The Cayman GT4 flatters drivers of medium ability — and is blisteringly fast with a rally champ at the wheel
AS the international contingent of motoring media assemble in the pits of southern Portugal’s Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, we get some bad news. Our hot laps in the trackfocused new Porsche Cayman will be behind a pace car.
Then the good news. Our chaperon will be rally legend Walter Rohrl.
After one lap to sight the corners, the man who sets production car lap records for Porsche at Germany’s famed Nurburgring racetrack is already driving as fast as my talent and ticker can handle.
By the third lap sweat is beading on my brow and I’m losing touch with the pack of Porsches in Rohrl’s wake. Twenty nailbiting laps later, I’m quietly relieved to head for pitlane.
As I pull my creaking, sweaty frame out of the cockpit, Rohrl emerges from the lead car looking as if he’d just popped down to the shops for a loaf of bread and carton of milk.
I think I’ve wrung the Cayenne’s neck but the reality is that we’ve barely broken into a canter with this German thoroughbred sports car. Now it’s time to take it for a gallop, with Rohrl at the reins and me alongside. Four minutes of madness later I emerge in awe of the man and the machine.
The GT4’s phenomenal grip, awesome stopping power and composure on the ragged edge are something to behold.
For his part Rohrl reckons the GT4 has better turn-in and is easier to drive on the limit than the big-daddy 911 GT3. And therefore it’s a better track companion for the weekend warrior.
“This car is so easy to drive when you come to the limit and this makes you confident,” he says. “That is the biggest point for a medium driver — he comes earlier to the limit of this car than in a GT3, especially on very twisty roads.
“For me it’s the maximum car we have at this time.
“Turning in is perfect and if you come to the limit it’s so easy to feel what’s going on.
“Of course, for professionals, we go faster on a racetrack in the GT3, but for medium driver that is the car where he feels I’m a real race driver.”
Part of that feeling comes from the fact that Porsche opted to make the GT4 available only as a manual. It’s a curious decision on two counts: Porsche admits the car would be quicker with its self-shifting PDK transmission and 90 per cent of Porsche sports car buyers choose the PDK.
But Porsche board member and R&D boss Wolfgang Hatz believes that sometimes it pays not to listen too much to the customer.
“A good product is not made if you ask the customer what he wants to have. You need people to take a decision,” Hatz says.
The unorthodox approach seems to have worked, with 30 Australian purists signing up for a GT4 before the announcement of the car’s $190,300 price tag last week.
You may have to shift for yourself in the GT4, but you’re not entirely left to fend for yourself on the track.
If you press the sport button on the centre console, the Cayman’s engine senses when you’re about to downshift and blips the throttle for you, so that you have enough revs as you exit the corner.
There are other driving aids as well. A smartphone app can time your laps and collect telemetry allowing you to compare your last lap with your fastest.
If you have a camera, the app can synchronise with it to provide a dashboard view of your laps, complete with telemetry readouts and even a ghost car to chase.
If you think it’s all a bit excessive for a sports car, Porsche points to the fact that 80 per cent of Porsche GT buyers take their car to a track.
The styling of the Cayman GT4 reflects this track focus, with a lower ride height, a redesigned front spoiler to create downforce, bigger air intakes at the front to feed air into the car’s three radiators and front brakes and larger side intakes to force air into the engine behind the seats.
At the rear a big wing, spoiler and diffuser help to suck the car to the road.
Stop and go is provided by massive 380mm brakes and a 3.8-litre flat six that adds 33kW and 40Nm to the outputs of the Cayman GTS.
At full throttle, the engine sounds as good as it feels, singing sweetly all the way to 7400rpm, where it makes peak power.
Away from the track, the GT4 is more livable than other hard-edge sports cars. The alcantara seats are comfortable and supportive and the cabin ergonomics are excellent.
The ride is firm, especially in sports mode, and it can get bumpy over less than perfect surfaces, but it didn’t crash over potholes on our test drive on narrow, less than perfect country roads.
The steering is superbly weighted and accurate and the brakes never show any sign of giving up the ghost.
The cabin is noisy, though. Porsche says this is deliberate, and it has removed some insulation from the interior to give the car a more raw, sporty feel. But the tyres roar on freeways and there is a distinct whine — a bit like chirping crickets — when the transmission is loaded up.
Then there is the extensive options list and there is no rearview camera despite it being a bugger to see out the back of.
But you have to look hard for faults. The GT4 is pretty near the perfect track car for those of us not blessed with Rohrl’s talents.