Put down your pitch forks. Excitement about the Cayman GT4 isn't myopic, Deutschland uber alles bias. Or money in back pockets. It's because - simply - it's a bloody good car built by folk who really know what they're about.
First a reflection on what the GT4 represents. Because this could be the first time a mainstream manufacturer has made us face the question of what we really want out of our cars. That Porsche chose to launch the hot Cayman alongside its most outrageously fast and focused 911 ever only highlights it.
And the question is this. Is speed just about technology enabling ever more impressive numbers, relevant or not to how people will use their cars? Or is it about sensation? Ends or means? In the case of the Cayman GT4 power and performance stats are among the less interesting things on the spec sheet. Its 991 GT3 big brother is an epic car and the RS promises to be more so. But when Porsche admits the GT4 'counters criticism the GT3 came up short on being purist' you know there's a disturbance in the force.
A question we put to Porsche boss Matthias Muller at Geneva thus; is this the Porsche that separates the purists from the posers? "Maybe..." he said with a flicker of a smile.
Does the GT4 embody the true beliefs of Andreas Preuninger and his Porsche GT team then? Having achieved the required objectives to raise the GT3 to a new level is this the car they actually wanted to build all along?
There's an underlying sense of mischief here, like the fact it defers to the Carrera S by the numbers most people read. But actually exploits that shared 3.8-litre six to punch harder where it matters. Yes, Porsche has gifted the Cayman a 911 motor and allowed it to go faster and harder.
Then there's the self-selecting nature of it. The vast majority - pretty much three-quarters - of Cayman buyers want PDK. The vast majority of Cayman buyers will therefore be disappointed that it's a manual only deal. To drive a GT4 you'll have to accept your feet are going to get a workout. And, ultimately, sacrifice a few tenths for that sense of connection.
Enough philosophical musing though. What's it actually like? Immediately the optional fixed 918 Spyder seats force you into a racer-style upright position, pushing the wheel into your chest. A wheel that is - shocker! - round in shape, covered in nice Alcantara and completely bereft of any buttons for phone, nav, cruise control or any of the other crap found on most modern steering wheels. It's also 10mm slimmer in diameter than the GTS's wheel - details, details! A stubby Alcantara covered gearshifter sits high in the tall centre console, the only mode buttons to choose from being self-blipping Sport, exhaust noise, dampers, ESC off and ESC + TC off. You could easily drive it without pressing any of them and never suffer any sort of 'mode anxiety' about whether or not the car was in its optimum setting. It's there when you turn the key, the rest garnish on an already tasty dish.
If you really want to fiddle you'll need to get the spanners out. Anti-roll bars front and rear can be swapped between three settings - a 10-minute job apparently - to let you dial in your preferred handling balance of safety net or spikiness, front camber can be adjusted and there's that high downforce option of more rear wing angle and open front diffuser. Just make sure you don't do one without the other, warns Preuninger.
Less He-Man than those on 911 GT3s, the clutch is firm but positive and the throttle picks up keenly from an idle that's less lumpy than other GT models but most definitely assertive. It still uses a dual-mass flywheel for drivability but Preuninger describes how they basically machined away as much as they could get away with to reduce weight and improve response. Less hairtrigger than 997 GT3s you will still stall it if you're not careful. And people will - rightly - point and laugh.
Widely accepted as being a nicer shift than the 911's seven-speeder, the gearbox has a short action and a positive gate. So long as you don't manhandle third to second and end up pushing through the detent for the reverse plane. If this does happen you'll arrive at your corner with the clutch still down, fumbling around for a gear and quite likely puckering against the Alcantara. Not that we'd know anything about this because we are, naturally, infallible driving gods...
Those who've complained the gearing in manual Caymans is too long and hoped for a racier, close-ratio 'box are out of luck too. Preuninger tells us he likes a long second gear that'll stretch to over 80mph for the kind of typical overtakes you'd perform on the public road. You can see the logic and with the GT4's additional grunt it doesn't bog down at lower revs like regular Caymans can. But you'll rarely be out of second or third in the twisties and if you had dreams of busily flicking this way and that through a close-stacked 'box they'll only really be realised on the track.
