The remake of the now-renamed 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman and its more-potent 718 Cayman S sibling has raised performance and endowed these coupes a bolder look that closely resembles their just-introduced soft-top 718 Boxster/Boxster S siblings. But the most controversial element in the reboot involves abandoning the established naturally aspirated flat-6 engines for a new turbocharged 4-cylinder alternatives. Also shared with the new Boxster, these flat-4s offer significantly more power along with better overall drivability. We recently headed to Austin, Texas, to check out the new 718 Cayman lineup.

It’s not like the previous Cayman had been hurting in the exhilaration department. With its superb combination of mid-engine balance and driver-centric focus, this 2-seat road warrior had established itself as a more-affordable alternative to the 911 Carrera and Carrera S. However, this time around, the 718 Caymans are not only quicker in a straight line than the models they replace, they also carve corners with even more precision and confidence. 

Leveraging the power of four

Motivating the standard Cayman is a technology-rich turbocharged 2.0-liter that makes 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, stats that better the 2.7-liter six it replaces by 25 and 67 output units, respectively. Step up to the Cayman S with its 2.5-liter turbo four and you now commend 350 horses and 309 lb-ft of torque, gains of 25 and 36 compared to the 3.4-liter it supplants. While those numbers look impressive on paper, they become more meaningful once you slip behind the wheel and dip into the throttle. Sharing much with the twin-turbo 3.0-liter six in the new 911, including air-to-liquid intercoolers, and, in the case of the Cayman S, a variable turbine geometry turbo setup, Porsche has crafted each of these new free-revving 718 engines to develop maximum torque below 2,000 rpm – 1,950 revs in the 2.0-liter and 1,900 in the 2.5 – but keep all of it on tap until 4,500 rpm. That wide, flat curve coupled with near-instant throttle response adds to the off-the-line quickness of this dynamic duo and bolsters their ability to gather speed when on a roll, regardless of whether the engines are paired with the slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission or optional paddle-shift 7-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic with rev-matching.

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What kind of gains are we talking about here? Fitted with the PDK transmission and Sport Chrono Package, the new 718 Cayman sprints from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds compared to the 5.1 seconds required by its predecessor. A similarly equipped Cayman S gets the job done in just 4.0 ticks which is 0.4 second quicker than its 6-cylinder counterpart was. While opting for the manual does add a couple of tenths to those times, it has no impact on maximum velocity which is now 170 mph for the Cayman and 177 mph for the Cayman S. The new engines result in exhaust notes that have dropped an octave or two even with the optional Sport Exhaust system, still, these turbo fours have a unique note as they head up to their 7,500 rpm redlines. And while their EPA numbers do dip a bit across the board, most owners will be more than happy to accommodate the small tradeoffs they represent.

Sharper dynamics

To complement the added muscle, Porsche engineers revamped the chassis to improve agility, control and cornering stick -- although a few of these upgrades are confined to the S version. It starts with a major retuning of the baseline suspension including springs, shocks and anti-roll bars matched by reengineered adaptive engine mounts, a stiffer rear subframe and wider rear wheels. Both Caymans also benefit from a new electrically-boosted power steering system from the 911 Turbo that combined great overall feedback with 10-percent more direct on-center feel. For the ultimate handling bump, a revised – although still optional -- Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) offers a wider spread between softest and stiffest settings while bringing a 0.43-inch lower ride height to either the 718 Cayman or Cayman S. The latter model can now be had with its own PASM setup that permits a 0.86-inch reduction in ride height and nets a tauter Sport setting. Collectively, these upgrades proved most impressive, particularly on a spirited charge through one seriously serpentine bit of rural Texas two-lane. 

Equally praiseworthy are the upgraded brakes on these new Porsche coupes. The standard Cayman now features upsized binders from the previous-generation S model while the more-capable stoppers on the 718 Cayman S are culled from the 2017 911 Carrera. As before, lightweight Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes remain on the option list. So too does Porsche Torque Vectoring that uses a mechanical differential lock to deliver more drive force to the loaded rear tire, helping turn-in as well as exit stability under hard cornering.

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The Caymans we drove were fitted with the available Sport Chrono Package, which adds new functionality. Activated using a control wheel mounted in a new 918-inspired multifunction steering wheel, the system expands the Normal/Sport/Sport Plus settings with a new Individual mode that lets a driver set and save custom preferences for the PASM, Sport Exhaust, auto start/stop system and articulated rear spoiler. On PDK-equipped cars, it also has launch control, quicker, competition-inspired shift programming and a new Sport Response button that readies the engine and transmission for 20 seconds of max-effort output which needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. The Porsche Stability Management system on Sport Chrono cars complements the existing On/Off modes with a new “PSM Sport” setting. Geared towards track-day running, it permits significantly more aggressive driving maneuvers before engaging stability control.

Sharper shape built for speed

Cleaner and meaner looking, the new 718 Cayman and Cayman S boast an exterior remake that sees only the front luggage lid, windshield and roof carry over. The new look is lower and wider with edgier fascia/lighting treatments, recast fenders set off by larger side air intakes to better feed and cool the new turbo engines plus a subtle pop-up rear spoiler. The new Cayman rolls on 18-inch alloys with 235/45-front and 265/45-rear tires while the Cayman S has 19-inch wheels wrapped in 235/40 and 265/40 rubber.

Inside, a tasteful revamp of the Cayman’s cabin brings more style and new trims as well as the aforementioned sport steering wheel. The Cayman also benefits from the latest Porsche Communication Management (PCM) unit with its 7.0-inch high-res color touchscreen, proximity sensors and multi-touch gesture controls. There’s no shortage of upgrades including leather-covered 18-way Adaptive Sport Seats Plus, Burmester Surround Sound Audio and navigation and connectivity modules that add Apple CarPlay, Wi-Fi and an LTE telephone link. Lane change assist and adaptive cruise control is available on PDK-equipped cars.  

Headed to showrooms in late November, the 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman will start at $54,950 while the 718 Cayman S is set to open at $67,350 -- although buyers with deep enough pockets and a penchant for extras can push even a base Cayman into six-figure land. But regardless of price, one thing remains clear: The “718” transition has given both of these redesigned Porsche purebreds more scintillating character and enhanced their driving appeal.

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