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Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 vs 911 Carrera

The Cayman was once the car you bought if you couldn't afford a 911. Now, not so much...

By Dan Prosser / Sunday, April 5, 2020

Your ideal Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 - how much does it cost? I've specced mine on the configurator and it comes to £85,326. I've gone with a fairly conservative specification, not bothering with the Clubsport Package or Carbon Ceramic Brakes. But I have got Crayon paint, a parking camera, bucket seats, an uprated stereo and a few other bits and pieces. My total options spend was a shade under £10,000, but you could so easily double that without really meaning to.

Meanwhile, my ideal 911 Carrera (and while we're at it, I would have the Carrera over the Carrera S every single time) would set me back £89,029. The basic price of the car is £82,795, on top of which I'd add Crayon paint (again), a sports exhaust, the Sport Chrono Package and Park Assist. All of which means my perfect 911 is only £3,703 more expensive than my perfect Cayman GT4. So with that in mind, shouldn't you forget the mid-engined arriviste altogether and just buy the car that everybody thinks of when they hear the word 'Porsche'; the one with the 57-year backstory?

That's exactly the question I set out to answer in the video below. The two cars are so similar in price (in real terms) that the comparison is irresistible. In fact, the Racing Yellow GT4 you see in the vid is a particularly highly-specified one, while the Aventurine Green Carrera is not. The Porsche Motorsport car is therefore more expensive by £3,615.

You get the point - there's not much in it. At least not in terms of price. When you see them side by side, close enough that the GT4's yellow flanks pop in the 911's grey-green paintwork, they look overwhelmingly different, though, both in character and intent. The 911 shape is so rounded and clean it's as though the car has spent a century tumbling back and forth on a pebble beach, the tide rushing in and out again in an endless loop, knocking off sharp edges and wearing the bodywork down to a smooth finish. On the other hand, with its towering rear wing and jutting front splitter the GT4 seems to have left a circuit at high speed, crashed straight through a tyre wall, landed on the public road and simply carried on.

The overlap between these two is far greater than appearances imply, however. Clearly the 911 is the more multi-faceted machine, the sports car, the grand tourer and the daily driver bundled into one. It has better ground clearance, a more luxurious and spacious cabin - including those small but useful rear seats - and it could go incognito where the GT4 screams 'look at me!'. Just as evidently, the Cayman is the far more focused road racer, with tougher suspension, more uncompromising tyres and less care for day-to-day usability.

And yet the Carrera is seriously entertaining to drive at speed, while the GT4 is surprisingly tolerable in normal use. It all means the two cars are not at all as unalike as their very different get-ups would have you believe - choosing between them becomes trickier still.

Even as the 911 grows larger and its interior feels more and more upmarket, there are certain things that feel familiar about it. The seating position, for instance, is just so, the seat dropping down to the floor, the steering wheel reaching out to greet you and the pedals inviting your legs to stretch out to meet them. From there you can just about see the crowns of the raised front wings, which are like gunsights that help you navigate a meandering road.

What is it that makes this very basic 992 not only the most interactive version I've driven yet, but also the one that means I'd have the less powerful Carrera over the faster Carrera S? Perhaps it's something to do with chassis settings that have been wound back a notch from the higher-powered model. Or maybe it's because there's no rear-wheel steering on this car, nor active anti-roll bars. Whatever it is, this is the first 992 I've driven that actually feels like a 911 - you're far more aware of its unusual weight distribution and you drive accordingly; you feel it roll slightly in corners and sense the grip along the side of the car; you revel in the pinpoint steering that helps you position it intuitively. All those things make this Carrera enjoyable to drive no matter how hard you push, whereas every 992-era Carrera S I've driven has felt more tied down, grippier, less expressive and with it far more aloof. The Carrera isn't as technically gifted as the Carrera S, which is precisely what makes it more fun to drive.

Meanwhile, the 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine is so sweet and responsive - and where the sports exhaust is fitted, so tuneful as well - that you almost forget it's turbocharged. It's just a wonderful power plant that builds to a climax and howls as it does so. With 385hp and 332lb ft it also makes the Carrera feel urgent and forcefully accelerative on the road. Not for a moment did I crave any more power or torque.

But I did crave a manual gearbox. The eight-speed PDK transmission is so good I can't fault it, except that it isn't a proper manual with a third pedal. We know a manual 'box is on its way to the Carrera S but as yet Porsche hasn't confirmed the Carrera will ever get one. That would be a huge mistake, in my view, because the more interactive chassis is crying out for the more interactive gearbox. Actually, I suspect the 992 I'm waiting for is a Carrera T. I'm picturing a flat colour finish, a 20mm drop in ride height, an LSD, a manual transmission and a fraction less weight. Here's hoping such a thing one day emerges.

But even as things stand, the basic Carrera is a wonderful sports car. It's also easy to drive slowly, comfortable in town, refined on the motorway (although that typical 911 tyre roar is very much still there) and surprisingly fuel efficient if you don't clog it too hard.

And what of the 718 Cayman GT4? The optional bucket seats, Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, stubby gearlever and the third pedal in the footwell all lend it a much more single-minded vibe. Again, though, everything is so well positioned the cabin feels anatomically correct, like an extension of your body. It rides with an underlying firmness, although these GT cars have never been crashy or unyielding over corrugated road surfaces. It also comes loaded with comfort and safety kit, all of which means the GT4 does the day-to-day stuff pretty well. It's only the stroppy Michelin Cup 2 tyres that undermine its everyday credentials - on a cold, wet road they don't ever switch on, so you feel the car constantly skating and slipping beneath you, the chassis systems working overtime.

On a dry road, of course, the grip they claw out of the surface is staggering. In fact, a 718 Cayman GT4 and a quiet B-road, the sun shining brightly overhead, sounds to me like some kind of heaven. There's a sense of connection through the steering that not even the 911 can match, while body control is absolute despite compliance over bumps being top drawer. Nobody combines those two seemingly divergent attributes quite like Porsche Motorsport. The car is so well balanced you wonder if it needs two axles at all - one surely would do it, right across the middle...

Would you derive more pleasure from that sublime chassis or from the spectacular drivetrain? Not that it matters. There is a faint sense that the 420hp 4.0-litre, naturally-aspirated flat-six is struggling to exhale through its particulate filters, but by and large it's a wonderfully responsive engine that picks up beautifully in the upper reaches before ripping towards the redline at 8,000rpm. The manual gearshift is exquisite, too, and clutch pedal action so well matched it's as though it and the gearlever are directly connected. Shame the gear ratios are as long as they are, though.

So which is it to be? Given the choice between the two, I would drive home in the GT4. But the longer I think about it, the more I reckon that's down to its transmission. The moment a manual gearbox is made available in a basic Carrera, should that ever happen, or in the Carrera T I fantasised about earlier, I think the tables might turn. Until then, I'll get my kicks in a 718 Cayman GT4 - in Crayon, with bucket seats and the Bose stereo, please.


SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE CAYMAN GT4
Engine:
3,995cc, flat-six
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 420@ 7600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@ 5000-6800rpm
0-62mph: 4.4 secs
Top speed: 189mph
Kerb weight: 1,420kg
MPG: 25.9mpg
CO2: 249g/km
Price: £75,348 (£94,506 as tested)

SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE 911 CARRERA
Engine:
2,981cc, flat-six, twin-turbo
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch, RWD
Power (hp): 385@ 6500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@ 1950-5000rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 secs
Top speed: 182mph
Kerb weight: 1,505kg
MPG: 31.4mpg
CO2: 206g/km
Price: £82,793 (£90,891 as tested)

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