There's additional weight and precision to the steering, if not a vast amount of feel. Porsche does EPAS better than most but 997 GT3 owners will notice the difference. It does what's needed though, the feedback in the GT4 coming more through your hips than your fingertips as the mechanical diff hooks up and rotates the car around its vertical axis. You don't have to be at warp factor schnell for this to be apparent either and here the GT4 really begins to show its class over standard Caymans, which can feel accomplished but a little inert unless you're absolutely on it.
Same with the damping, which errs on the side of authority rather than flow but is absolutely unshakeable even on the brutal vertical undulations that characterise Portuguese roads. There's enough body movement and weight shift to read what the car is up to and there's a class to the chassis over and above a PASM equipped GTS. The passive Sport Chassis on the GTS is closer in feel but the GT4 has an ace up its sleeve in a more assertive still track setting. You'd be forgiven for never pressing it though, so good is the default.
The overall balance is entirely neutral and benign, but in a good sense. It's a blank canvas onto which you can express your driving style of choice. But with no inherent flaws nor are there any excuses - it's as good as you put in basically. As stated, there is adjustment and most of the cars we drove on track were in the balanced default setting. But the white Clubsport spec car had been stiffened up at the rear to make it more pointy, the difference noticeable if you carried a little more speed into a given corner than you did the previous lap. In this configuration the rotation can be quite rapid and the corrections need to be quick if you're to avoid it becoming terminal. Flighty is too strong a word but it's nice to know the GT3 mentality of not suffering fools has made it into the Cayman too.
The bar isn't quite as high as it's been in 911s but there's still a sense that you need to measure up and it won't gloss over lack of commitment or talent. An example. On the road your attempts to heel'n'toe will likely be thwarted by the pedal placement. You may even resort to the auto blip function. Only when you get on the track and start using meaningful brake pressures do the pedals properly align and permit you to do it cleanly yourself. This was always the way with manual GT3s and one of the many clues to the mindset of the team that build them.
And to be properly fast around a track you'll need to be happy carrying speed rather than relying on power to build it. This isn't a slow car. But the linearity of the 3.8's power delivery can feel flat if you're more accustomed to forced induction motors. And you really need to rinse it to get a sense of meaningful progress. Thankfully this is where the car really comes alive, the engine's gruff, businesslike tone taking on a more meaningful howl when combined with the added thrust. It's never quite as feral as a Mezger but it's a proper motor and a genuine stand-out feature as the world goes forced induction. Whether track day noise limits will be quite as appreciative is another matter. Likewise expect to be frustrated if you end up with a load of turbocharged straight-line heroes blocking you into the corners but out-dragging you down the straights. No names mentioned...
In conclusion then this is the car we all knew lurked in the Cayman all along. The fact optioned-up Carreras can easily nudge against six-figures cars has finally let the Cayman off the leash. And while Preuninger doesn't like 'ring lap times, describing them as a measure of individual driver bravery as much as a car's overall ability, it's interesting to note a Carrera S needs a full suite of optional gizmos like active anti-roll bars and a torque-vectoring diff to match the GT4's Nordschleife time. In putting the driver back in control - for better or worse - and for reclaiming performance from the statisticians the GT4 is a significant crossroads moment.
Is there anything to criticise? Of course there is. Tyre roar on the motorway can drag, not everyone will subscribe to the long-geared philosophy and even with the extra visual muscle the basic Cayman shape doesn't quite work from all angles.
The biggest problem? If you've read all this and quite reasonably thought 'this is the kind of sports car we thought we'd never see again - I'll have one!' you're already too late and all 129 UK cars have been sold. Next year then? Don't bet on it, the allocation apparently even smaller for 2016. Porsche hoped the GT4 would open up the world of GT cars to an appreciative new crowd. What it didn't factor on was the old one - the one raised on 996 and 997 GT3s, weekends at the Nurburgring and disillusioned by the new-age 991 GT3 - already clocked it as the true spiritual successor for their old cars. And made use of existing relationships with their OPCs to be front of the queue. Still, if you were hoping for 991 GT3 prices to drop back to more realistic levels you might be in luck...
Looking for more stats and facts? Click here for our Cayman GT4 'by the numbers'
SPECIFICATION | 2015 PORSCHE CAYMAN GT4 (981)
Engine: 3,800cc flat-6
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Power (hp): 385@7,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@4,750rpm
Top speed: 182mph
Weight: 1,415kg (EU, with driver)
MPG: 27.4mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £64,451 (before options)
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