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Porsche Cayman GT4. Driven. On Track.

Cayman GT4 On Track at AMP - Graham MacNeil ©

It's a crisp, dry Sunday morning; the second day of the annual two-day BMW Club Atlantic Advanced Driver Training (HPDE) in August. The first day was very rainy, which did make it very educational and fun, but it wasn't the day to make speed. Sunday was shaping up to be a good day for that, and I had a lot more to look forward to than just making speed.. Because the tool by which I would be making that speed (at least for one session of the day) was not my sledge hammer. It was a scalpel, a Porsche Cayman GT4. You may be wondering how I got to drive one in the first place. Let's rewind a bit for that.

Last year, a gentleman at our local track asked me if I want to come out for a few laps with him in his car, a Cayman GT4. Obviously, the answer was yes. I wrote about that (original post here, if you want to read). Fast forward a few months to when I had that post featured front and centre in my updated blog layout, and he offered to let me behind the wheel next time we are both out at the track. I wasn't sure if he was serious.. but that day came. The car was sitting in the paddock. My run group was being called to pit lane. The track was hot. The offer? The offer was genuine. "Do you want take it now?" He asked. The rest, as they say, is history. And boy, am I here to tell you about history.

If you take a Cayman GT4 out on track, prepare yourself for a few problems.. Firstly: it meets or exceeds all expectations. Problem #2: if you're like me, you don't have one. Problem #3: you'll realize that it likely will be a very long time before you drive another car that leaves you this awe-struck. If someone asks you how it was right after, I guarantee, you'll either be speechless or you'll want to rant on and on because you won't know where to start and where to end. My gosh, this car is GOOD!

Let's start from the beginning. The fixed-back seats are much more comfortable than they'd lead you to believe, at least for track work. The seat adjusts front/back and up/down so it's not too difficult to find a comfortable driving position. Support is excellent. Visibility is great for a car like this, except for out back due to the narrow rear window and spoiler but.. well, let's just say you probably won't need to worry about what's in your rear view mirror.. Trust me. There are faster cars out there. Much faster in terms of ultimate performance. But they aren't common, and when it comes to extracting said performance, it's a different story. The chances of you running into a faster car that simultaneously happens to be driven by someone who knows how to get the best out of it are slim. Meanwhile, in the GT4, you'll have a massively capable track car that is easier to drive fast than slow..

The way this car combines grip, stiffness, and responsiveness with compliance and forgiveness is phenomenal. Our track is very bumpy by race track standards. I have no idea how the GT4 so beautifully deals with bumps, yet controls its body motions and roll so well. Make no mistake, this is not a softly sprung car. You will feel the bumps, every one of them. But somehow, they don't upset the chassis at all. Porsche magic is what I was told by some Porsche fans. And I'm inclined to believe them, because it feels like magic. If you want to upset this car, you're going to have to really try. I told myself before I went out I am not going to be a hero. This isn't my car and I'm not even racing. I'm just going to find out what the car is like. I'll take it really slow. But this car BEGS you to push. Turn after turn, lap after lap. And here's the thing, you still don't have to be a hero. It's just so darn easy.

There is tons of front end grip and changes in direction seem to happen telepathically. The car is very close to neutral, but it will default to understeer at the limit. It was an odd feeling compared to my Boss 302. With my square tire and wheel setup, Watt's link setup neutral, and approx. -2.3 camber up front, the Boss will rotate whenever you want it. But with a big heavy engine and transmission up front, it's a brute. The midengine GT4, unsurprisingly, turns in instantly with seemingly zero weight up front to move around relative to the Mustang. If you come in hot, the slightest bit of trailbraking will rotate it faster than the Earth rotates around its axis. And that slight understeer at the limit turns into immense, undefeatable stability at speed. You can toss this thing into a turn at speed with seemingly no punishment. And once again, thanks to the mid-engine layout, there is no shortage of traction either. Cars with this much traction and power should be slow-in, fast out cars. Cars that turn in and grip this well into/through a corner should be momentum cars. Cars with this much traction and power that turn in and grip this well are Cayman GT4's.

There is no shortage of communication either. The car tells you everything that is going on at the tires. And although the Michelin Cup tires aren't the most audible at the limit, the amount of warning they communicate through the chassis is more than enough. Thanks to those Michelin's and the previously mentioned Porsche magic, there is loads of grip. And when it does let go, the lost of grip happens so progressively and controllably.  You aren't going to put a wheel wrong unless you're provoking it or driving like a maniac. It does everything you ask of it and does so properly. Nothing takes you by surprise. There are no bad habits.

All of that results in building trust with this car so quickly and that trust is so strong, that speed is completely and utterly inevitable. Drive this car at 6 or 7/10th, it'll fall asleep. Remember when I said it's easier to drive fast than slow? If you don't push, you can almost hear the car saying "Wake me up when you actually want to drive." You push it a little more, and it taunts you.. a little more, a little more. Before you know it, you're approaching the limit and the car is in "NOW YOU'RE TALKING!" mode.  And at speed, you really start to enjoy the car. Speaking of speed..

