First drive: Porsche Cayman GT4
Out with it, is the Cayman GT4 fit to stand shoulder to shoulder with the 911 GT3?
Absolutely. It's a humdinger of a car, mighty on track, addictive on the road and capable of making your fizzy bits fizz like you've dropped an Alka Seltzer into your pants. It's... proper.
What, better than a GT3?
Wrong question. Different, but a genuine Porsche GT product right down to the sole of its Michelins. By which I mean it's got a definite track focus - this is not a benignly upgraded Cayman with soothing road manners. The ride is decidedly firm, road noise a bit more intrusive, compromises have been made. But this is reassuring, it shows Porsche has approached the Cayman with the right mindset.
Oh, and let's clear something else up right now - the reason we haven't had this car before is not because of internal wranglings about overlap with the 911, it's because the GT division hasn't had the manpower and resources to be able to do it.
So will there ultimately be a GT4 RS, then?
Very unlikely, I'm afraid. But there's plenty here to keep you occupied for the time being. The 3.8-litre flat six is borrowed from the Carrera S, but turned through 180 degrees so the motor sits amidships with the gearbox trailing behind. There are a few tweaks, but power and torque remain the same at 380bhp and 310lb ft. Despite the extra capacity over the 3.4-litre Caymans, this engine is only about 7kg heavier, and yes, your only choice is a six-speed manual gearbox. No PDK on the options list here.
What about the suspension?
Largely borrowed from the 911 GT3, which means you can adjust the front and rear set-ups if you can be bothered to jack it up and get a spanner out. Which apparently, a lot of GT car owners do. Porsche believes 80 per cent of its GT cars are used on tracks and that people like to have a tinker around with them. It's lowered 30mm compared to a standard Cayman, the front track is 13mm wider, the brakes are carried over from the GT3, and are upgradable to PCCB ceramics for a smidge under £5,000.
Other options include the one-piece bucket seats from the 918 Spyder. I found them too upright in the 918, but the padding of the £1,907 carbon chairs has been adjusted and now they're just right. The driving position is spot on, the ergonomics of the cabin as close to faultless as I can imagine. Even the pedals are exactly where you want them. Exactly. It's a car that makes you want to drive it properly.
And it looks stunning. It may well be the first Cayman to generate downforce, but the way it sits on the road, the angle of attack of the rear wing, the slammed ride height means it absolutely looks the part.
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Isn't there a Club Sport pack, too?
Yep, £2,670 for a rear cage, six point harness and fire extinguisher. If you want to take it racing, Porsche can also add a front cage, too. The message here is that just because this is Porsche's entry level sports car doesn't mean it's gone soft. In fact I reckon it's less forgiving than a GT3. I remember driving that and thinking I could happily live with it every day - the PDK gearbox meant you weren't sweating shifts in traffic and the damping was remarkably supple. The GT4 isn't hard work exactly, but it will bash you about a bit on a bumpy road. If you're not intending to go near a track the GTS might be a better bet.
Do you mean that?
Nope, probably not, just threw it in there to make sure you realise the GT4 is a step on. The grip it generates is outrageous, and I'm not sure the GT3 steers with as much purity - there's real resistance through the steering, making you aware of the forces you're overcoming. I'm not sure it's as tingly with feedback as the old Cayman R's hydraulic set-up, but it's more direct and quicker of rack.
But it inspires confidence?
Completely. You never have any doubt that the GT4 will steer exactly where you want it to at precisely the instant that you want it to. As a driver it doesn't give you many excuses. And the brakes are stellar. The car I drove had PCCB and bar the occasional low speed squeak they were fabulous to use, just so powerful and easy to modulate. A real highlight, in fact.
Any weak points?
None that really deserve mentioning, but I do think you can tell the engine isn't a pure-bred Porsche Motorsport unit. It doesn't rev with quite the same frenzy and snarl and snap, but any deficiency in that area is masked by the noise - it sounds gutturally wonderful, much louder and angrier than in a 911 Carrera S. And with less weight to work against it has great torque, and, above 5,500rpm where the Variocam system gives it both barrels, real 911-threatening turn of pace.
The gearbox is a honey, too. Same basic transmission as a Cayman GTS, but the lever has been cut down by 20mm, so the shifts feel very punchy, you just jab the lever around the gate, and if you have the Sport button pressed, it does the rev matching for you. In fact that is the only thing the Sport button does. One drawback to the gearbox though - those Cayman GTS ratios are too long for the GT4.
Porsche explains it away by saying that they don't want people to have to change up during overtaking opportunities, but more sprint-oriented gearing would suit the car better. Don't bother firming up the standard PASM dampers either - the Nurburgring lap time was achieved with them in normal.
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And what was the 'Ring time?
It's 7 minutes 40 seconds. Only 8 seconds slower than a GT3. I reckon that car's PDK gearbox is probably worth several seconds a lap, and that in truth the GT4 is probably a match for its bigger brother. With more centrally located weight, the way it changes direction is astonishing. Front grip is boundless on the road, the whole car feeling locked to the surface, the suspension rigidly controlled.
It's no lighter than a GTS, though, is it?
No, it's the same weight, 1340kg wet. And the reason for that is that many of the new components - and there are over 500 of them - are beefier than those they replace. Look at the size of those brakes - those ceramic discs are a whopping 410mm across, the wheels are 20-inchers, the rear tyres 295-width. Bet the centre of gravity has dropped as a result.
And compared to the GT3?
It's swings and roundabouts. The GT3 remains the purer, more special car, its bespoke engine revving to 9,000rpm, as opposed to 7,800rpm here. Also part of what makes the GT3 so enthralling is that you have to manage that rear-engined layout, and the naturally better balanced Cayman doesn't provide that challenge.