The skinny: Porsche’s fiercely talented motorsport division has – for the first time – applied its magic hands to Porsche’s Cayman. The result is the gorgeous and grunt-tastic Cayman GT4.
As the first ever ‘mid-engined GT’ car Porsche has produced, it offers the kind of inherent balance that even this legendary company has not produced before.
And because it’s an “enthusiast’s track car” (Porsche’s words) rather than an out-and-out racer like the rear-engined, 911-based GT3, it comes with a good old-fashioned six-speed manual gearbox, which only makes it more fun to drive.
Throw in an aerodynamic package that nails it to the road with 100kg of downforce and you’ve got one hell of a driver’s car.
Vehicle style: Two-door premium mid-engined sports coupe
Price: $189,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 283kW/420Nm, 3.8-litre petrol 6cyl, six-speed manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.3 l/km
Porsche purists will tell you that the rear-engined 911 is the ultimate car, in a place of its own, none better.
But some heretics have at least speculated that the Cayman, with its mid-engined layout - a set-up often favoured by supercar makers - is inherently superior.
Because the Cayman is the entry-level, cheap-ish Porsche, it has never been given the engine to actually go head-to-head with its more favoured brother, until now.
Refined, fettled and put on a diet by the motorsport division, the GT4 gets the 3.8-litre boxer six from a 911 Carrera S, making a truly hefty 283kW.
Many of the lightweight, track-focused parts from the GT3 have been slotted into the Cayman, although most of them have been modified to fit its different dimensions.
The changes start at the aggressive front splitter, which not only looks aggressively lovely but funnels air both under and over the car to aid the maximum mechanical grip approach.
And, despite its big lairy wings, the designers have managed to make it slip through the air, with a CD figure of just 0.32, 0.1 better than a GT3.
All that extra power has necessitated bigger and better brakes, with rotors 50mm larger than those found on the already impressive Cayman GTS.
Overall, we’re finally seeing how good a Cayman could be, when pushed to the ‘nth degree’, and the results are predictably impressive.
The fact that the GT4’s door handles have been replaced with a strap of material is the first thing you notice about the sportiest Cayman’s interior. But it’s a weight-saving measure that seems slightly odd when it is also fitted with power-adjustable seats (the Cayman GTS seats, for example, are manual).
You can, of course, optionally spec racier, lighter carbon-fibre-backed versions.
The other GT touches include lashings of sweat-resistant Alcantara on the steering wheel and gear stick, and some carbon-fibre-look panels here and there.
Other than that it’s the usual classy and classic interior you’d expect from a Porsche, with a few more options available on the display screens to show you just how hard you’ve been pushing.
How comfortable you like to be when at the wheel of a car with track days in its sights, will very much depend on which seats you decide to go with.
You have a choice, but the standard seats we tried provide a good balance of lateral grip and support.
The ride, while track firm, feels like it would have enough compliance in it, just, to cope with public roads.
You can also adjust the settings so that the active engine mounts make the car feel less stiff over broken road surfaces, which is pretty darn clever.
ON THE ROAD AND TRACK
We’ll have to wait and see how the GT4 copes with real roads because the launch drive was held in its more natural environment, on the track at Phillip Island (which was absolutely fine by us).
With only one car in the country, a bunch of racing drivers – including Steven Johnson, Tomas Mezera and Jim Richards – were brought in. The idea was to build us up to the event by “climbing a stairway”.
This began with pacey laps in a base Cayman (bottom stair), then a Cayman S and a Cayman GTS.
The difference in performance and track ability was noticeable with each step up, the base Cayman struggling to breach 200km/h before turn one, and the GTS a good 20km/h faster.
All three cars feel solid on the road, but they would get slightly tail happy if you were too enthusiastic on the throttle out of the slower corners.
Then came the major event: wheel time with the GT4
The GT4 feels related to its lesser brethren, obviously, but only in the way that Usain Bolt is related to other human beings.