I said in my previous post following the ride along that this car needs so much more power. I'm not so sure right now.. Don't get me wrong, I'm more convinced than ever that it could use SO much more. But I'm struggling with this: will it still be this sweetheart of a track companion? Will it still feel invincible? If you gave this car the amount of power the chassis so desperately deserves, will you build trust this fast? This strong? It will be more exciting. It will be faster, much faster. And it will still be so well behaved, but it will lose some of the charm. I think that, at the very least, it should have had the full 400 hp out of the same 3.8 litre that was in the Carrera S. With that said, I don't want to undermine what is there.

Power builds up beautifully with revs as you'd expect, and if you put the exhaust system in sport mode, the wail you'll hear every time you pull to the nearly 8,000 rpm redline (7,800) is unmistakable flat-six music that will leave you in tears every time you hear a modern Cayman (718) with a flat four. Better still, traction is plentiful so you feel like you could use every last one of those 385 hp almost all the time. The times when you can't use them, the rear tires will tell you just how much you can use before you unleash all of them.

And of course no discussion of a GT4 would be complete without mentioning its manual transmission. When it was announced amidst the PDK-fication of all GT3's and GT3 RS's, it was hailed by everyone. Rightfully so, as it turns out. The shifter is perfect, engagement effort is spot on, and gates are impossible to miss. It's an absolute joy to row. Which makes the gear ratios an absolute shame.. I have no idea what Porsche was thinking. Gear ratios are very long for a sports car of this caliber, let alone one that's a Porsche and a GT-series one at that. My big V8, Mustang muscle car tops out at around 63 mph in second gear. The Cayman tops out at around 82 mph in second gear. Let that sink in. A shifter this perfect, tied to an engine this good, that loves to rev this much and this high deserves to be shifted far more often.

I wouldn't care if this were a deep breathing, big displacement engine because you could short shift it and ride the torque curve but short shifting the GT4 is missing all the fun. The GT4 is by no means a dog at low revs, but it's not its happy place. The long gears do have an interesting side effect when combined with the almost 8,000 rpm redline. It imparts a feeling of an engine with no redline, It feels like you can build up the revs, keep your foot in, and watch speed relentlessly building up without ever shifting, all while being mesmerized by how indifferent the car is to bumps, regardless of how fast you're going.

The brakes are likewise world class. Brake pedal travel is very short. If you're used to more street-oriented cars, it'll get some getting used to. But once you do, you should have no problem with modulation. It is pressure driven like a thoroughbred, but once you get a feel for it, braking power is very easy to modulate and you'll know how much to brake because the tires tell you everything. Although you shouldn't rely on it, the ABS system is magnificent in its operation. Tiny, minute adjustments are made on lock-up that seem to waste exactly zero braking potential. Everything about this car was thought out and optimized.

Remember when I mentioned there were several problems? Well, I forgot to mention another one. When this isn't your car and you're trying not to take advantage of the opportunity, you want to be a gentleman and take just a few laps to get to know the car and come back. But that's much, much easier said than done.. I kept telling myself: alright, come off now. Save the gas. Save the tires. Save the brakes. But you just. Can't. Help it. After what seemed like a "few" laps, I finally gathered enough will power to come off.. what turned out to be just 1 or 2 laps before checkered flag dropped and the session was over.

I wish I could tell you what my top speed was or how quick my lap times were. I would love to know for myself too. But there was no timing or filming at the school so I have no way of knowing, and frankly, there are plenty of performance stats for it so you can compare. What I can tell you is that this car should not be this good. The GT4 to Porsche seems to be somewhat like the 1M was to BMW. It's a parts-bin special; nothing new, nothing ground breaking. The front suspension and steering is from a 991 GT3. Rear suspension is reworked Cayman. The engine is from a 991 S, but it is mated to a reinforced 6-speed manual, not the 911 7-speed. A chassis reinforced in key areas and some aero modifications round off the package. Throw it all together and you get the first GT-series Cayman with 911-challenging power. The result is more - much, much more - than the some of its parts.

Aside from the long gears, hardly a criticism, there is extremely little to complain about. In fact, the car may be too perfect. I've read plenty of reviews about the car that said it is a great car to learn high performance driving in because of the forgiveness and stability. I hugely disagree. Generally speaking, it's always best to start in a less grippy, softer, and less powerful car, but even aside from this car's capabilities, there is one big problem. The darn near perfect handling of the car will, I think, hinder learning about car dynamics and less-than-ideal behavior that is the norm in the vast majority of cars available to buy. If you always drive cars this good, I guess it's a non issue, but as a general rule, I'd rather learn in a less perfect car. Plus, you'd never know first hand how very special this car is otherwise. If you're wondering at this point: "Is it really that good?" Yes, yes it is.

As for Alan - the gentlemen who owns the car - I don't remember asking if his first track experience was in this car. If it is, I would recommend he buys something else to learn for a season or two. In the meantime, I'm very willing to return this favour and keep his GT4 running until he's ready to take it back..

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