The 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 First Drive: The Perfect Porsche?

Article By: Angus MacKenzie

The GTS badge goes back a long way in the Porsche history—all the way back to 1963 and the Porsche 904 GTS coupe. The tiny, low-slung, mid-engine 904 GTS—for Gran Turismo Sport—was essentially a racing car with enough comfort and amenity to enable it to be driven on the road.

Although not a road-going race car, the 2021 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 nonetheless shares traces of elemental DNA with that original 904: Porsche’s newest Cayman variant combines track-worthy performance and handling with the ride quality, interior trim, and equipment levels of a GT car.

Could it be the perfect Porsche?

Like GTS versions of other Porsche models, the Cayman GTS is a cleverly concocted mix of performance-enhancing hardware and value-added standard equipment wrapped in signature black-themed visuals. The Cayman GTS therefore follows a formula we’ve seen executed a dozen times before by the wizards of Weissach. But what has everyone talking and Porsche aficionados tingling is one thing only—the engine. It displaces 4.0 liters. It has six cylinders. And there’s not a turbo to be found. Halleluja!

The Cayman GTS is one of just a handful of contemporary Porsches available with a naturally aspirated flat-six, an engine format central to the iconography of the brand. The others? The 911 GT3, the Cayman GT4 and 718 Spyder, and, of course, the 718 Boxster GTS launching in conjunction with its coupe cousin. Storied company indeed …

It shares its displacement with the 494-hp GT3 engine, but the GTS flat-six is not related to that car’s near-race-spec powerplant, however, not the least because it simply won’t fit in the 718 mid-engine chassis, and because it would be simply too expensive for a $100,000 sports car. Instead, the Cayman GTS, like the Cayman GT4, is powered by what is essentially a bored and stroked 992-series engine, minus the turbochargers. Peak power is 394 hp at 7,000 rpm, with peak torque of 309 lb-ft available between 5,000 and 6,500 rpm. In the Cayman GT4 the engine makes 20 hp more, while the torque output is unchanged. The extra power is all in the engine management system mapping.

While the GTS’s 4.0-liter flat-six pumps out 44 more horses than the 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four that powers the Cayman S, its peak torque output is the same. What’s different is the way each engine delivers that torque: The 2.5-liter turbo four offers its 309 lb-ft from 1,900 rpm to 4,000 rpm, while the 4.0-liter naturally aspirated six makes its 309 lb-ft from 5,000 rpm to 6,500 rpm.

That explains why Porsche claims the Cayman GTS is, at 4.3 seconds, a mere tenth quicker to 60 mph than a manual transmission-equipped Cayman S. (Like the Cayman GT4, the GTS is currently only available with a six-speed manual transmission. A PDK-equipped version is coming.) Also, because of the six-cylinder engine and additional equipment, the GTS weighs 79 pounds more than the S. On paper it’s not much of a difference, but in cars that tip the scales at around 3,100 pounds, that’s a 2.5 percent weight penalty.

Porsche hasn’t officially revealed Cayman GTS pricing yet, but the previous car, powered by a 365-hp version of the 2.5-liter turbo four, commanded a 17.6 percent premium over the regular Cayman S. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation, factoring in an additional premium for the 4.0-liter engine, suggests a likely sticker of $87,000 to $90,000 for the 2020 model.

Worth it? Well, if you want to drive a modern Porsche with the emotional quotient of a pre-turbo 911 and can’t afford a GT3 or a GT4, it’s an absolute steal.

You see, there’s more to the Cayman GTS than the spec sheet suggests. The 4.0-liter naturally aspirated engine gives the GTS a deliciously nuanced top-end fluency the turbo-powered Caymans simply can’t match. Redlined at 7,800 rpm (in GT4 spec, it’ll go to 8,000 rpm), it doesn’t have the unworldly top-end zing of the GT3 engine, which spins to 9,000 rpm, but from 5,000 rpm up it feels joyously exuberant, a driver’s delight.