Hurling itself on to the straight, beautifully flat and poised through the long bend that winds onto it, the Cayman GT4 howls its way to 200km/h half-way down, in fourth gear, and was still hauling hard at 240km/h (the fastest this driver has seen on that track) before we jumped on its big, beautiful brakes.
This puts you into the first corner at a speed that would have felt dangerous in any of the other Caymans, but the GT4 simply, squats, bites and rips around the next bend in a confidence-inspiring spearing rush.
According to Mezera, who would know, the GT4 is faster through corners than the more powerful GT3, but loses out on the straights.
Still, its 0-100km/h time of 4.4 seconds (and 0-200km/h in 14.5s) is certainly not disgraceful.
The theoretical 100kg of downforce from the aero package is one of those things you have to take on faith from the engineers, but the mid-corner grip of this car, and the way it feels shoved into the ground, is reminiscent of the most awesome track Porsche of all, the 918 super hybrid.
Compared to the rest of the Cayman range, even the GTS, this new and extreme version feels firmer and faster in every way, and sounds just a tad bit meaner and growlier as well.
The power steering is borrowed from the extremely pointy GT3. And after jumping straight from the lesser-Caymans, you find yourself darting for the apex too sharply at first.
But then you get used to how much faster the turn-in feels; the feedback through the wheel is, typically, excellent.
For the purists, the real highlight will be the manual gearbox, which is the only transmission offered with this car, which is the opposite of the PDK-only GT3.
Porsche folk explain that the manual is still the enthusiast’s choice, which is why it’s strange that this GT4’s gearbox does the blipping for you on every downchange.
It’s a neat trick, but it kind of takes away some of the joy that enthusiasts get from heel-and-toeing.
It’s about the only tiny quibble I can find with this beautifully balanced and fiercely fast uber version of the Cayman. This car, the GT4, is a worthy addition to the Porsche sports-car stable.
Rating: The Cayman has yet to be assessed by ANCAP, but has earned five stars in Euro-NCAP testing
Safety features: The Cayman GT$ comes equipped with eight airbags, PSM and EBD. The ABS system carries over from the GT3, and the brakes are so fantastic they’ll get you out of trouble most of the time.
The Porsche Stability Management systems offer two different kinds of ‘off’, with one allowing lateral movement and the other turning slip- and traction-control off as well.
Rivals to consider
Mercedes might want to include its GT S in this department, but it is bigger and brasher and more clearly aimed at the GT3.
Few competitors are within whistling distance of the GT4’s $189,900 price. A track-focused supercar like the Aventador Superveloce is simply too powerful, and too expensive, to match it head on, and no Lotus really has the grunt to match it with this Cayman, either.
It’s a car that almost stands alone, which might well make it a collectable. That and the fact that supply is limited, with Porsche Australia already holding 140 orders for its production allocation of 70 cars.
The locals have already sent pleading emails to head office in Stuttgart begging for more GT4s to sell.
VERDICT | OVERALL
It’s very tempting to just give this Cayman GT4 the full five stars, but we’ll hold back just half-a-star because it is, in theory at least, a road-going car.
After a day on the track, we can’t be sure that it’s not altogether too focused, and too hard-core, to perform that function.
To be fair, tackling public roads is very much a secondary consideration for any car wearing Porsche’s GT badge.
If the design brief was to produce an absolute weapon, but one that was a joy to drive on the track, that tucked and pointed through corners with the most sublime balance, then the GT4 nails that brief.
It is, of course, very expensive, but the level of engineering that has gone into making this car feel – and perform – so very different to the car it is based on makes that investment seem almost reasonable.
And it also looks fantastic, which is a bonus.
The Cayman GTS is a more realistic mix of road and track ability, and you can actually buy one, which is a bit of an advantage.
But at the very top of the range, this GT4 finally unleashes all the potential of Porsche’s entry level, mid-engined sports car. You might even choose one over a 911.
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