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Review of: 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman 2dr Cpe
2017 Porsche 718 Cayman Review: Minus two cylinders plus one turbocharger equals…
By Dan Heyman
May. 12, 2017
Oh, no. “Porsche has really done it this time,” I thought. I understood the push to PDK automatic transmissions. I understood the move to electronic power steering. I even understood the move to releasing an SUV all those years ago, then a hatchback, then another SUV. I knew that if I wanted to keep seeing the 911 GT3 RS and Carrera GT models I loved – but which were hardly big money-makers for the manufacturer – Porsche would need products to keep it in the black.
I got all that.
This last drastic change, however, is one that I was really concerned about.
After all; the free-revving nature of the old Porsche Cayman’s naturally-aspirated flat-six was one of the great attractions, one of the final bullish bastions in the world of turbo everything or worse, hybrid everything. Now, though, the latest editions of the Cayman and its drop-top Boxster sibling have gone the way of the small four-cylinder turbo, and as I took delivery of my Racing Yellow tester, I did so with great trepidation.
Here we go, then.
Pros & Cons
- + Sharp handling
- + Attention-getting styling
- + surprisingly spacious interior
- - Turbo lag
- - Conservative interior design
- - Engine lacks personality
Even Porsche adding the “718” moniker to this generation of the Cayman and Boxster could be seen as a little self-conscious; after all, the original 718 RSK Spyder remains one of the most well-loved and purest Porsches of all time, and in an effort to show the Cayman remains the properly-focused sports car it’s always been even after the switch to turbocharging, chassis code “987” became “718”.
It looks the part, that’s for sure.
The switch to 718 designation adds new headlights and taillights, and they say that almost every body panel you see is new. All good. Even better is that they’ve been sure to maintain the same squat, low-slung and purposeful profile the previous 987 Cayman had. In years past, the Cayman was always upstaged on the presence front by the 911; that’s not so obviously the case anymore. In fact, in the Boxster’s case, I’d say the 911 cabrio has to concede on the styling front.
The Cayman also gets the benefit of pretty much having three areas for storage: in the “frunk,” where the engine tends to be in most cars; in a more traditional trunk and on the rear parcel shelf. You can easily haul a weekend’s worth of gear for two in here.
The 718 also includes a retractable functional rear spoiler as standard, which is a nice, upscale feature to have.
Again, not a lot to report here, really. This side of a smaller-diameter steering wheel and a few redesigned bits n’ pieces, nothing has really changed in the evolution to 718 status.
And, once again, I have to say that I’m happy that’s the case. Porsche continues to construct some of the most driver-focused interiors in the biz, examples that are at once coddling and spacious enough to be used on the day-to-day.
There are concessions to comfort that can be made; take the seats, for example. Our tester had the optional 14-way power seats, but if you really want to go the bare bones route, manual two-way seats come as standard. Or go the other way, and select the sports seats plus, which add taller side bolsters.
For wider folks like me, I’d say the standard seats are just fine; they keep you locked in place but don’t squeeze the life out of your ribcage.
Otherwise, the interior on our tester was finished in a tantalizing mix of leather (steering wheel, seats, doors) and brushed aluminum (centre console, dash inserts), but these can of course be swapped for Alcantara suede inserts. That’s nice, but I think I like the more traditional feel of the leather draped all over our car’s cabin.
I guess the only real complaint is that the interior, overall, remains a pretty spartan place. There’s very little in the way of stylistic flair here; form over function at its finest.
Another new addition for 2017 is the inclusion of Porsche’s latest infotainment system. Its interface can be navigated either through its touchscreen or redundant buttons mounted below, which is something I wish more manufacturers did. Makes for a slightly busier centre stack, I know, but when you don’t want to take time away from your favorite b-road blast by endlessly poking and prodding some screen (especially when the buttons are as small as these), they show their value.
The new system, for its part, offers a larger screen with modernized graphics and a swipeable/pinchable interface. The back-up cam presented thereon is also sharp.
One thing it doesn’t feature, however – and we thank them for it – is a steering wheel loaded with buttons to control said interface, or the info displayed on the 4.2-inch TFT screen set between the gauges. Instead, what you get is a simple, classic, three-spoke small-diameter wheel whose low profile just adds to the feeling of directness and focus presented by the rest of the environs.
It’s also a feeling, of course, that is echoed once you turn the key – turn the key! – mounted in classic Porsche fashion to the left of the steering column.
