2018 Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster GTS First Drive Review

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Few automakers play the options game as cleverly as Porsche. No matter what model you’re looking at, the siren song of the Porsche configurator is ready to lure you onto the rocks of financial ruin. And it’s not just the obvious big-ticket stuff such as carbon-ceramic brakes, PASM sports suspension, or the Sport Chrono package. It’s detail things such as having the key painted to match your car’s exterior color, fitting red seat belts, or a fuel cap with “aluminum look finish”—160 bucks for something only you will see when you’re gassing up. A click here, a click there, and the dollars quickly add up. It is possible to spec a Porsche 718 Cayman S to the point where you’ve effectively doubled its $68,750 base price. Yes, doubled.

The 2018 Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster GTS, which retail for $80,850 and $82,950, respectively, therefore seem like smart buys. These new 718 variants basically bring together the options Porsche knows Cayman and Boxster S buyers are most likely to consider—PASM, Porsche Torque Vectoring, 20-inch wheels, the Sport Chrono package, and the sports exhaust, among others—and puts them together in a value-priced package. And Porsche has put a cherry on top, too: The 718 Cayman and Boxster GTS get a 15-hp bump over S models courtesy of a bigger turbocharger delivering higher boost pressure through a new intake plenum.

In GTS spec the 2.5-liter flat-four develops 365 hp at 6,500 rpm. If you order a car with the optional PDK transmission ($3,210), the engine also pumps out 8 lb-ft more torque from 1,900 rpm to 5,000 rpm than in S models. In manual transmission cars, however, peak the torque output of 309 lb-ft from 1,900 rpm to 5,500 rpm is unchanged over S-spec. That’s a reflection, says Porsche powertrain engineer Fabian Zink, of the fact that fewer than one in 10 Caymans or Boxsters worldwide are sold with a stick—not enough to justify investment in beefing up the manual to cope with more torque.

As the bigger wheels and tires, sportier suspension, and the Sport Chrono package give the sharper reflexes we’ve already experienced with similarly equipped S models, the heart of the 718 Cayman and Boxster GTS drive experience ultimately comes down to the engine. A 4.2 percent increase in power (along with a 2.5 percent increase in torque in PDK-equipped models) might not sound much in the overall scheme of things, but there are measurable performance benefits: A tenth of a second has been trimmed from the 718 S models’ 0-60-mph acceleration times, and a Cayman GTS has lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7 minutes and 40 seconds—that’s 2 seconds quicker than the current Cayman S.

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Porsche claims the GTS manuals will zip from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and cover the standing quarter mile in 12.7 seconds. The smooth, lightning quick PDK transmission shaves a hefty half a second from the 0-60-mph time, and four tenths of a second from the quarter-mile sprint, despite a 66-pound weight penalty. Even so, at 3,098 pounds a PDK-equipped 718 is hardly obese.

As we’ve proven time and again, on circuits such as Laguna Seca and Big Willow, PDK-equipped Porsches are way quicker than their stick shift counterparts on the track. Porsche’s double-clutch transmissions seem so spookily sentient, so eerily aware of what the car is doing right now and what the driver wants it to do next that even our in-house hot shoe Randy Pobst simply selects Sport Plus mode and leaves the paddles alone on a hot lap. It’s no different in the 718 GTS.

In back-to-back sessions on the glorious 3.4-mile, 26-turn Ascari circuit in southern Spain, the manual Cayman GTS proved fun to drive—to a point. But the PDK-equipped version was simply sublime, allowing you to go much deeper under brakes, more precisely adjust the chassis attitude midcorner, and power harder down the straights.

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There are those who grumble that the PDK transmission is taking the skill out of driving fast, to which Porsche ambassador and former F1 and Le Mans racer Hans-Joachim Stuck sniffs and points out that many of the world’s greatest drivers—including Senna, Schumacher, and Hamilton—honed their extraordinary ability behind the wheel driving karts, which have no transmissions whatsoever. Hot-lapping a PDK-equipped 718 GTS unlocks the true secrets of speed, at speeds we mere mortals can compute. It provides a master class in chassis balance and slip angles, a tutorial in the mysterious alchemy that occurs when rubber meets tarmac under the influence of the laws of physics.

That said, a remarkable 35 percent of those who bought the previous-generation (981) Cayman GTS in the States ordered one with a stick shift, bucking the global trend. Porsche Cars North America expects a similar take rate with the 718 version. On a nice, quiet winding road it’s easy to see why: With a stick shift, the little Porsche—in either Cayman coupe or Boxster convertible form—is a pure, joyful, deeply engaging sports car, especially if you have nowhere to go and all day to get there. It feels alive and responsive—ready to play the moment the mood takes you. But it’ll also get you to and from your favorite driving road without you feeling like you’re wrestling an unruly child.

Porsche Cars North America says the Cayman GTS represents a 7.6 percent value over a comparably equipped Cayman S, and the Boxster GTS comes in at 5.8 percent. Now, cynics might argue GTS pricing includes $8,760 worth of purely cosmetic stuff, ranging from the $3,600 Sport Design Pack to the $290 charged for the GTS logo in the seat headrests. And it’s true, you can order Cayman S with 20-inch wheels and tires, PASM Sport Suspension, Porsche Torque Vectoring, and the Sport Chrono package, and get a car with pretty much same go-faster goodies as a GTS. But you’d only save about 2,500 bucks and still have a car down 15-hp into the bargain.

American 718 Cayman and Boxster S buyers typically spend a staggering $15,000 to $20,000 on options for their cars. Against that background, the 718 Cayman and Boxster GTS twins essentially reframe a 12 grand price hike in terms of paying a mere $168 per extra horsepower, and that’s math that’ll make them a compelling choice for many. Like we said, when it comes to the options game, few automakers play it cleverly as Porsche.

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