Driven

Porsche 718 Cayman

“Porsche, there is no substitute.” These words were first uttered by Joel Goodson, played by Tom Cruise, in the ’80s blockbuster Risky Business. Intended as a tribute to his father’s 928, in which he had just outrun Guido the killer pimp, the sentiment remains true today. Though the models have changed, the performance spirit that permeates every Porsche sports car remains.

Case in point: the new Porsche 718 Cayman, a pure two-seater that is the hardtop version of the even longer-lived Porsche Boxster. Since 2006, the Cayman has offered sports car fans a midengine coupe with beautiful styling, awesome performance and some of the best handling available. Until 2016, performance was provided by a familiar horizontally opposed (boxer) 6-cylinder engine, similar to the one in Porsche’s venerated 911. However, last year, the revered 6-cylinder was replaced with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Was this to be another performance fatality in the name of gas mileage and emissions? The short answer is no. The wizards at Weissach have managed to reduce the engine size while increasing horsepower and gas mileage. Incredible.

The turbo engine works quite nicely, with only a hint of lag. Other modern updates include removing a traditional mechanical handbrake actuated by a lever between the seats; the emergency brake is now set by an electric button one more leap from mechanical to electronic.

One thing that hasn’t changed are the three large gauges that face you on the dashboard to convey all types of information, including a large center tachometer, although even these have electronic bits embedded in them. Another throwback is the sound of the 4-cylinder engine, which reminds me of my old air-cooled VW Beetle. But when you give it some gas, the exhaust opens up and lets out an appropriately throaty roar. Though I have to say this is the biggest loss from the 6-cylinder engine. The previous had a deeper, better sounding exhaust note.

That said, the new 718 Cayman is a very desirable sports car with beautiful and functional styling. You don’t so much get in the car as put it on. The model I drove had a lot of nice features, including bi-xenon headlights, front and rear parking sensors, dual automatic climate control, an alcantara steering wheel, navigation, sport exhaust, and heated seats; since those are all options, they add about 20 percent to the purchase price.

The manual transmission is a pleasure to use, with good clutch feel, a nice short throw and a hill holding feature. Rev matching is an available option. This is definitely a car that begs for a real stick to extract maximum driving pleasure. With the stick, a powerful 300-horsepower engine, mid-engine balance and a tight, direct steering feel, there are very few cars on the market that can handle and perform as well as a Cayman. If you need even more power, the S version is available with 50 more horses for an additional $12,000. My only complaint is that although the brakes performed well, the pedal seemed a bit mushy.

The Cayman is actually quite civilized for around town driving, and even on the highway, the firm suspension is supple enough to provide comfortable cruising. Though it’s small, it’s not claustrophobic thanks to plenty of glass, and it has good-sized rear cargo and front storage. According to Matt Mercer, sales manager at Porsche St. Louis, “The styling of the new 718 Cayman is phenomenal, and the mid-engine configuration, which creates an almost perfect weight distribution, produces unbelievable handling, all in a car that can be driven to work during the week and then taken to the track on the weekend.”

technicals
price | base: $56,000, including delivery; as driven with options: $67,000
gas mileage | 21 city, 28 highway
drivetrain | mid engine; rear-wheel drive; 2.0-litre, horizontally opposed; turbo 4-cylinder engine; 300 horsepower, 6-speed manual transmission

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate. 

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