The third generation of Porsche‘s Cayman mid-engine sport coupe is a gamble that performance trumps sound.
Porsche knew the decision to replace the signature flat-six engine with a new turbocharged flat-four would encounter some criticism. To smooth the transition, the 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman and Cayman S keep the same platform as the outgoing model but with a retuned chassis, modified rear suspension, and gorgeous lines. Porsche feels the changes warrant a new series name: 982 even though the 2017 model shares underpinnings with the current 981 Series.
The German automaker is hoping buyers will appreciate the historic relevance of 718, a name that hasn’t been used since the race cars of the 1950s and early ’60 were powered by four-cylinder engines.
The loss of the well-loved flat-six with its high-pitched whine has been tempered by the fact that the new 2.0-liter, turbocharged boxer engine in the Cayman delivers 300 horsepower—25 more than its predecessor with a 2.7-liter flat-six.
It is not a shell game. The smaller engine posts some big figures. Torque is 280 lb-ft, up a whopping 67, which should boost sales of the base model. The best part: It hits peak torque at 1,950 rpm and holds it until 4,500 rpm. There is only a 5 percent drop off from 6,500 rpm to redline at 7,400. Porsche says the base Cayman now does 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds with the six-speed manual, 4.7 seconds with the PKD seven-speed twin-clutch automatic and 4.5 seconds with PDK and the optional Sport Chrono pack (0.6 second faster than the outgoing model). Driving around rural southern Sweden, I found the power delivery was very linear. On the Sturup track near MalmÃ¶, we experienced little turbo lag and lots of sheer fun. It also did an admirable job keeping up with the Cayman S.
For 2017 the Cayman S drops the 3.4-liter flat-six for a 2.5-liter, turbocharged flat-four that gets 350 horsepower (up 25) and 309 lb-ft of torque (up 37). The powerband is even wider; peak torque starts at 1,900 rpm. The 0-60 times are 4.4 seconds with the manual, 4.2 with PDK, and 4.0 seconds with PKD and Sport Chrono—that shaves off 0.4 second from the 2016 model, Porsche says.
The times are definitely faster than the last Caymans we tested. The 2014 Cayman took 5.6 seconds to hit 60 mph, and the Cayman S with a bigger engine and PDK did it in 4.2 seconds.
To increase power for the 2017 model year, Porsche could have stuffed a 3.8-liter into the engine bay, but it was an idea quickly discarded in a world with ever-stringent fuel economy and emissions standards to be met, said Markus Baumann, manager for development of boxer engines. The 718 has better performance and fuel economy. The outgoing model got 20/30 mpg in city/highway driving. The 2017 Cayman gets 22/29 mpg in city/highway driving with PDK. It drops 1 mpg with a manual or in the Cayman S with PDK.
There is no shortage of ways to let the 718 loose. Dynamic Boost improves throttle response when you lift off the gas pedal during full acceleration and then mash back down. It is more pronounced in Sport and Sport Plus modes.
Vehicles with PKD and Sport Chrono have a Sport Response button in the middle of the mode dial, and it unleashes 20 seconds of extra acceleration for what might otherwise have been a dicey pass.
Add it all up, and Porsche buyers should be pleased with the smaller engines. What will take getting used to is the new soundtrack.
The new exhaust note is low and guttural, which sounds great as a burble on the downshift but has some work to do to win over purists who have had 20 years to fall in love with the flat-six in the Boxster and 12 years in the Cayman. You can amplify the sound by pushing the optional Sport Exhaust button.
Is it a bit of overcompensation? Sure, but Porsche knows sound is important in a sports car and provides performance feedback. The hope is the new notes continue to accentuate sportiness and buyers will come to appreciate it.
Former world rally champion and Porsche test driver Walter Röhrl says the new sound has grown on him. More important, he is a big fan of how the new Cayman drives with increased power, a choice of three suspensions, and more direct steering.
The rear wheels are half an inch wider, so the tires can be positioned for greater stability, which in turn made it possible to adopt the electromechanical steering system from the 911 Turbo with its quicker steering ratio. Porsche says steering is 10 percent more direct. We won’t quibble with fractions, but we can attest to the fact the car reacted beautifully around the 12 corners and blind crests of the Sturup race track.
The Cayman comes with standard 18-inch wheels, the S has 19-inchers, and 20s are optional on both.
Porsche’s Active Suspension Management (PASM), optional on both models, drops the ride height by 0.43 inch, and the PASM sport suspension available on the Cayman S drops the chassis by 0.86 inch.
The manual transmission is standard, but four out of five buyers will upgrade to the optional PDK. Porsche has reversed the direction of shifting in manual mode so that you push forward to downshift. If you prefer the old direction, switch to the steering wheel-mounted paddles, which are quick and intuitive. The transmission respects the gear you select and does not upshift at redline in manual mode.
The Cayman has a more advanced start-stop system for 2017 that kicks in while braking but still coasting to a stop. It can be deactivated, and the system wisely shuts itself off in Sport and Sport Plus modes.
As for amenities, the front luggage compartment is extremely deep. It swallowed two pieces of luggage and two large knapsacks. And inside, the 718 has the latest-generation infotainment system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen and easy-to-use apps. The optional navigation system was so bang-on that it included driveways to the hotel and race track.
And of course there is a stereo in case you are having trouble adjusting to the new exhaust notes.