No longer its brother ís sleeper

A flat-four turbo heart transplant sees Cayman step out of the shadow of the 911 with a personality all its own

WORDS NATHAN PONCHARD

DESPITE being a generally incredible piece of kit since it emerged from Zuffenhausenís womb back in 2005, there has always been something holding back the Porsche Cayman. Unable to out-power and out-rank its revered big brother, and physically incapable of matching the mystique of Porscheís magnificent rear-engined legend, the mid-engined Cayman has always been a poor manís 911.

But not anymore. Its reinvention as Porscheís entrylevel sports car, controversially boasting all-new turbocharged flat-four engines, has effectively set the 718 Cayman free. Itís gone through a mid-life crisis and come out the other side looking fitter, feeling fresher, and proving it still knows how to have a rollicking good time, all while sounding completely unlike a 911.

Some will find that hard to swallow. Porscheís textbook exponential rise in power and thrust, backed by a hard-edged, almost aggressive wail as the previous six soared towards 7500rpm, isnít really replicated in the new turbo flat-four. But, to its credit, the new engine still revs to 7500rpm, still keeps piling on the kilowatts the harder you push, and still makes a terrific noise. Itís just that it no longer sounds textbook Porsche. Unless, of course, youíre familiar with the Stuttgart firmís rich flat-four heritage dating from 1948 to 1969 (the end of Porscheís own flat-four in the 912), and continuing through to 1976 (with a VW Type 4 flatfour in the 914 and US-only 912E).

Offered in two capacities Ė 1988cc in the base 718 Cayman and a 2497cc version in the Cayman S Ė the new flat-four was developed simultaneously with Porscheís all-new turbocharged flat-six that recently debuted in the 911 Carrera. The base Cayman engine shares its bore and stroke with the 911ís 3.0-litre boosted flat-six, while the S gains its larger capacity via a fat 102mm bore. The larger donk also gets a touch of the exotic courtesy of a variable-vane turbocharger (or Variable Turbine Geometry in Porsche-speak), just like the flagship 911 Turbo.

Thereís an almost supernatural ability to deal

with the greater demands of the extra torque

As youíd expect in 2016, the results are sizeable gains in power and torque, as well as significant reductions in fuel consumption. The baby 2.0-litre produces an effortless 220kW at 6500rpm and a chubby 380Nm from 1950-4500rpm, while the 2.5-litre S cranks those outputs to 257kW and 420Nm at virtually the same rev points (max torque beginning at 1900rpm).

Tied to carryover six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmissions, the slowest Cayman you can buy (a stock 718 manual) now does 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.1sec. A Sports Chrono-equipped Cayman S PDK (with launch control) trims that to just 4.2sec. Donít be fooled by its lesser cylinder count; the flat-four Cayman is a bolter.

Every car at the 718 launch in Sweden featured both the Sports Chrono package ($3990 to $4990, depending on transmission), a sports exhaust system ($4330), PASM suspension (adaptive dampers, plus a 10mm lower ride height for $2710) and 20-inch wheels ($4840 extra over the base Caymanís standard 18s), as per the white Cayman PDK you see here. The Cayman S manual we also drove, on the other hand, featured PASM sport chassis (a first for Cayman), which drops the car a further 10mm and completely retunes the entire set-up for sharper response and tighter control (for another $3030).

Not that the base Cayman really needs improvement.

With a 10 percent more direct steering rack (from the 911 Turbo), higher spring and anti-rollbar rates, additional rebound buffer springs in the front axle, a stiffer rear axle and half-inch wider rear wheels, Porsche claims the 718 offers reduced front axle lift, less roll, improved rebound control, increased lateral grip and significantly higher cornering stability. What that means in plain English is an almost supernatural ability to deal with the greater demands of so much extra low-end torque when putting power down, and sweeter dynamic behaviour in all conditions.

The outcome is a more fluid, nuanced handler with a more natural transition onto its outside rear wheel when cornering, and a good dose of extra polish.

Wearing Pirelli P Zero N1 tyres (235/35ZR20 front; 265/35ZR20 rear), the boggo Cayman PDK definitely has more purchase than the car it replaces, yet thereís a supple confidence to its roadholding that removes some of the on-limit skatiness evident in the old car.

As for the ride, while tyre noise remains ever-present on coarse surfaces, the base PASM-equipped 718 Cayman on 20-inch wheels is yet another example of Porscheís ability to combine sports-car body control with liveable absorbency.

But itís the all-new engine that steals the show. With the steering wheelís drive mode dial set to Sport and the exhaust button engaged, the Cayman PDK manages to choose exactly the right gear for any given situation, and backs that up with a ballsy, bassy, throbby backing track that sounds slightly manufactured on first acquaintance, but really grows on you the more time you spend with it.

Simply by virtue of being a flat-four, thereís a hint of Subaru WRX STi and Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ in the 718 Caymanís acoustic repertoire, but anyone who says it sounds just like them is talking bollocks. The fourpot Porsche creams both Japanese upstarts for quality and volume of noise, and it has such a wonderfully rambunctious and unique personality, not once did I think about either of those cars while driving the 718.

A heavily modified air-cooled Volkswagen, maybe, but even thatís hardly unflattering. Itís a lineage that pays homage to Porscheís boxer-four roots.

While the 2.0-litre dual-clutch combination delivers driveability excellence, the 2.5-litre manual adds another level of naughtiness. Sport modes primed, the manualís exhaust crackles every time you lift off the throttle, and when provoked on over-run itís bliss on a stick. It doesnít sound anything like the old flat-six but

only dyed-in-the-wool purists would ever shit-can the flat-four Caymanís character. About our only criticism is some turbo lag below 2000rpm Ė it only really starts hauling once thereís a Ďtwoí on the tacho Ė which becomes even more obvious in the manual if Sport Chrono isnít in either Sport or Sport+.

Thereís definitely a step up in firmness and focus if you tick the PASM Sport Chassis box (available on both 718 Caymans), but it isnít really necessary unless you plan to do track days. Despite being firmer, that brilliantly judged ride quality still remains, and thereís less bodyroll combined with even pointier handling. But thereís a lot to be said for the base Caymanís fluidity of movement, and its luscious sweetness.

While the 718ís four-pot provenance is undoubtedly the main deal, the rest of the car has undergone many changes to facilitate its seamless application, including all the plumbing associated with keeping a midmounted turbo engine cool.

Only the 718ís roof, windscreen and luggage tailgate carry over from the previous six-cylinder 981, and thereís been a considerable lift in interior ambiance, thanks to the 911ís new multimedia set-up and the 918ís fabulous steering wheel. Finally, the Caymanís cabin matches its sticker price.

Transitioning from the worldís greatest six-cylinder engine to a boxer four more in keeping with hot-shoe Subarus was always going to be a challenge for the 718 Boxster/Cayman. Less could never ultimately equal more, yet thereís an anti-authoritarian brashness about the flat-four Cayman that suits its new station in life.

Itís simultaneously younger and shoutier, yet more polished and sophisticated.

Stepping out from the 911ís shadow was never going to be easy. Others might argue, but I think the 718 Cayman is all the better for it.

718 Cayman is both younger and shoutier, yet more polished and sophisticated

Model Porsche 718 Cayman Engine 1988cc flat 4, dohc, 16v, turbo Max power 220kW @ 6500rpm Max torque 380Nm @ 1950-4500rpm Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch L/W/H 4379/1801/1286mm Wheelbase 2475mm Weight 1365kg 0-100km/h 4.7sec (claimed) Economy 6.9L/100km (EU) Price $111,572 On sale November