Light, fast, and powerful, the Porsche 718 also runs under $100,000
Turbocharging, in recent years, has become so dominant at Porsche that even cars without turbochargers—the Taycan, which runs on a battery—are called Turbos.
Pair that with the stratospheric heights to which the values of vintage Porsche Turbos from the 1970s have risen—mid-six figures and then some—and it seems everything old and new in Porsche world has turbo fever.
The ubiquity raises the question: What’s a driving purist to do when turbocharging becomes so normal that it’s boring?
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Here’s the answer: Buy a 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4. It’s one of the rare, naturally aspirated models Porsche makes, which means it lacks turbocharging. And it offers the value of the Cayman line’s pricing with most of the thrill of a 911 GT3 driving experience.
Some helpful background: The Cayman is the mid-engined, entry-level sports car that Porsche debuted in 2005 and rebadged with the “718 Cayman" moniker in 2016. In GT4 version, the 718 Cayman uses a naturally aspirated flat-six-cylinder engine, rather than the turbocharged four-cylinder engines used by the rest of the Cayman family.
This isn’t just any six-cylinder, either. It’s the 4.0-liter version of the exceptional new 911’s 3.0-liter engine, sans turbo. The 911, you’ll recall, is the rear-engined, range-topping sports car that Porsche debuted in 1964. Taken one step further, the 911 GT3 is the sole modern 911 that is naturally aspirated (without a turbocharger). So what the GT3 is to the 911, the GT4 is to the Cayman. And the GT3 isn’t even currently being made.
It means you’re basically paying less to get a bigger 911 engine in a lighter car geared specifically to haul. What’s not to love, right?
The Rev Monster
But I have a confession. From behind the wheel driving up Highway 2 outside Los Angeles, I was not thinking about that engine or the great value I would get from buying a lesser-known Porsche sports car. I couldn’t have cared less.
What I did care about was about having fun. I cared about how this obnoxiously yellow $99,600 sports car with a deployable spoiler, engorged side intakes and low stance actually felt like to drive. (This is not the most elegant of the new Porsche cars; for that, look to the astounding 992 Turbo S.) Take it from me, it’s embarrassing to be driving a car that looks and sounds fast but, for whatever reason—overpowered, uncomfortable, cheaply constructed, abruptly tuned, generally untrustworthy—isn’t very fun.
It didn’t take long to find out. About two turns in, near 7600rpm, I felt the full 414-horsepower of the engine kick in: BAM. The thrust of the 309 pound-feet of torque pushed me forward with a wallop. (You will want to rev it to higher rpms to get the most out of that engine.)
This was a giant stride over the previous generation 718 Cayman, with 29 more horsepower and that adjustable wing helping generate 50% more downforce than its predecessor. (It’s also 49 horsepower more than the current standard non-GT4 Cayman.) I loved how the one-inch lower stance, stiffer suspension, and the wider tires (new for this year) made me feel as if I were melded to the asphalt; from behind the steering wheel, the transfer of weight as I pushed my way up Los Angeles Crest felt as if the GT4 was dancing a foxtrot toward the clouds. Zero to 60 mph takes 4.2 seconds. Meanwhile, the grumble rumble of the all-new sport exhaust system kept calling me back to reality just in time to tackle the next turn.
Top speed in the Cayman GT4, I should mention, is 188 mph. I did not come within 80 mph of that during my test drives over a week in LA. But I did have the smug feeling that I had really used the car, gotten the most from it and felt its full capacities. (It really comes alive for you after 4,000 rpm; under that and you might wonder what’s all the fuss about.)
This stands in contrast to some automobiles from such fine automakers as Ferrari and Lamborghini and even the higher-tuned Porsche 911s which—let’s face it—because they are such superb machines, do not reach their potential on city streets and highways. Exhibit A: Neither I nor anyone but a professional on a closed course could force the lightening Ferrari 812 Superfast I had a few months back to the face-melting outer limits of its full potential.
With a superior, tightened chassis, carbon-ceramic brakes that bite, and steering on par with any sport 911, the Cayman GT4 fully delivers on the performance promise its track-racer looks implies. It’s no accident it beats the million-dollar Carrera GT around the Nurburgring track by four seconds; it beats its predecessor by a whopping 12 seconds. And with those Michelin sport cup tires on the new 20-inch wheels, you’ll feel every thrilling second.
Those Who Know, Know
You may be wondering just who are these purists with interest in such a car? After all, the rather humble Cayman line is neither the iconic Porsche 911 nor that futuristic Taycan. The Cayman has always been a lesser-known, potentially under-loved line.
Consider Nick and Ed Pike, friends of mine who have owned many Porsches, both modern and vintage, over the years. They are the organizers who run the Porsche Club of London—and were early to put their name down for one. Discerning driving enthusiasts, the Pikes tell me they love the car by all accounts—“the GT4 is a true drivers’ car; we love it"—although they pine for higher speed limits than London’s piteously slow city mandates. Suffice to say it’s rare to get the car out of second gear in city limits, when third gear puts you at 90 mph.
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That reminds me. Did I mention that the 718 Cayman GT4 comes only with the ever-elusive six-speed manual stick-shift transmission? (An optional automatic paddle shifting apparatus will be available at a later time.) Talk about driving purity. Allocations in time for summer, as you might imagine, are disappearing rather quickly.