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Porsche 718 Cayman T vs. Cayman S (987)

What's in a letter? Time to find out...

By Mike Duff / Sunday, December 29, 2019

While pitching old against new is fun, it doesn't really reflect the reality of how people buy cars. Getting into a 2009 987.1 Cayman S was a financial stretch I had to think long and hard about making. A brand new car costing more than twice as much wasn't on the list of alternatives, however nice it looks in Miami Blue. Similarly, I doubt many people poised to sign an order form for a factory-fresh 718 are also considering a two-generation old 68,000-miler entering its second decade.

So this isn't a comparison with tea and medals for the winner, and a steel toe-capped hoofing for the loser. Rather a look at how the Cayman has changed over the years, and how it has stayed the same. Like parking different generations of Mazda MX-5 together, one of the first things that strikes about the pairing of 987 and 718 is how similar the proportions are - on Porsche's figures the current car is just 38mm longer and both share an identical 1,425kg EU kerb weight.

Of course, picking a 718 Cayman S would have made the comparison more obvious, but the only press car Porsche could offer had a PDK transmission. Given the 987's manual gearbox is one of my favourite features we chose to go for a Cayman T instead, this getting the smaller 2.0-litre flat-four turbo but also more dynamic focus than the base car - and coming with the standard six-speed manual fitted to the one you see here. This means the first surprise is that the newer car actually has less power than the older one: 300hp playing 315hp. So I'd better go gently if Sam Sheehan in the T is going to have a chance to keep up...

Fat chance. One of the day's abiding lessons is that turbocharged torque beats naturally-aspirated finesse at least 80 per cent of the time. On paper both cars are incredibly close, the 987 posting a 5.2-second 0-62mph time and a 171mph top speed, the 718 a tenth quicker in the acceleration benchmark but with a 1mph lower vMax. Yet in the real world - as approximated by the roads around Lambourn in West Berkshire - the T feels much faster pretty much everywhere. That's because its peak 280lb ft of torque is flowing by 2,150rpm while the S's 273lb ft doesn't arrive until 4,750rpm. The practical upshot being that when the 718 takes off it usually takes one or two down-changes in the 987 to get to a similar level of acceleration. Only at the fullest fang do they hang together.

Swap from objective to subjective criteria, and the situation reverses. Plenty has already been said about the four-cylinder 718's relative lack of aural appeal, so I'm not going to dwell on it here, not least as I own one of the dogs in this scrap. In the T's defence it does sound pretty good for a turbocharged four-pot, with a slightly uneven idle reminiscent of an air-cooled Beetle and a muscular rasp when worked hard. It's just that the flat-six sounds better - less shouty at lower revs, but with a beautiful mechanical zing as it gets toward its top end. I'm hopelessly biased, obviously - but Sheehan is in full agreement, admitting to short-shifting in the 718 so he could better listen to my car at full thrash when I was leading.

The turbo engine also has noticeable lag below 3,000rpm, more obvious in direct contrast to the immediacy of the 987's throttle response. This isn't the old-fashioned nothing>all delay - the first wodge of torque arrives almost instantly, but then it takes a couple of seconds for full boost to arrive. But even in Sport Plus mode and with every setting in its firmest and loudest, the 718 doesn't have the finesse of the 987.

Nor does it really need it, though. Before this gets too one-sided I have to acknowledge the most obvious difference between the pair - mechanical grip. A day on cold, greasy roads was a reminder that I will need to budget for a set of replacement tyres soon. My Cayman's P-Zeroes are still legal, but much closer to the end of their lives than the start. Yet I was still close to shocked by how much more adhesion the 718 generated from its own Pirellis, which are an inch bigger but the same width front and rear. Turn-in is keener and traction far better, despite all the extra torque. Several corners that required a big lift in the 987, or an admonishing flash from the stability control light, were taken flat and without drama in the T.

The other revelation was how much Porsche has tweaked the Cayman's character over the years. Like the closely related 997 911, the original 987 never felt very aggressive, and especially not - as in my car - without the options of PASM switchable dampers or a Sport mode. Steering feels relatively low geared compared to the 718, and the wheel itself is both bigger and completely devoid of buttons beyond pushing the face to sound the horn. The 718's gear shifter is firmer, too, and has its planes more tightly stacked together. In its default Normal mode the 718 T does a half-decent impression of its predecessor, although with a plusher ride on its adaptive dampers, but Sport and Sport Plus turn it progressively louder and angrier.

While I prefer the steering of the 987, but I can understand why Porsche has changed it. Put simply, the world moved on and buyers now expect different things. The helm of my Cayman S is chatty all the time, faithfully reporting front axle grip and slip angles, but also weighting up when cambers change and tugging when the wheels find even small bumps. There's still some of that in the 718, indeed more than in pretty much anything else with an electric rack, but a fair amount is clearly being filtered out as unneccessary gossip. The T also has far faster responses, scything its way toward apexes with much less turning effort.

On static attributes, it isn't even close. I have to apologise to Sheehan for the persistent trim rattle that comes from the back of my car. The fit and finish of the 718 is far higher, and the cabin is also noticeably more spacious; it's a novelty to find I don't need to have both the seat base and back adjusted to their fullest extent for an optimal seating position. My car's PCM 3 infotainment system was decent-ish 10 years ago - I know a bloke with an earlier Cayman who is bitterly jealous of my ability to make Bluetooth phone calls - but it feels like it's running Windows 7 compared with the slick interface of the Cayman T.

In one key area my car's cabin is better though. Whoever originally ordered it ticked the box for proper climate control; whoever optioned this Cayman T to £57,904 didn't and therefore it still just has cold\hot and fan speed controls. There isn't a loser here. But for the likelihood of legal letters and writs from Porsche GB I'd be delighted to take the Cayman T home; it doesn't sound as good or steer quite as well, but it's quicker, much more advanced and looks great. It's also probably about as much performance car as you're ever likely to be able to properly exploit in modern Britain, certainly in the winter.

But nor are there any regrets to be leaving Berkshire in the older, leggier car.

3,436cc, flat-six
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Power (hp): 315@7,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 273@4,750rpm
0-62mph: 5.2 seconds
Top speed: 171mph
Weight: 1,425kg [EU]
MPG: 28.8 [EUDC]
CO2: 230g/km
Price: £44,108 (2009), c.£21,000 (2019)

1,988cc flat-four turbo
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@2,150-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
Top speed: 170mph
Weight: 1,425kg [EU]
MPG: 32.5 [WLTP]
CO2: 186 g/km
Price: £51,145 (as standard; £57,904 as tested comprising Miami Blue paint £1,658; black leather interior with 718 T interior package £1,242; 64-litre fuel tank £84; dimming mirrors/rain sensor £345; cruise control £228; ParkAssist front and rear £623; Interior Package 718 T £1,809; ISOFIX for passenger seat £126; 'Sports-look' pedals and footrest £126; leather interior package £518; Porsche Communication Management with phone prep and Sound Package Plus £0)

IMAGES | Stan Papior

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