Everything purists could want: naturally aspirated, mid-engined, and manual. So why doesn’t the Cayman GTS delight like it should?
Take away any of the distractions of the modern world. Strip away the distractions, the real-world realities, and what are you left with – what does your perfect existence entail?
For motoring enthusiasts it’s simple, and probably looks a lot like this car, the 2021 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS, complete with screaming naturally aspirated engine mounted in the middle, and a six-speed manual to send power to the rear wheels.
Porsche seems to play some interesting games with its enthusiast followers. When the last-gen GT3 launched, it was auto-only. In the case of the 718 GTS models, there’s only a manual.
At least, that’s the way it was at launch. GT3s got a manual, and the GTS twins now have an auto option. And you thought drama was reserved for soap operas and reality TV?
With a portfolio of almost entirely turbocharged engines, Porsche’s aspirated specials are pretty rare beasts. In the 718 range this GTS and the GT4 above it eschew turbocharging, and in the 911 range it’s the GT3 for big power without forced induction.
That makes this 718 Cayman GTS a bit of a rare bird.
Buried in the middle of the car, away from prying eyes, is a 4.0-litre engine in Porsche’s traditional flat-six format. It’s about as 911 as you can get without buying a 911.
While it’s the same engine as you’ll find in special-run cars like the Cayman GT4 and 718 Spyder, in the GTS the big six is a little more subdued, though not too much with 294kW at 7000rpm and 420Nm between 5000-6500rpm.
If you did step your GT up to the 4 over the S you’d get an extra 15kW but the same torque output. Opt for the available seven-speed dual-clutch auto in either car though and you get an extra 10Nm to play with.
|2021 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0|
|Engine||4.0-litre flat six-cylinder|
|Power and torque||294kW at 7000rpm, 420Nm at 5000-6500rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||11.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||14.8L/100km|
|Boot volume||150L front, 182L rear|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||Three years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||BMW M2 CS, Audi TT RS|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$198,330|
Priced from $172,000 before options and on-road costs, the Cayman GTS looks like convincing value for a car with such hard to find specs. That said, it’s a lot of money for something that’s outpaced by cars like the BMW M2 CS or Audi TT RS, but if you must have a Porsche, neither of those will really feed your desire, will they?
On top of the starting price, the car shown here wears over $26,000 of options, with an order sheet covering extras like power folding mirrors with puddle lamps ($550), proximity key and keyless start ($1470), dynamic LED headlights ($2320), Bose audio ($2470) and even the Carmine red paint, which doesn’t particularly stand out to me as anything special, is a $4920 upgrade.
Less value to be found in the options list then. Dare I suggest you buy one of these for the driving experience, and not the available multi-adjustable electric seats
If you were focussed on the standard features list, you do get base-line equipment including seats and steering wheel trimmed in Race-Tex suede look fabric with leather accents, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, bi-xenon headlights, 20-inch wheels, and cruise control.
Not the world’s most comprehensive equipment list at the price, but refreshingly analogue in some ways.
Less analogue is the infotainment system, with its own SIM connection for connected functions, Apple CarPlay, inbuilt nav linked to the digital window of the instrument cluster, and digital radio.
Alongside the rest of Porsche’s range though, the system is both small and low res – showing how quick in car systems have advanced when viewed next to the super-slick 911.
Buying this car on the strength of its touchscreen would be daft though. Same goes for the interior which is certainly functional, but is also starting to show its age in many areas – again
Just get in and drive the bloody thing and the results are both spectacular and frustrating at the same time.
The engine is a delight. While the world of easy-to-surf fat torque waves has changed the way we think about cars and performance, the Cayman GTS stands as a clear reminder that taking a running leap for a 5000rpm torque peak, and then chasing another 2000rpm to get every watt of available power, is truly one of life’s simple pleasures.
If you’re looking for it, redline is at 7800rpm. Search for it often.
It’s an engine that sparks a range of emotions as it builds steam. It’s docile enough to be user friendly for the schlep to work, happy to purr along at low rpms without feeling undernourished, and almost, almost, easy to forget.
It’s also incredibly easy to awaken, flex your right foot and the intake tract responds with an immediate gasp. Revs build with effortless ease and you can pretty much set your own limits for when you’d like to find the next gear.
Go in early and see what a down-low pull feels like, keep revs mid-way and utilise the torque, or run to the redline. The choice is yours.
The downside, however, is that you don’t actually need to. On Aussie roads sixth-gear is great for touring duties, but you could launch this car in first, and then use second and third gear for almost any driving situation you can imagine.
The gearing is long. Your favourite twisty road goes from firing out of fast second gear hairpins, or sneaking down to third to clip steady-radius sweepers. Instead you can just slot third and run any corner and pretty much any speed.
That’s a bit less fun. The gearshift isn’t a bad one, nor is the clutch balance, but for such an enthusiast spec car, both could do with a bit more mechanical accuracy and engagement.
There’s absolutely no blemishes when it comes to steering and handling though.
The mid-engined layout gives the Cayman a deftly light touch through the steering wheel. The front wheels are never numb, but you can get the GTS to alter direction with the deftness and surety of a ballroom dancer.
Each corner of the car is tied down. The rear axle is happy to play games, but with steady torque through the rev range, instead of a sudden wallop, there’s a bit of an insurance policy against swapping ends.
Through the bi-modal exhaust there’s a nice ring to the upper reaches of the rev range in its wide-open setting, but with the system close the stymied soundtrack can wear thin quickly.
Into the mix, there’s no shortage of tyre noise, with the tin top offering little respite compared to the cloth-topped Boxster. For this reason alone, the Bose audio upgrade is a box worth ticking, especially if you’ll be touring often.
Where Porsche claims the Boxster GTS will sip fuel at 9.7L/100km, at the end of its week in the CA garage this car returned 14.8L/100km. Less of a miscalculation on Porsche’s part, but more a signpost of what happens if you tap the engine’s potential
If you kept revs below 2000rpm (as would be the case on a test cycle), you could probably match the claim, and suck all the fun out of the car at the same time.
Porsche backs the Boxster with a three year, unlimited kilometre warranty, shorter than the industry average. Porsche also doesn’t set capped service pricing or provide a pre-paid option, so genuine servicing may vary between dealerships.
Porsche’s dedication to both natural aspiration and manual transmissions is admirable. Most enthusiast brands have given up on one, if not both, formats.
The engine in the Cayman GTS is an absolute joy. Bordering on 911 GT3 levels of freneticism, but for around half the price, this could be one of Porsche’s less sane moments – to the benefit of its customers.
The letdown then, is the way the manual is set up. The gearing is not too long to be useful, but too long to be playful and that counts for a lot in a car like this. Surely a shorter box of ratios or a tweak to final drive wouldn’t be too much to ask?
Even as it is, the 2021 Porsche Cayman GTS is a hoot, but its best saved for track days and dedicated circuit work, with enthusiastic weekend blasts just outside of the 718’s natural ability.