THE RUNWAY IS EMPTY. THERE’S SILENCE YOU can slice with a knife. The dozen-odd sports and supercars, members of SpeedFest Track Days have thundered down the drag strip one last time before turning off for Mumbai, to make a late Sunday lunch. The stench of burnt rubber has lifted. The dust has settled. After the hectic morning hours, punctuated by the roars, howls and screams of highpo engines being spanked, whipped and dominated, we are now left with a strange calm. Deep breath. Only one car has been left behind, and it happens to be the newest of the lot. The first and only 718 Cayman GT4 in the country. evo’s 2019 Car of the Year. Nat-asp engine. The best manual gearbox in the world. And the running-in period has just been completed.
Another deep breath before firing it up. There’s a deep, resonant boxer thump that’s audibly different from the MA1 in the old 981 GT4 that only moments earlier was being flung sideways onto the runway before flat-shifting out of sight. A push of the exhaust button on the centre console increases the volume markedly, although it’s still on the polite side of raucous. The 981 GT4’s MA1 flat-six has been laid to rest, a victim — like everything else — of emission norms, but instead of massaging the 718’s turbo-four as everybody feared, the new GT4 gets an all-new engine. Based on the turbocharged 3-litre flat-six from the 992 it has been taken out to 4 litres, and there’s not a turbocharger in sight. A new naturally aspirated performance engine in this day and age is an exceptionally rare occurrence; one fitted to a six-speed manual ’box rarer still. This one makes 414bhp and 420Nm of torque, and thanks to the fitment of a heavy, but effective, gasoline particulate filter, it meets all the emissions regulations forthcoming over the next few years.
The short shift of the gearlever is slicker than before, too, although no less mechanical and precise in its feel. A heel-and-toe down two gears is a sublime moment, the ‘six’ yelping with appreciative fury if you manage to time it just right. Not in the mood? Press the auto-blip button on the centre console. Thankfully no longer is it tied up with a Sport mode and the PSM system. The switchable autoblip function continues, which gets some people very hot under the collar, but we actually rather like it, even if we do prefer to do the blipping ourselves.
As in the 981, the gearing feels overly long, the GT4 will hit a faintly ludicrous 140kmph in second gear, and forays into the upper echelons of third are really very naughty indeed. Not that it’s a problem on the runway but through the hills leading up here it does blunt the car’s low- and midrange acceleration. And it also means fewer opportunities to enjoy that wonderful gearbox.
The driving position is perfect, and the GT4’s longdistance capabilities are further improved the quieter the cabin. But lower the window and jump aggressively on the throttle and you can hear the intake system gasp urgently for breath, then roar with real ferocity, instantly. And as soon as the motor begins to work hard, it really finds its voice. There’s a shriek that continues past 5000rpm, then six, seven, and all the way to 8000rpm. It’s a fantastic sound – one that riffs seductively from the Mezger back catalogue in a manner not found in the last of the naturally aspirated direct fuel injection units.
Most remarkably of all, though, the 718 GT4 is much more smoother-riding. Pouring the nose into each constantly evolving curve is easy, because the steering reminds us of that of the 991.2 GT3 RS in how it feels light and fluid in your hands, yet every bit as precise and linear. For an EPAS system it is incredibly good and allows you to have total confidence in what the car is doing, and what it may be about to do next. Turn-in is immediate, but there’s an even greater sense of pivoting agility once the nose has stuck.
The other characteristic is that extraordinary damping, an initial pliancy on every compression stroke that, without surrendering anything in the way of control, neutralises instantly almost any awkward bump, camber or anything else the road can throw at it. The 718 is poised, yet bonded with staggering purchase, inspiring immense confidence, as if riding on some invisible cushion of air, an absorbent layer of damping it can tap into where required. Could it be the aero making a contribution, too? There’s 50 per cent more downforce, largely thanks to that chunky rear diffuser. Which brings us to the 981 GT4, the first Cayman to be pressed into the ground by genuine downforce.
Circle back five years and Porsche Motorsport – makers of the extraordinary 911 GT3 and GT3 RS models – finally turned their attention to the sweetly balanced Cayman. And it immediately slayed giants as the 991.1 GT3 RS and Ferrari 488 GTB in the 2015 evo Car of the Year hustings. It was the antidote to all the increasing power outputs, turbocharged engines, dual-clutch ’boxes and numberchasing performance cars preoccupied with breaking records but strangely disconnected from what real enthusiasts actually wanted from their cars.
The 981 GT4 not only got the GT3’s engine but also the GT3’s front end. In terms of aero, the rear wing’s angle of attack is adjustable, and you can also remove a couple of bungs covering the diffuser channels that run over the front axle for added downforce. Porsche says this is ‘not for road use’, a sneaky homologation-special style tweak for added motorsport chops.
Compared to the 718, the 981 has nothing like the sophistication to its damping. It feels firm in a conventional sense, raised reflectors shuddering through the structure with a crack, and when pushed hard over poor surfaces it gets ragged far more quickly than the 718.
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