Recovering from the remnants of a nights sleep that resembled more of the type of nap one has on a commuter train and largely caused by the sudden onslaught of the British summer, i’m making progress up the A1. I’m on my way to what promises to be an interesting day courtesy of an invite by CAR Magazine to assist with their first drive and review for the new Porsche 718 Cayman. My condition will be improved I decide by adding fuel to both mind, body and car so afford myself a brief stop, however as I jump back in, one large Cappuccino richer I realise my mistake; the car is not equipped to handle such luxuries, i’m in the Cayman R and it doesn’t do cupholders. Still it should prove an interesting comparison for the new kid on the Porsche block whether that was the true intention of the day or not.
Arriving at Rockingham Speedway at the scheduled 8:30am (for breakfast) I soon realise that media types clearly don’t wear watches and I mill about for another 15 minutes, taking in the sites of what turns out to be a hive of non-activity, it’s dead here. The odd mutter of an F3 car engine in for testing in one of the many pit lane garages breaks the silence occasionally, but gazing around the bowl like stadium it’s a strange sensation if like me you rarely visit a race venue unless for a race meet. Eventually my hosts arrive, as do the other subjects of the test being a current generation Audi TTS owner and somebody who I already know from the Cayman Owners Club as the owner of a 981 Cayman . Theres also two rather smart looking Porsche reps, donned in corporate uniform who it turns out race Porsches for a living, Charlie Eastwood a scholar driver in the Carrera Cup and Paul who now earns a crust convincing us that the latest incarnation of Porsche's car is better than the last, we’ll see.
The order of the day is slow, painfully. But thats ok, the guys are an interesting bunch and some amusement can be had watching photographers dance around at the order of art directors and unaccustomed car owners awkwardly holding poses waiting for nature to create the perfect backdrop or lighting conditions…but I was soon to realise this wasn’t the hardest part of the day.
Long has the sound of a flat 6 been the signature of a Porsche sports car but this is the future now
The real subject of the day is the new 718 Cayman, we have the privilege of being in possession of one of only 2 Porsche press cars in the UK right now and its the S version (2.5L). For those that have been on leave from the automotive universe for the last 12 months, the 718 is the next generation of Cayman and Boxster, conrtary to what Porsche claim cosmetically it’s a facelift of the 981, the interior is a facelift of the 981, the engine however is not a facelift of anything that Porsche has produced for a long time. The already infamous new engine is a turbocharged flat 4 cylinder unit, so more of a frankensteins’ monster than a facelift.
The CAR journo wants the Cup driver in the car for the first action of the day, the photographer can rest for now, time to drive this thing. I’m up on the roof of the pit garage we’ve made home for the day, the F3 cars have retired to their garages and we have the whole of the track to ourselves. At this point i’m not entirely sure what I expected, but the noise that breaks the earie silence that has fallen on the stadium is a deep, burbling off beat noise that sounds like the idle of a Subaru Impreza complete with boy racer exhaust only it’s coming from a Porsche. The car leaves the pit and enters the banked curve of the track and as the revs build the hard of sight would tell you they’re watching a Moto GP practice session. Long has the sound of a flat 6 been the signature of a Porsche sports car but this is the future now. With this unfamiliar noise as the backdrop Paul joins me and very commendably starts explaining that emotion is not just about the noise of the car’s engine, he’s right of course but it’s still the beating heart of any sports car and i’m not entirely sure there are are any other endearing features of the car that compensate for such a loss. “So, have you driven a 987?” I ask him, "no" he responds "only the current models really".
It’s my turn for a lap…I jump in. I didn’t like the feeling of the cabin in the 981 generally I find it too big and the raised more forward positioned gear lever (this car i’m pleasantly surprised to find out is a 6 speed manual) I find a bit awkward and the 718 is no different. The car is in ‘sport+’ mode, I have no time to acquaint with the cabin, it’s adorned with switches so I adjust the seat, select first and head for the track…the throttle is not as responsive as the R, a blip on the downshift into the first corner and it responds in a lazy way and lacks the usual zing, contrary to what i’ve read elsewhere but in my opinion this is a noticeable change. Through the corners the car is familiar, the balance is there and the steering which Porsche has changed with a 10% quicker rack and reintroduced the larger steering wheel means there is an improvement on the 981 for feel but it still isn’t tugging at my fingers in the same way as older generations. Power early mid corner and it has plenty of grunt and movement, the dynamics of the car are good, relatively unchanged apart from perhaps a slightly stiffer ride than the 981 thanks to recalibrated dampers and stiffer anti-roll bars. The factory dialled in under-steer is there as always but the car is easily adjustable and will pivot, it’s still a Cayman.
