The danger of under-delivering on expectations is commensurably higher in the world of the high-performance Porsche – especially so when it wears a GT badge.
It’s hard to think of a car that carries a greater burden of pre-judgment than the new Cayman GT4. Ever since the world fell hopelessly in love with the hard-top Boxster back in 2005, people have wondered if its core skills would be taken to stratospheric levels of brilliance with a make-over from the GT department and some proper power.
When Porsche announced a GT4 model earlier this year, the internet melted. This was the car everyone wanted. And then the hyperbole turned treasonous – the muttering forums had a new message: this car was going to be so good no one would ever need a 911 ever again. Blimey.
It looks just about right the GT4 – they’ve added some Coulthard to that front end and generally festooned the vehicle with enough GT3 and motorsport references to make people stop and point at it. The core prettiness of the Cayman has been sullied somewhat, and I didn’t like the rear wing in the pictures – but in person it’s just right.
The mechanical package is compelling. The basic recipe is a Cayman bodyshell into which a 385hp Carrera S motor is installed, with what is basically a wet-sump lubrication package. The gearbox is standard Cayman, but with several detail mods to improve the feel of the shift, and a shorter throw to the lever itself.
Bigger changes lurk in the chassis. The front axle assemblies are basically carried over from the GT3 and are far more substantial than anything seen on a Cayman GTS. The roll bar has three-way adjustment and the damper tube is aluminium. It works on Porsche’s race cars, so it should work here.
There’s a completely new set of parts at the rear – but using the same basic design as on the standard car. In come bigger, stronger, components, fewer rubber bushes, more spherical bearings and a great lump of bracing that straddles both sides. All four top mounts use spherical bearings too. The rear roll bar also has three-way adjustment and the test car is running the optional 410mm ceramic brakes.
There are extra toys in the cabin. Two-way adjustment for the dampers and the ‘Sport’ function that both shortens the throttle and adds an automatic downchange ‘blip’ for the manual gearbox.
Manual? That’s right – the GT4 has three pedals, a stumpy little lever between the seats and a small steering wheel that defies modern illogic by being completely circular. There’s a button to make the exhaust louder too and our car has the optional full-carbon bucket seats fitted to the GT3 RS.
‘If Porsche has the decency to assemble cars with manual transmissions, then drivers should have the decency to learn to heel ‘n toe.’
The numbers are impressive, but not excessive: 385hp 309lb ft, 0-60mph in 4.2sec, 1340kg dripping wet, 183mph flat out and 7min 40sec around the Nurburgring if you remove your brain first.
But, rest assured this remains a very usable road car. I drove a Cayman GTS to the airport and then jumped straight into the GT4 at the other end and, despite giving the driver a much better sense of connection to the machine and the road, it’s not much harsher. There’s a little more road noise from the tri-compound Michelin Cup2s and general NVH rumble, but the base car is pretty vocal anyway.
The driving position and relationship between human and controls are just magnificent. You step inside, ping the seat as low as possible, bring the wheel back to your chest and then extend your right pinkie to brush against the Alcantara gear lever. This is masterclass ergonomics.
Throttle response is immediate, but not as sharp as the GT3’s motor. The noise is of a very high quality and it’s difficult to resist having the exhaust in the boomy, shouty mode because pops ‘n bangs on the overrun are quite gigglesome.Leave the dampers in soft mode and this is a firm, responsive road car with the performance to take-care of a Carrera.
The shift quality is superb, the pedals would be ideal if the brake pedal was a little lower for road driving, but of course the extra load of circuit driving pushes it further into the footwell and it then sits ideally for rolling onto the throttle pedal. I consider the automatic blipper a modern aberration to be avoided at all costs. If Porsche has the decency to assemble cars with manual transmissions, then drivers should have the decency to learn to heel ‘n toe.
‘We have to remember how tricky the role of the GT4 is within Porsche’s model range. It somehow needs to be the car we’ve always wanted the Cayman to be, but it simply must not tread on the GT3’s toes.’
On its 20 inch rubber the car has too much grip to discuss limits and chassis balance on the public road. The electric steering is muted but well judged for speed, the motor pulls from 2000rpm, grows angry from 4500 to 6500rpm and is a little less impressive from that point to the 7800rpm cut-out. The GTS engine is actually smoother and keeps pulling all the way to the cut. But this is much more athletic where it counts and flings the little Cayman about with some intent. If only the development budget had stretched to a new set of gear ratios. The car will pull around 75mph in second gear and hit over 180mph – a road car doesn’t need that vmax.
Predictably, at the circuit it comes alive – but all prospective owners looking to track their cars will need to have a little play with the adjustable roll bars to experience the chassis at its best. Full soft on the front bar to kill some latent understeer and full hard on the rear to remove some of the grip from those monster 295 section Michelins – then you have a car that will make you grin all day long. Traction remains excellent, but now you can choose if you’d like the rear to move a little and the extra front grip allows you to just point the nose where you want it to go. The standard LSD has a 22 percent lock, fairly mild for a track car and a good choice because it helps the GT4 retain its appetite to change direction and trail-brake deep into turns.
It isn’t perfect – the long gearing is too much on the circuit as well. This is a double shame because you don’t get to enjoy that delicious shift action as often as you’d like! The steering is too mute and you are always aware that this is a ‘normal’ engine and not a motorsport special like the crazy 9k motor in the GT3. And this is where we have to remember how tricky the role of the GT4 is within Porsche’s model range. It somehow needs to be the car we’ve always wanted the Cayman to be, but it simply must not tread on the GT3’s toes.
Given the disparate nature of those requirements I think Porsche has done a superb job, but – and here’s the rub – I wouldn’t sell my 991 GT3 to own a GT4 unless I was absolutely obsessed with the manual gear change. The bigger car’s engine is on a completely different level, and it offers more options to play with lines and angles at speed on a circuit. And it is way, way quicker and more aggressive.
The GT4 is an entry-level Porsche GT car, and as such it plays the game perfectly. You can specify a Clubsport package with a roll-over hoop and harness belts. The Sport Chrono package comes with the potential for a lap-timing device and a superb integrated performance monitoring and video App which customers will love. It even has a manually adjustable rear spoiler.
For £65k basic, a sum easily exceeded when speccing the lesser GTS model it’s the bargain of the year.
We’ll try and have the video ready later as you go to bed tonight…
Which colour Cayman GT4 looks best?