Not immediately once you turn the key, however. As I suspected, that great, metallic warble provided by the old car’s flat six has been reduced, only really making itself heard once you prod the throttle. Luckily, all Caymans come standard with a “sport” button that opens the exhaust baffles, allowing the car to sing that much more. Needless to say, I pretty much had it on during my entire test. Not only does it make the car sound better, but it improves throttle response, too, helping mask small amount of turbo lag that exists.
Be prepared to really get on and rev the 718, however; peak power comes at 6,500 rpm so you really have to hold on tight, keeping your foot in it even after the tach needle has swept across almost the entire face of the gauge. It takes patience, but once there, forward progress is such that any lament about the loss of natural aspiration fades as the scenery around you begins to blur.
The scenery sits quite close to the shoulder, if you’re on a road as sinewy as the valley pass I use for my performance testing. It’s a narrow ribbon of tarmac, but it’s smooth and features a proper set of increasing/decreasing third- and second-gear turns to really test a car’s handling mettle.
Actually, I should rephrase that: it really tests a car’s handling mettle, unless the car’s a 2017 Cayman because it takes a lot more to get this baby unsettled.
For starters, there’s a reason why almost every notable race car – from Le Mans prototypes to IndyCars – goes with a mid-engine layout, like the Cayman’s. It provides great chassis balance on the one end, and good traction over the rear drive wheels on the other. The Cayman benefits from this, with optimized weight distribution that helps maintain a pleasingly neutral chassis through the bends. It’s also a stiff platform, meaning body movement is minimized at the same time so you really get the sense that the car is flowing with you as you pedal it forward. Even on our car’s squishy winter rubber, the grip was strong and the communication between car and driver crisp.
So crisp, in fact, that I ended up doing my route an extra couple of times just to make sure my first pass wasn’t blinded by the fact I was in one of the newest Porsches, that this really was a standout over cars driven there previously. The second pass confirmed that it was, with more and more juicy details emerging as you press on. Like the way a perfect shift around 5,500 rpm is the powertrain’s sweet spot; peak power may be made at 6,500, but if you’re not quick enough with your upshift there, you do risk meeting higher turbo lag that is a little more easily avoided if you give yourself a little more time on the dial. Sure; nail it at 6,500 and the surge is fantastic. Miss that switch, however, and you will hit a bit of a gully. The 718 does a good job of hiding its being turbocharged, but it can’t disguise it completely.
Which, unfortunately, is where this latest Cayman comes up just a little short. I know turbocharging is the way of the future. I understand the benefits it presents with regard to fuel economy. No matter how much I told myself that, though, it was hard to get over the slight feeling of disconnectedness between myself and the power train. It’s not a chasm, mind, but since the last Cayman/Boxster was just so immediate and linear in its power delivery you tend to notice when that changes, however slight the change may be. It’s why cars like the Mercedes-Benz SLC 43 feel closer to the Cayman than their predecessors ever did, and it’s why you’re seeing a 8.9 in this section instead of a 9.9.
To further improve things on the handling front, our tester was equipped with torque vectoring, allowing power to be transferred to the outside wheel during a turn, while simultaneously braking the inside wheel to better help the car rotate on turn-in. It’s a $1,510 option, but it’s one I’d have to consider as it adds just that much more precision through a turn. Didn’t think it was possible with the Cayman and its wonderful chassis, but it is.
With a base MSRP of $61,500, the Cayman makes for a very good value proposition. The Audi TTS, Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 hard-top convertible and even the Chevrolet Corvette all start at higher; heck, the Mercedes starts closer to the Cayman’s high-po Cayman S sibling. Granted, both the Mercedes and TTS come with a few added creature comforts but when it comes to the drive, neither quite have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the 718. If ever you wanted to get into a Porsche coupe, this is one heck of a way to do it.
The value proposition is really what makes so much of the story, here. The Porsche marque is one rooted in history, a rich kaleidoscope of racing, fantastic road cars and fairly humble beginnings. It’s one of the most storied brands in the history of the car world, and yet you can get into one for just over 60 grand, brand new from the dealer. You lose some of the niceties like navigation, heated seats and those 14-way power seats at base, but stick with the torque vectoring and two-mode adaptive dampers we had, and you’re still comfortably around the $65,000 mark, for one of the best, most involving drives available on the sports car market today, even with the turbocharging.