It’s almost as if the white smoke is billowing from the chimneys in Stuttgart. There’s a new 911.
The eighth variant of the legendary 911, the 992, was just introduced at the LA Auto Show. Its curves immediately recognizable, and its signature feature, an engine out back, is its calling card.
For years this reputation-powered Porsche (VOW.DE) lives up to the reputation it has today. But, Porsche is the Porsche we have today — successful, technically superior, and profitable — because of the financial boon brought to the automaker because of front engine vehicles like the Panamera, Cayenne and Cayman. All great vehicles in their own right, especially the Panamera. Readers will know I’m a fan of the Turbo variant.
But — even the most casual observer of cars on the road knows what a Porsche is — it looks like a 911. And they might even know where the engine is, in the back.
Porsche has spent years perfecting this formula, and loyal buyers agree there really is only one Porsche.
For them there is only the 911. The true standard. But what if I told you its little brother might be better? With its engine in the right place, in an even better spot than the 911’s?
The Cayman GTS
I’m usually not a fan of yellow cars, they remind me of what Big Bird would have driven to work on Sesame Street. But when Porsche dropped off the 2018 Cayman GTS in Racing Yellow with its smoked black exterior light package and black rims, I wasn’t reminded of any Jim Henson puppets.
It was stunning, sporty, and definitely stood out on the street — in a good way. Then again I’m a fan of Porsche’s other loud colors like Lava Orange and Miami Blue. Black is just too boring when you’re driving something as a sporty as a Cayman.
And that GTS Package — think of it as the equivalent of an extra value meal, but at a Michelin star restaurant. Yes, the options get pricey when you’re dealing with a Porsche, so the GTS package was made, which includes many of the popular options like Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and Porsche Torque Vectoring that Cayman S buyers would likely tack on. Putting them all together will save lucky Cayman S owners a little more than $2,000 if they opt for GTS trim (the Cayman GTS starts at $80,700, whereas a similarly equipped Cayman S would run $83,250).
The new engine
Now to that engine. Yes, it’s in the back, but not in rear-engine configuration above and behind the rear wheels. It’s mid-engine here, right behind you in the cockpit and forward the rear axle. An important characteristic which we’ll get to later.
The engine is, for the first time in a Cayman and its convertible variant the Boxster, turbocharged and it’s a flat 4-cylinder, not the 6-cylinder that’s been in the car since its inception. In GTS trim it pumps out 365 hp when paired with the 7-speed dual-clutch (PDK) automatic which we had in our test model. It’s good for a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds, according to Porsche.
Why the PDK in a Cayman GTS? Blasphemy purists might say. Well, Porsche tells me 80% of Boxster and Cayman owners go for the PDK, and the PDK also allows the engine to deliver more torque (317 lb.-ft.) compared to the manual 718 GTS (309 lb.-ft.).
Finally, the good part. Slipping into the cockpit and into the Alcantara-lined, highly bolstered seat felt like getting into a racer, you sit low and almost with your feet slightly raised. The feeling is pretty sporty. The gauges are laid out in classic Porsche style in five circles under the IP hood, with a massive rev counter in the middle. A digital pod on the right gives you trip computer info and some interesting data visualizations like g-force readings and engine output.
The infotainment screen is bright and does the job, and buttons along the center console are laid out logically and easy to get to.
Now, back to the PDK. Yes, I was a little skeptical about the PDK and not having a proper 6-speed manual. But let me know tell you this PDK is so honed, so intuitive, I found myself leaving it in Sport or Sport + mode and letting Stuttgart’s trick transmission do all the work for me. It really did know when to hold gears, downshift, and even made some amazing gurgles and exhaust run-off sounds to boot. When changing gears with the paddles, shifts were quick and there didn’t seem to be any loss of power when engaged.
And now to that motor. Gone is that high-revving, non-aspirated 6-cylinder that many loved. But this turbo-4 is a new animal, and it’s great. Plenty of low end torque means you don’t have to keep rowing into higher gears to get this going. There’s plenty of pull in second and third here people. And it pulls and it is fast — so fast that I really couldn’t push that accelerator all the way down on the street. But I did have some great moments of spirits driving around Westchester county, and across the Tappan Zee Bridge into the Palisades area of New Jersey and New York.
Carving through the back roads and two-lane highways, this is where, deep in your heart, down in your belly, and in your head, where you ask yourself – am I one with this machine? Because I think I am.
The Cayman GTS is an extension of the body at this point, it does what you want it to do. You point it in the direction you want to go, and the car moves, aggressively and without indecision. Handling and balance are so smooth you think you can go anywhere, and cut any corner as close as you please. And if you want to pass someone, there’s more than enough power there and then some if you’re not careful.
Could the car use more power? No, I don’t think so. That perfectly balanced chassis, with — ding ding ding — an engine mounted right behind you, offers the blueprint for a sports car that could handle oodles more power. But it isn’t needed and that’s because everything is working together here so harmoniously.
And that’s what makes the rear-engine, or in this case mid-engine, Cayman so wonderful. It’s so well balanced and thought out. It’s like Porsche engineers were thinking — how could we make the most engaging driving experience for a driver? Well they did, and I’m glad Porsche is still around to do it.
Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter here.