocharged unit. It means that you can really wring the engine out, just like in a highly tuned, naturally aspirated equivalent.
That light-footedness doesn’t go away during everyday cruising, either. I found myself volunteering for errands and happily navigating parking lots. The Cayman is easy to see out of and simple to place in the outside environment because of its petite size.
It makes ordinary, day-to-day driving enjoyable and engaging. I’m sure that with a manual it would be even more so, but the PDK was just fine for me. Sometimes I like being lazy. It didn’t make the car any worse.
While the Cayman does encourage you to dart about on the roads, it doesn’t feel bored by low speeds. There’s plenty of low end power to get moving, but it’s also perfectly content to roll around at 30 mph. Gas mileage is probably also decent now with the fewer cylinders—Porsche estimates combined highway and city mileage to be 22 mpg.
Of course, because the Cayman is a two-seater, you do run into the issue of usefulness. Nobody buys this car because it’s a champion of practicality, but the Cayman makes do with what it has, and decently.
The back trunk has enough space for small parcels and the front trunk is deep enough for a couple of weekend bags. It has much more usable storage space than the Miata—and it has a damn glove box. You and your partner won’t be carpooling anyone anytime soon, though.
And it’s not cheap. The Cayman GTS starts at $79,800. My loaner, with options like the PDK and carbon-ceramic brake package would set me back $96,310 (!).
It’s a lot of money. What did you expect? It’s a Porsche. Buy used if you want entry-level.
Weirdly, I think the Cayman’s biggest flaw doesn’t actually have anything to do with the Cayman itself. The Cayman’s biggest problem is that the 911 exists.
Objectively, the Cayman is a better car, partially because its engine is in the correct place. It’s better balanced. It isn’t beholden to “heritage.” There’s a reason most supercars and race cars are mid-engined and rear-engine cars are all but extinct, and that it took Porsche decades to iron out the bad qualities of an RR car. I also don’t need to look further than the fact that Porsche’s been pushing the 911's engine further and further towards the middle of the car with each new generation to prove my own point.
Porsche knows this, which is why the Cayman is always intentionally crippled so that it slots neatly beneath the 911. The current Cayman GTS, the best Cayman you can get (for now) tops out at 365 HP. And the base 911 Carrera? It has 370 HP. Come the hell on.
There are more “versions” of the 911 than I have pairs of boots in my closet, and that’s saying something. Each one does a marginal something just a little differently enough that the 911 freaks can justifying choosing one over the other. Those people and the cars are dreadfully boring and far, far too serious for my taste.
I promise you that there will be at least a few comments on this article from people asking whether they should get the Cayman or just a used 911. I don’t have an answer to that question, but it does make me wish that the Cayman existed in a 911-free vacuum, because it can stand on its own two feet perfectly well without the manufactured “superiority” of its rear-engined brethren looming over it.
If you’re like me and you don’t care for the snobbery and would 100 percent live a better life if no one came up to you to talk about 911s ever again, if you like something that’s quick and darty and fun and not married to one engine setup over another, then the Cayman might be the one for you.