First Drive: 2020 Porsche Cayman GT4/718 Spyder
These two might be the best-handling production cars we’ve ever driven.
Dusk arrives late in July over Loch Faskally, a beautiful setting near Pitlochry, Scotland. It's well after 10 p.m. as I stand outside, enjoying sunset's finale. The fading light plays over a well-positioned Miami Blue 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder, one of the stars of our two-day sortie into the Scottish Highlands. The other new offering on the GT menu during this trip is the 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, a car we've anticipated driving for a very long time.
All of Porsche's "GT" cars are born in Flacht, Germany, home to the Porsche Motorsport group and the brains who make the secret sauce, some of whom the automaker brought along for the cars' launch. These engineers eat and breathe performance, led by Andreas Preuninger, head of the GT division.
The 718 Cayman GT4 and 718 Spyder—the latter now also the GT division's responsibility despite not actually featuring "GT" (or "Boxster") in its name—set new pinnacles for the Cayman and Boxster lines. Think of them as definitive entry points into the GT family of Porsche performance driving experiences. Dealers are already accepting orders for the duo and should have stock by next spring; base price for the Spyder is $97,650, while the GT4 starts at $100,550.
It's easy to imagine many people have fallen in love with driving thanks to the Boxster and Cayman, from the first Boxster roadster in 1996 to the addition of the Cayman coupe 10 years later and through today. Over the years, you've likely heard about each car's pros and cons: great handling, high quality, too expensive, needs more power, etc. But nobody could ever make a reasonable case against the driving experience. Connections with these cars are visceral and emotional, exactly what Porsche engineers and customers want.
On the Road with the Spyder
Our road drives came in the Spyder, with the GT4 pegged for track time. The split was a no brainer, because the Spyder and GT4 now boast exactly the same chassis and suspension setups, which wasn't the case in previous generations. They also employ the same engine, a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter, flat-six engine producing 414 horsepower at 7,600 rpm and 309 lb-ft of torque from 5,000 to 6,800 rpm. Max rpm is now 8,000, up 200 from before. Top speeds are also up, the GT4 capable of 188 mph and the Spyder 187.
The cars share the same six-speed manual transmission, which features a shift lever, as on the previous GT4, that's 0.8 inch shorter than on the regular models. There is well-engineered gate spacing, and it affords precise, quick gearchanges. We didn't love the gearing on the last GT4, as it felt too tall for the powerband. The gearing remains the same this time around, but the new engine's power and torque increases, as well as its wider torque spread, solve the problem, and the cars pull well at lower rpm. The cars also feature rev-matching on downshifts, which is excellently executed. Pedal spacing is good if you want to heel-toe yourself, however. (A PDK dual-clutch automatic is eventually planned for these cars, by the way.)
The Spyder we drove on the road had the optional carbon-fiber sport seats, manually adjustable to save weight. This design is one of the most comfortable car seats I've ever used; outside of a custom-made racing seat, there's nothing better. The downside of the carbon seats for some is they don't recline, which is maybe just as well, because your head would be in the 718's engine bay.
The driver's compartment continues to be an excellent place to enjoy your day and getting comfortable takes only a couple of seconds. The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel feels good and is totally clean, without any distracting controls mounted on it, something we appreciate. Another nod to weight savings comes in the form of gray fabric interior door pulls, as found on Porsche's RS model—a nice touch.
When planning this launch event, Porsche probably thought, "It's summer, the Spyder 718 is a convertible, we'll use it for the road portion, people will have a nice time—a romantic one, even." But this was Scotland, the temperature was maybe 55 and felt like 45, and it rained for almost our whole three-hour route. Speaking of the convertible feature, the new 718 Spyder has an easily operated, lightweight manual top designed to withstand that 187-mph Vmax and which can be stowed under the rear deck in seconds. The Spyder does not have the benefit of the GT4's fixed rear wing, but instead has a rear spoiler that deploys at 75 mph. That combines with a new underbody and rear diffuser to make the Spyder the first-ever model in the Boxster family to generate some rear downforce.
We splashed off down the road in our U.S.-market, left-hand-drive Spyder, trying to remember to drive on the left side of the road, which remains recommended in the U.K. for health reasons. Some of these roads seem like paved farm tracks, maybe a car and a half wide in places. Big trucks—and we're talking semis—come hammering in the opposite direction, taking up 80 percent of the road, seemingly intent on forcing us to make friends with local livestock; we narrowly escaped wheelbase compression by diving onto grass verges. Luckily, I'm from the U.K. originally and my co-driver lives there, so we had a good old time. Back at the hotel, though, we were in half in hysterics, laughing at one of the U.S.-based writers, who brilliantly described how he was petrified for almost the entire route. When asked if he wanted to go on another run, he almost died of shock at the very idea.