For all that, the engine will pull crisply from 35 mph in sixth gear—about 1,400 rpm—and on light throttle between 1,600 and 2,500 rpm, with torque demands of 75 lb-ft or less, the engine management computer automatically shuts down one of the cylinder banks to help save fuel. The system automatically alternates between either cylinder bank every 20 seconds to ensure the catalytic converters stay at operating temperature, and apart from a slight change in engine note, the whole process is imperceptible to the driver. It’s a very easy engine to live with day to day.

The six-speed manual transmission, made by Getrag and shared with the GT4, has a lovely mechanical action. Second gear is still way too long, able to take you to at least 80 mph, but as in the new GT4, the 4.0-liter engine seems to cope better with it. It’s just as well: Porsche 911 and 718 model line boss Frank-Steffen Walliser says that because second gear is on the transmission mainshaft, changing the ratio would be too expensive given the relatively small sales volume.

Better-spaced ratios—and faster shift times—are why the forthcoming PDK-equipped Cayman GTS will be as much as 0.4 second quicker to 60 and significantly faster around any racetrack. (And for those concerned the PDK-equipped GTS will encroach on the Cayman GT4’s performance envelope, rest easy: You’ll soon be able to order a GT4 with PDK, too.)

The Cayman GTS isn’t all about the engine. In addition to GTS-specific cosmetic changes, such as the 20-inch satin-black wheels, revised front and rear fascias, sideskirts, black tailpipes, and single-slat side intakes, plus Alcantara-wrapped interior components, your money buys you a chassis that’s been deftly tweaked to deliver noticeably superior handling.

The GTS comes standard with the Sport Chrono package and the PASM sport suspension, which drops the ride height 20mm and adds stiffer springs and shocks, a stiffer rear anti-roll bar, and more aggressive camber settings both front and rear.

The standard Cayman is a sweet, beautifully balanced car, but as we discovered while lapping a sport suspension-equipped GTS in company with a GTS fitted with the standard PASM setup (a no-cost option) around Portugal’s serpentine Estoril circuit, the sport suspension endows it with more grip and precision.

Especially mid-corner, where the car with the standard suspension simply couldn’t hang with the sport suspension version, the front end pushing wide if you got on the power too soon. Porsche says it offers the standard suspension as an option on the GTS for those who want a little more comfort. It needn’t bother: The sport suspension proved anything but harsh and noisy, even on some of Portugal’s rougher back roads. And it’s more than acceptable in terms of ride quality around town.

Although GM experimented with turbocharged engines in cars like the Oldsmobile Jetfire and the Corvair Monza Spyder in the early 1960s, Porsche is arguably the real turbo pioneer. The 911-based Porsche 930 it revealed at the 1973 Frankfurt Motor Show established a powertrain concept that, with innumerable developments and refinements, it has kept in production for almost 50 years. The 930 was all about raw power, and the Porsches that today carry the Turbo and Turbo S badges are the most powerful of their line (even if, as in the case of the all-electric Taycan, they don’t even have an internal combustion engine, much less a turbocharger).

The turbocharger has become a valuable tool for boosting an engine’s power density—its output relative to capacity—but when peak power is not required, it boosts fuel efficiency. The 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four in the 718 Cayman S produces 74 percent more power than the 2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-six that powered its ancestor, the Boxster S roadster, and delivers at least 10 percent better overall fuel efficiency.

The downside? A great turbomotor feels different to a great naturally aspirated engine, generally delivering its peak power and torque in the midrange rather than up near the redline. And it sounds different, too, not just because it doesn’t need to be revved but also because the turbochargers muffle any musicality in the exhaust note. Porsche’s turbocharged four-banger is a highly competent means of getting you moving in a hurry, but it’s also somewhat unemotional, more Sade than Sex Pistols.

The naturally aspirated flat-six in the 2021 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 fixes all that. It might not have the charismatic air-cooled clatter of an old-school 911 engine, but it delivers the same easy, elastic surge of power through the rev range and the same sizzle and bite at the top end, to the accompaniment of the throaty baritone bellow that’s been the signature tune of six-cylinder Porsche sports cars for more than half a century.

Combine that with a poised yet amenable mid-engine chassis and a price tag well under that of a Cayman GT4, and you have … the perfect Porsche.

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