Driven: 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman

Written by Lee Bailie on .

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No mainstream automaker is as focused on performance across its model range as Porsche. From the base grade to the top of the line, a Porsche is a Porsche - performance comes standard.

I use the word mainstream here because, while the exotics (Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati et. al) are also clearly focused on performance, they exist in a different realm and have little interest in seeing their brands become more attainable.

Much of their cachet is still tied to low-volume exclusivity married to stratospheric cost, and while there are many Porsches that have starting MSRPs well beyond six figures, the Stuttgart-based marque also builds cars that fit within the price bracket of mere mortals and deliver delightful performance.

The 718 Cayman is a fine example of the intersection of price and performance.

Known simply as the Cayman prior to 2017, 718 was added to both it and its roadster twin, the Boxster, as a means of honouring the race car of the same name that competed in several forms of motorsports, including Le Mans and Formula One, from 1957-1962.

The 2017 model year also marks the debut of the fourth-generation, which sees a more streamlined lineup for both cars. In Canada, this means two models (base and S) powered by two turbocharged flat fours that replace three naturally aspirated flat-sixes of the previous gen.

In the case of the base 718 Cayman ($61,500 base MSRP), it comes with a 2.0L turbocharged flat four-cylinder engine that’s mid-mounted and drives the rear wheels through a standard six-speed manual transmission (a seven-speed PDK automatic is a $3,660 option).

Its 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft. of torque isn’t overwhelming in 2017, until you drill further down in the spec sheet and realize that it has a 5.1 second 0-100 km/h time and a top track speed of 275 km/h.

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Still a Porsche, in other words.

Now, as you scroll down you’ll note that my tester was optioned out with more than $11,000 in extra equipment, but it is important to note that the 718 Cayman does come equipped with a great deal of standard content.

In addition to the core mechanicals mentioned previously, the 718 Cayman also comes with 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli P Zero summer tires, Bi-xenon HID headlights, LED DRLs and tail lights, leather seats, Bluetooth and an eight speaker, 150-watt Bose audio system among other features.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the other, more subjective things the 718 Cayman comes with, which are hard to quantify but become more noticeable over time.

Firstly, it is classic Porsche sports car handsome with a simple and elegant design that feels timeless. It is both in line with current design trends within the brand, and retains a familial resemblance to previous generations. The design is immediately recognizable as a Porsche from near or far, and from any angle.

Secondly, the sounds it produces – at start-up, under acceleration (any kind), deceleration and even at idle – has a distinct character. Easy to say, I understand, because each car makes its own sounds, but this one feels different. To me, the varying baritone of the exhaust seems to be saying, ‘don’t underestimate me – I may be small, but I am mighty.’

Lastly, the 718 Cayman is a Porsche and as such, it attracts a crowd. It draws onlookers in – almost involuntarily it seems, at times – and they pay their respects, even if doing so means just giving the driver (myself, in this case), a smile, a thumbs-up or a, ‘hey man, nice car’ affirmation.

I haven’t mentioned my driving impressions yet, but I think you can probably guess what they are and you’d likely be correct.

The 718 Cayman is simply a pleasure to drive, especially when you’re able to shift the gears yourself. The clutch has a light and smooth engagement feel, and it works seamlessly with the short throw shifter. Combined with a 2.0L turbo four’s 7,200 rpm redline, extracting the available performance out of the car is both fun and drama-free. And doing so makes for a pleasing automotive soundtrack.

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Driver-selectable drive modes, variable shock damping and adjustable ride height (all via console-mounted buttons), allow the ride and performance character of the 718 Cayman to be fine-tuned for both track and street applications. I should note, however, that the latter two are available via the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management System ($2,050).

As for the ride character itself, I didn’t have the opportunity to track this car, but I have tracked a 2017 718 Cayman S (2.5L turbo flat four with 350 hp / 309 lb-ft.), and its handling characteristics are impressive – excellent weight distribution, direct steering, flat cornering with minimal body roll and understeer. Oh, and it accelerates like a bat out of hell.

While the Cayman doesn’t have as much power as the S, I’m confident that, based on my experience on public roads, it’d be just as much fun to track. Someday, I hope.

Aesthetically – and I have similar thoughts about the Macan (review here) – I think the 718 Cayman’s interior suits its serious sports performance machine ethic. It’s not the most dazzling interior I’ve been in, but that really isn’t the reason to own a Porsche, in my view. That said, everything worked fine, and I was pleased that just about every adjustable feature was governed by a hard key, switch or knob of some sort. Well done, interior design team.

As someone at Porsche put it to me once, the company only builds sports cars – some have two doors and some have four.

I think that encapsulates my overall impression of the 718 Cayman.

From a pricing standpoint, it is one of the most affordable cars Porsche sells. But it is designed, engineered and built around the same basic principles as its pricier siblings.

In that regard, it’s the best of both worlds – as much a sports car as they are, but within reach of many.

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SPECIFICATIONS2017 Porsche 718 Cayman

BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $61,500 / $74,270 (incl. $1,200 destination)
FINAL ASSEMBLY: Zuffenhausen, Germany
ENGINE:
2.0L turbocharged flat 4-cylinder
HORSEPOWER: 300 hp @ 6,500 rpm
TORQUE: 
280 lb-ft. @ 1,950 – 4,500 rpm
CURB WEIGHT:
1,335 kg
CONFIGURATION:
mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.):
11 / 8.3 / 9.8
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM):
48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES:
BMW M2, Nissan 370Z

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Options

Premium Package ($1,570)
- automatic dimming mirrors w/ integrated rain sensor
- seat heating
- two-zone automatic climate control

Accessories and / or Stand Alone Options

Porsche Torque Vectoring ($1,510)
19-inch Cayman S wheels ($1,810)
Porsche Active Suspension Management System ($2,050)
Navigation Module for Porsche Communication Management ($1,980)
Power Sport Seats (14-way) with memory package ($2,650)


Total – $11,570

Photography by Lee Bailie

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