TOPGEAR SA EXCLUSIVE FIRST DRIVE: PORSCHE 718 CAYMAN GT4 RS
Porsche’s Cayman is considered a mere entry-level sports car by the snobby outfit, with some lamenting that it is not a proper sports car, rather heaping that accolade on the perennial 911 instead. And there is more than a whiff of truth to that statement, as the 911 continues to be the benchmark sports car, the one many aspire to own. Many would argue that the Cayman just doesn’t share that sort of desirability, that instinctive, 'buy me and buy me now!' X-factor that continues to lure buyers of 911s to do it again, and again and, well, I’m sure you catch the drift.
In my personal experience, the original Cayman was not the most desirable sports car in its segment when it first broke cover. Yes, it looked a wee bit odd proportionately, amongst the more elegant lines of the Audi TT Coupe, BMW Z4 and the Mercedes-Benz SLK, which may have put some people off. However, what it lacked in overall kerb appeal, it more than made up for with its performance and dynamic handling, thanks to its mid-ship engine layout, which inherently gives it a superior setup. This was further underscored by the flat-six engines that revved freely, interspersed by a guttural exhaust note and performance to boot, particularly in the swansong Cayman R derivative.
Those design anomalies, however, were duly addressed with the second generation model (codenamed 981), which offered a longer wheelbase and wider track for both better practicality and handling respectively. The Cayman S version and the subsequent GTS variants were proper performers, while the crowning GT4 version, in my humble view, moved the model to an even higher level of desirability. This was also true of the current Cayman GT4 and, while it remains a hoot to drive, it never quite fizzed with the effervescence of the 911 GT3 as far as its engine chatter was concerned. For those who felt a tad underwhelmed by the GT4, I’m glad to report that there’s finally something even more special in the range.
To that end, I jetted off to Lisbon, Portugal which was the launchpad of choice to introduce what I can only describe as one of the most anticipated sports cars of 2022. How would I consider it as such? Well, let me take you through the motions. Let’s take the Cayman GT4 as a base and give it more aerodynamic addenda including; a more aggressive front splitter, a carbon fibre bonnet - replete with Naca ducts, carbon fibre air intakes in place of the three-quarter rear side windows - and there’s an intriguing reason to this, which I’ll share with you later. Introduce a swan neck spoiler and a rear diffuser with a pair of titanium exhausts so as to leave you under no illusions of this model’s pecking order. At each corner is a set of 20” alloys wrapped in Michelin Cup 2 tyres with 245/35 up front and 295/30 at the rear. As part of the optional Weissach Package, you get magnesium wheels, which are 10 kg lighter than the standard fare wheel. The said Weissach Package also includes lightweight carbon shell bucket seats and a magnesium hewn roll cage strewn just behind the seats.
That racy theme spills into the cabin with a number of sporty elements such as the plush Alcantara-bedecked dash and cowling - ditto the three-spoke steering wheel. In the interest of lightweight construction, there are fabric door straps in place of conventional door handles, while the radio is also a no-cost option to include, but I reckon it's rather silly to delete as the trade-off would perhaps be around 1 kg or so of mass. I say specify it and thank me later! The said Weissach Package also includes lightweight carbon shell bucket seats and a magnesium-hewn roll cage that’s strewn just behind the seats. Overall, the GT4 RS’s cabin is devoid of frills, boasting only a driver-centric architecture, so that you can concentrate on the job at hand - driving!
Nestling mid-ship just below the carbon fibre airbox is the now renowned 4.0-litre, normally aspirated flat-six engine from the GT3, only in this application it has been turned 180 degrees so that the intake and exhaust manifolds swap spaces compared to the layout of the GT3. The gearbox, which comes exclusively in PDK in this instance, is impeccable in the way it responds and is easily the quickest dual-clutch I’ve yet experienced. In case you are wondering, there’s no manual option in this car, I repeat, no manual option. The thing is, with the 180-degree swap of the engine compared to the GT3, Andreas Preuninger and his team will have had to manufacture a manual gearbox solely for this model. Of course, this would have been an astronomically expensive development exercise, hence only opting for the PDK.
But don’t be perturbed by this in any way, because the entire package works in such unison that you would be hard-pressed to wipe that wide grin off of your face even if you tried. And we will get to how this thing drives, but let us first talk about the crown jewel of said package, that race-inspired engine. It makes 368 kW at a heady 8,400 r/min and 450 Nm at 6,750 r/min and will rev to a dizzying 9,000 r/min ceiling, which is something that never ceases to leave one stupefied. It is a very tractable engine with enough shove from low-down the rev range to make it very drivable for mundane, everyday trudges.
We managed to spend a long spell in the car, both on-road and on the racetrack, and it impressed immensely on both counts. It was the latter where I had a first taste of the vehicle, the historic Estoril circuit, which is a fast track with flowing corners for the most part. Slip behind the slinky wheel, turn the ignition key, and that flat-six engine barks into life in a timbre not far removed from the 911 GT3 Cup race car.