Purists will always drive vintage, regardless of the marque. They’re the ironic hipsters of the car world
A quick track test done I walk over to see the Porsche guys demonstrating another 718, this one a Boxster with the Audi TTS driver in the cabin. Jumping out of the car he turns to me “great noise isn’t it” exclaiming with excitement. This is telling of the glut of Porsche’s target audience now. Inside I’m dying.
Is it fair to compare the 718 with a car one generation removed, probably not but some 987 owners will no doubt be waiting for the new offering and considering a trade up, having skipped the 981.
The afternoon brings the chance of an extended road test. It’s a low seating position in the new cars, which is welcome, but extremes of the car feel just that bit further away, passenger not as close. The engine would feel similarly remote I’m sure if it wasn’t for the fact the engine and exhaust note weren’t so annoyingly in your face, souding almost synthetic from inside the cabin.
Being familiar with the Cayman the car is easy to drive, the steering feels better weighted on the road and the stiffness of the ride feels just one notch shy of the Cayman R (this 718 has the optional 20mm lower suspension) but thats ok. Sports+ mode switched on and the throttle is a shade more sensitive but not as alert as I’d like. Brakes on this 2.5L model are borrowed from the 911 and feel typicaly Porsche with not too much servo but plenty of bite when you want it and some improvement in feel over the brakes in the R in fact when braking more meaningfully. As the country roads open up I get the chance to wake it up, the wave of torque from low down makes me chuckle at first, but such an unfamiliar feeling in a car I was almost beginning to feel familiar with, and once again the noise that accompanies low revs and full throttle is a deep and unfamiliar note. A few more sinuous miles and it’s clear that if you drive the car on the boil and with the revs rather than using the low end torque, the experience improves both in the way the engine responds and also the way it sounds. Whilst the engine quite impressively for a turbo charged unit pulls to the redline quite happily, that line is nearly 1,000 revs lower than in the flat 6 equipped Caymans. The character of the engine when driven to the higher rev ranges is strange, you don’t enjoy the sense of the engine actually getting there and the car making progress even though it clearly is, the sound is out of sync with the engine and maintains an almost linear level of aural feedback. The hairs on my neck haven’t woken up at any point on this drive, and not for want of me trying.
Pulling back up at The Speedway, I sit in the car and observe my surroundings, it is a nice car that much is certain, the buttons a bit fiddly maybe, and I’m not a fan of the overly complicated steering wheel with its selector dial but the PCM screen is a great improvement and very much up to date with its sleek edge to edge glass and smartphoneesque gesture control. Pondering further I find myself wondering that given the engine’s character, more high tech functional and roomy cabin it would be a better package equipped with a PDK gearbox and prove to be a very accomplished middle ground between a GT car and 2 seat sports car.
The 981 was a good car, it was a complete package, both dynamically and aesthetically although middle aged spread was creeping in a touch compared to the 987. The 718 maintains some of the same elements of the 981, and improves in some areas but loses out in a material way with the engine. I have said before that Porsche crossed a line with the 981 and probably more so with the 991, the cars gained too much in size and the driver’s interface with the car and the road was diluted that bit too far. The 718 has taken away more from the driver now and not given enough back to compensate for losing the soundtrack that is the soul of a Porsche.
I found it a hard day as a Porsche enthusiast, experiencing the new incarnation of a car that has delivered so much pleasure in several guises over the years become even less exciting and fun, a word that I find is rarely used these days to describe modern Porsches. The CAR journo admits to me he’s got a tough job, but assures me the car grew on him over the last 48 hours but I still maintain its left me feeling cold. He was interested to understand how the 718 compared to an older car, a 987...shock or sympathy or maybe both force my car keys into his hand “go decide for yourself”.
Story: Nick Cole
Photography Nick Cole/James Lipman