It was a crisp, dry Sunday morning; the second day of a typical two-day Advanced Driver Training (HPDE) put on by the local chapter of the BMW Club of America. Only this day wasn't typical. The first day was very rainy. A wet track is great for learning (plus it's a lot of fun) but it doesn't let you reach proper speeds. The second day was shaping up to be a good day for speed, but there was more to it. I had a lot more to look forward to than just making speed because the tool by which I would be making that speed was not my sledge hammer. It was a scalpel; a Porsche Cayman GT4.
"Is it really as good as I think?" "How approachable are the limits?" "How fast should I go?" Questions like these starting popping into my head as I was walking towards the car, but they all went quiet the moment I opened the door and sat down. I had finally come to grips with the fact that I was taking a Cayman GT4 out for a lapping session. If you’re going to drive a car like this, you will no doubt have a lot of expectation, but there is one thing that never crossed my mind. The car is easier to drive fast than slow. It’s astonishing.
The way this car combines grip and stiffness with compliance and forgiveness is like no other car I've driven. Stiff cars that have a lot of grip are often quick to bite but this one isn't. Our local track is very bumpy by race track standards. I have no idea how the GT4 so beautifully deals with the bumps, yet controls its body motions so well. Make no mistake, this is not a softly sprung car. You will feel the bumps, every last one of them. But somehow, they don't upset the chassis one bit. It's Porsche magic, at least that's what I was told by some Porsche die-hard fans after I got out. And I'm inclined to believe them. 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 that I was 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 slow." But this car BEGS you to push it. Turn after turn, lap after lap, it won't stop egging you on. And here's the best part: you still don't have to be a hero. It's just SO easy.
There is massive amounts of front end grip. Changes in direction seem to happen telepathically. The car is very close to neutral, but it will default to understeer at the limit. If you come into a corner too hot, though, the slightest bit of trail braking will rotate it faster than the Earth rotates around its axis. That rotation is so progressive that you could read the papers while you catch the drift. And that slight understeer at the limit turns into immense, undefeatable stability at speed. Thanks to that engine in the middle (and a bit of magic), traction is abundant and it never threatens to bite. You can toss this car into a turn at speed with seemingly no punishment
There is no shortage of communication either. The car tells you everything that is going on at the tires. 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 loss 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. The car doesn’t have any bad habits. Cars with this much traction that can build speed this easily 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 speed that turn in and grip this well are Cayman GT4's.
The Need for Speed
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. If you drive this car at 6 or 7/10ths pace, it'll fall asleep. Remember when I said it's easier to drive fast than slow? If you don't push this car, you could almost hear it taunting you to go fast. You push it a little more, and it taunts you even more... a little more, a little more. Before you know it, you're at the limit and the car is more eager than a a little kid on Christmas morning. At speed, you really start to enjoy the car. Speaking of speed...
Power builds up beautifully with revs and if you put the exhaust system in sport mode (you would, of course), 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 turbocharged flat four. Better still, traction is plentiful so you feel like you could use every last one of those 385 horses almost all of the time. The times when you can't use all of 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 the gates are impossible to miss. The gears are an absolute joy to row. All of that 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 muscle car tops out at around 63 mph (101 kph) in second gear. This Cayman tops out at around 82 mph (131 kph) in second gear. It's not right. 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 so much if it were a deep breathing, big displacement engine because you could short shift it, but short shifting the GT4 is missing all the fun. The GT4 is by no means lacking at low revs, but it's not its happy place. On the other hand, 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 that revs to the moon and back. It feels like you can keep your foot in without ever up shifting and watch as speed relentlessly builds up, all while being mesmerized by how indifferent the car is to every dip, bump, and off camber turn, regardless of how fast you're going.
The Brakes Are Good Too
And if it's so easy to build speed, the brakes better be good. Thankfully, t he brakes are also world class, like everything else in this car. Brake pedal travel is very short. If you're accustomed to more street-oriented cars, it'll take some getting used to. But once you do, you should have no problem with modulation. Modulation 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 just how much to brake because the tires tell you everything you need to know. And while you shouldn't consistently rely on ABS, it 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. Every aspect was optimized.
Enough is Never Enough
There is one problem, however. When this isn't your car and you're trying not to take advantage of the opportunity, you might try to be a gentleman and take just a few laps to get to know the car and bring it back in. I tried... but that's much, much easier said than done. I kept telling myself: "alright, come off the track now. Save the gas. Save the tires. Save the brakes." But you just can't help it. After "a little while", I finally gathered enough will power to come off the track. But as I was driving through the pits to get to the paddock, the checkered flag dropped and the session was over. I had been out for almost a full 25 minute session, yet it still took every ounce of will power in me to come off the track before seeing the checkered flag.
I wish I could tell you what my top speed was or how quick my lap times were. I would love to know myself. But there was no timing or filming since it was a high performance driving school (HPDS) and not a track/lapping day. What I can tell you is that - if you forget that this is a Cayman GT-something - it should not be this good. The GT4 to Porsche seems to be somewhat like what the 1M was to BMW in 2011. It's a parts-bin special; there is nothing ground breaking. The front suspension and steering is from a 991 GT3. The engine is from a 991 Carrera S, but it is mated to a reinforced 6-speed manual from a Cayman GTS, not the 911 7-speed. The chassis is reinforced in key areas and the rear suspension is new because nothing else kicking around fit the car and the purpose. There is a limited slip diff in a Cayman for the first time and then some aero modifications to round off the package. Throw it all together and you get the first Porsche GT-series Cayman with 911-challenging power. The result is more - much more - than the some of its parts.
The Whole Package
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 before I drove it that said it (and any Porsche Cayman) is a great car to learn high performance driving in because of how forgiving and well behaved it is at the limit. After this, I have to 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 prevent a driver from learning a few things about car dynamics, in my opinion, compared to less-than-ideal behavior that is the norm in the vast majority of cars we could buy. If you learn in something that is worse than a GT4 (most cars, really), I truly believe you'll be a better drive for it, plus you'd never know first hand just how very special this car is otherwise. If you're wondering at this point: "Is it really that good?" Yes, yes it is.
Porsche Cayman GT4 & Ferrari 458 Italia in the Paddock at Atlantic Motorsport Park - Graham MacNeil ©
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 highly recommend he buys something else to learn high performance driving in 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... you know, just so that it's not sitting around.