There’s a four-point race harness here, but there’s also a conventional three-point seatbelt, so I opt for the latter instead - easier to buckle and unbuckle! Once ensconced into those, I slot the gear-selector into Drive, switch the PDK gearbox button’s ferocity to Sport and slowly nudge out of the pits. The first sighting lap is to get the tyres, brakes and engine vital fluids up to optimal temperature, all the while sussing out where to exploit the chassis and unwind that engine to its 9,000 r/min rev ceiling.
At 1,415kg, the GT4 RS is 35 kg lighter than its GT4 PDK sibling, the reduction in unsprung mass makes for a more agile car, especially through corners. With a warm-up lap done and dusted, I come onto the main straight for a flying lap, and I pin the throttle to the floorboards. Being normally aspirated, the GT4 RS’s engine responds with the alacrity of a scalded cat. The ram induction system does a sterling job of adding some aural splendour to the driving experience. Imagine a front-row seat at a hip-hop or rock concert and you can hear every sonic element to the tee. The entire cabin is engulfed by an intake noise that goes from a bassy layer below 4,000 r/min, becomes thrilling at 6,000 r/min, and simply intoxicating at 8,000 r/min as it transitions into a metallic staccato before reaching its 9,000 r/min crescendo.
Dare I say that this is perhaps the best sounding six-cylinder engine I’m yet to experience. It truly is like a musical instrument, conducted by your right foot orchestrating what and when you want to hear it. Thankfully, there is more to the GT4 RS than just the engine itself, the suspension and damping are similar to that used in the outgoing GT2 RS, while the carbon-ceramic brakes offer exceptional performance, even though they do tend to be squeaky when not up to optimal temperature, something that is inherent with these type of brakes.
Porsche has mastered the response and overall feel of an electric steering system, and the GT4 RS is no exception here, managing to feel well weighted with noteworthy feedback. I am also a huge fan of the thin rim instead of the overly thick items that are fitted to some of the competitors. While the 911 GT3 remains the king of the roost, I rather enjoy the accessibility and playfulness derived from the GT4 RS. It thrives on being grabbed by the scruff of the neck and driven ragged to the driver’s content. Thanks to that mid-ship engine layout, you can easily adjust the vehicle mid-corner and it will oblige to your whims. Not many sports cars are this visceral to drive yet so forgiving in their nature should you get a little overzealous with the controls.
In a segment littered with more than a handful of focussed sport scars, the GT4 RS seems to lay the thrilling stuff in mounds of unbridled fun. Anyone who criticises the Cayman GT4 RS for not being a proper Porsche, would sadly be full-hardy in their statement. In my view, the GT4 RS is a project by enthusiasts who cared to dream of a Cayman with a GT3 engine shoehorned into its mid-engine chassis. The fact that Preuninger and his team managed to convince the board that there’s a business case for the GT4 RS without encroaching on the 911 GT3’s turf, deserves a resounding applause.
Around Estoril, the GT4 RS felt exceptionally nimble around the slow corners all the while feeling quick enough to raise your pulse rate a few notches up. That PDK bangs into each gear with lightning responses and on track will always yield faster lap times than a manual. Those Michelin Cup 2 tyres offer exceptional grip, but those with even higher adrenaline thresholds can opt for the Cup 2 R tyres, which are even stickier. These were instrumental in the GT4 RS’s Nurburgring time of 7:09.300 around the longer 20.832 km track in the hands of the company’s brand ambassador, Jörg Bergmeister. He also posted a 7:04.511 time around the shorter (20.6 km) track, which previously served as the benchmark, and managed to be 23.6 seconds faster than the time he posted in the standard Cayman GT4. That is quite a huge chunk, but it's also telling of just how much faster and more special the GT4 RS is in comparison. Yes, the GT4 is good at what it does, but it just doesn’t quite give you the feels that the GT4 RS can muster. The latter, as mentioned earlier, fizzes and froths like a proper race car straining at the leash.
At a cool R2.5m base price, I can’t think of any other sports car, fresh out of the box, that can make you feel this alive, or indeed, this connected to a car. What is even more exciting is the fact that there are no limited numbers set for production and that the vehicle will stay in production for at least the next two years. In a world where normally aspirated engines are making way for turbocharged, hybrid or even EV only, cars like the GT4 RS are a stark reminder of why we love cars and motorsport alike. Because, one day soon, these types of cars will be relegated to the historic annals of manufacturers and be a distant reminder of a glorious era.
Once all is said and done, the question begs? Should you buy one? The answer, in no uncertain terms, is a resounding yes! Take my word for it, this is easily one of the most memorable drives of 2022 and we haven’t even reached the halfway mark of the year. That, if nothing else, speaks volumes of how special the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS is. I think I want one!