Water-drenched roads can add quite substantially to interior vehicle noise, especially in a convertible with fairly wide ultra-high-performance tires. Both 718s come equipped with 245/35R-20 front and 295/30R-20 rear Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires. These new Porsche N1-specification Michelins are super-sticky in the dry, but such tires generally don't perform well in wet, cooler conditions. But the horrible weather gave me no issues at all with grip, despite the encounters with the large trucks. The Spyder is impressively quiet in the cockpit and talking at normal levels was no problem at all.
The roads were mostly narrow and blind, but where we could see ahead, a more spirited pace was easily within reach. The 718's reprogrammed active dampers are an improvement over the last GT4's and the ride is not harsh. Road bumps or heaves while pulling lateral loads at a fun pace do not unsettle either end of the car, despite the very wet conditions. There are other performance cars that would be a snappy handful at the same speeds in the same conditions. The confidence the Spyder inspires is certainly a performance talking point, but even more of a valid safety net improvement.
Hats off to the Porsche engineers for doing a superb job on these cars' Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) calibration. We mentioned the dampers, but the springs, anti-roll bars, and ride height (1.2 inches lower than the standard 718s) are also unique. The GT4 carries a 50 percent increase in downforce compared to the previous model, too. The all new underbody and rear diffuser now produce 30 percent of the downforce on the rear axle; clever rerouting and packaging of the exhaust and catalytic converter allowed this to happen. An improved rear wing adds a further 26 pounds of downforce at 124 mph. The total package on the GT4 now produces 269 pounds of total downforce at its 188-mph maximum speed. The new chassis and suspension of the Spyder and GT4 allow the whole package to work at another level, so I couldn't wait to try the GT4 on the infamous Knock Hill racetrack.
On Track with the GT4
Thank goodness, my first runs on the track were completely dry. Knock Hill is a very technical little 1.3-mile track. Turn one is a tricky, fast, blind-crest right-hander that drops off at exit (my favorite), followed by a blind uphill chicane and a fairly fast and tricky, blind uphill decreasing-radius right-hander onto the back straight. Plus, the whole track is old-school narrow.
Porsche has a great setup for our drive. We follow skilled instructors in GT3 RS models, one instructor per journalist. "Man, they're not messing around," I think, followed by, "This GT4 might be pretty good." I checked out the brakes on the waiting test cars and they were a mix, some with steel 15.0-inch brakes front and back, some with the optional carbon-ceramic brake package with 16.1-inch fronts and 15.4-inch rears. As we've come to expect from Porsches, we experienced no brake issues on the track.
A radio is clipped into my car and off we go for the first eight laps. I have the head instructor in front of me and he does a superb job of showing me the racing line. Being on-track finally gives me a chance to let the engine run hard through the gears. The GT4 is by far the quickest Cayman so far—12 seconds quicker around the Nürburgring (7 minutes, 28 seconds) than the last version, apparently—and it feels like it. The acceleration definitely pushes you back in the seat, the new engine singing with a nice rasp. It's not the same rasp as a GT3, a little more baritone as it pulls hard all the way to its 8,000-rpm redline. By the end of the first eight laps, I was starting to really work the chassis and tires. Knock Hill is a huge workout for any suspension, as you go from full droop to full compression several times a lap, especially if you use the smooth but seriously undulating curbs.
The next eight laps are basically nuts, as I have a reasonable grasp of the track and start to figure out where the GT4 seems to be happier than the RS in front. The GT4's mid-engine placement helps you control chassis rotation (yaw) into and through several of the corners, especially where there's a transition from left to right or vice versa. The faster I went, the faster the instructor went, until we caught and passed other folks out there. The RS is quicker on the straights of course, but the GT4 can gain under braking and cornering. It was so much fun, in fact, that I chuckled to myself on the way into pit lane.
Porsche as usual asked us to keep all the driver nannies on, so I did. There was no doubt both traction and stability control slowed me down in the two corners leading onto the straights. Vertical g loads due to track topography are a big factor here, and the more speed I carried through those corners, the closer I was to being off of the ground, triggering the software.
To finish off the track testing, Porsche let me run while it was wet and raining. Driving on a wet track always provides me a different perspective into vehicle chassis/suspension setup. This time, I was easily able to keep up with the RS in front of me, as little time was lost on the straights because I could go flat-out when either the driver of the RS or that car's traction control was probably modulating some wheelspin. The little GT4 is so stable, I was all over the poor guy through several of Knock Hill's challenging sections. I did not touch the stability control button, as requested, but even in these conditions, I could work the yaw rate and still keep the nannies quiet. I could slide the front, rear, or both at will, keeping things more or less in line while maintaining a solid pace. This chassis definitely speaks my language, and the confidence it inspires at the limit is off the charts.
On top of the sensational handling, both of Porsche's new entry-level GT cars have more than enough power for any street