Gallery: life with Porsche's cheapest car, the 718 Cayman
Goodwood race meets, Alpine twin tests and more: our Cayman's had a busy six months
The Top Gear Garage has just waved goodbye to a Porsche 718 Cayman. I was lucky enough to do rather a lot of the 11,421 miles it covered in its six months here, and I thought it’d be cool to take you through some of the many things the car did in that time.
The car itself was an entry-level 718 Cayman, the cheapest Porsche you can buy new. To its £42,897 list price, Porsche had added nearly ten grand of options.
There was stuff I’d add myself (torque vectoring with a mechanically locking diff, £926) and stuff I wasn’t so sure about (a heated multi-function steering wheel, £329). At £1767, its 20in wheels were the most extravagant extra. Crucially, it retained its fabulous six-speed manual gearbox, while I was a huge fan of its relatively subtle Night Blue paint.Advertisement - Page continues below
I’m a big advocate for the base Cayman, too. The arrival of the 718 prefix marked the car’s switch from naturally aspirated, six-cylinder engines to four-cylinder turbos, and the entry car’s 2-litre sounds more natural than the 2.5 in the Cayman S and GTS.
Its 296bhp is also the perfect amount for enjoying most British back roads in; having to use less prudence with the throttle than in its bigger brothers means you’re wringing more performance out of it, more of the time.
If you’ve read anything about 718 Caymans or Boxsters before this article you’ll know all too well that they don’t sound as good as before, so let’s take that as read, and instead explore what else the 718 did (or didn’t do) well in its time with us…
Mere hours after the Cayman was delivered to TG Towers, it was off to Hethel to try the (then) new Lotus Exige Cup 430. Twice the price of the 718 and significantly harder to clamber inside, yet its ride and refinement could teach Porsche a thing or two. Lotus is still the master at making a sports car feel supple.Advertisement - Page continues below
Then it was off for a weekend in the Lake District, getting to know the car among England’s greatest scenery. Perhaps not its greatest roads – there are far too many tourists meandering along admiring the views for that – but it simply means stopping to admire your surroundings every so often to open up a gap in traffic.
When there was a clear road, it immediately showed off all that’s great about the Cayman, arguably Porsche’s best handling car. It’s friendly and approachable if you’re relatively new to sports cars, but there’s plenty of depth if you want to get stuck in and dig deeper into its abilities.
In considerably more sensible news, the Cayman’s 425-litre boot space outdoes a Ford Focus (with the seats up), and is split between front and rear compartments. The front is especially deep, and once it’s swallowed an unfathomable amount of bags you’d swear its floor must be scraping along the tarmac.
Porsche has made the Cayman for over ten years, yet it’s taken until now for anyone to make a rival that comes close to toppling it. That arrived in the form of the Alpine A110, and how.
There are many boring reasons why the 718 will be a better thing to live with, but the simple fact is the 300kg-lighter A110 is more lithe, agile and just plain fun on your favourite piece of road. Expensive, though.Advertisement - Page continues below
The Cayman fared better against Jaguar’s two-litre F-Type. The Jag looks fantastic – even after five years on sale – and it has comfier seats and a more exotic feel than the Porsche. But dynamically it just can’t compete, and it feels much wider and harder to place on a twisty B-road.
It’s not just direct rivals we took the Cayman to meet; here, it gatecrashed the Goodwood Members’ Meeting paddock to rub shoulders with some four-cylinder Porsches of old.
On the left, a 924 GTP which competed at Le Mans, one of the world’s very best race events. If four cylinders are enough for the Mulsanne Straight, they’re enough anywhere, surely…
On the right, a sweet little 356 currently raced by Sam Tordoff. It’s won its class at Le Mans Classic, with a punchy 170bhp flat-four powering its scant 750kg.Advertisement - Page continues below
Meeting another racecar, one with twice the number of cylinders. We shot the 928 for a different feature, but having turned up in the 718, it would have been rude not to park the two together, right?
Proof that owning a two-seater sports car isn’t entirely a selfish act: the 718 was a perfect car for transporting my mate James to his wedding. While we may see the Cayman’s switch from six- to four-cylinder engines as a bit unglamorous, there’s no such worries among people unsullied by such nerdy hang-ups. I could have turned up to the wedding in a 918 and attracted barely any more attention.
My little nephew Max – already a petrolhead – loved any chance to sit in the Cayman and prod its various buttons. This is his ‘take me out for a drive’ pose…
…and this is his way of proving there’s loads of boot space at both ends of the Cayman, while also demonstrating you can technically use a mid-engined two-seater even when you’ve got kids to cart around. Though his seating position is neither legal nor advised.
Have you driven in the Peak District? You should. This is a quick snap at Ladybower Reservoir, shortly after a drive on the ace – if slightly busy – Snake Pass. With a 50mph limit and a tendency to close when there’s snow, it’s not the perfect driving road, but it’s still one well worth ticking off.
The Cayman was a brilliant partner for lots of short breaks, in fact, including an ace week in Wales with my best mate Adam. While our focus was on rejuvenating mountain hikes, all the wondrous roads leading to them were exactly what a mid-engine, rear-drive car like this is made for.
Turning up to McLaren without a twin-turbo V8 and a carbon tub may well be frowned upon. But whatever you’re in, a drive around the McLaren Technology Centre’s lake is a huge privilege. Just don’t look too hard at the view, else your steering will follow your eyes and right into that water…
Few electric power steering systems tell you as much about what’s going on beneath you as the Cayman’s. The traditionalists may still mourn the loss of good old hydraulic steering, but Porsche has advanced EPAS better than anyone else. The steering in the 718 is superb.
But while the Cayman steers and handles impeccably in the dry, it’s a fair bit flightier in the wet or snow. Especially now there’s a decent amount of low-down torque to light the rear tyres up that bit more suddenly. Our car didn’t have the Sport Chrono pack fitted, which meant its stability control had no sport mode, just on or off. Something in the middle would have worked a treat in trickier conditions.
Behold, the most ergonomically resolved dashboard in the sports car market. Alright, it’s a terribly boring thing to celebrate. But whereas that Alpine is a little sweeter and more fun to drive, it can’t hope to compete with the Cayman when it comes to everyday stuff like this. Porsche’s own media system is spot on, but its Apple CarPlay connection is excellent too.
Blank switches prove our Cayman is relatively basic, but there are still plenty of options. Second down on the left switches the adaptive dampers between normal and sport modes, while second on the right switches the sports exhaust on and off.
The 718 breathes better with the road and sounds more natural if you leave both alone. Pressing the ‘binocular button’ in the old car was a reflex action as you climbed in, but in the age of four-cylinder Caymans, that’s no longer the case.
Pilgrimages to my Sunderland home – a six-hour drive from TG Towers, even on a good day – were always fairly painless in the Cayman. It’d easily do 300 miles on a tank of fuel, though the tyre roar from its huge Pirelli P Zeroes meant turning the stereo up a bit to hear music and podcasts properly.
Our car had optional 20in wheels; save the £1767 (!) they add to the list price and stick with the standard 18s or some less expensive 19s. Though it would ruin the gorgeous stance when those arches are properly filled…
While it'll do a decent distance on a tank, we do need to talk about fuel economy, because it’s a big issue when a sports car has ditched its sonorous old six-cylinder nat-asp engine for a downsized four-cylinder turbo.
It’s a story of disappointment, really; mixed driving in the old Cayman would return about 28mpg, while ours managed 30.5mpg in its six months and 12,000 or so miles with us. Not a good enough trade for the lost character, if we’re honest.
Mind, it only took a couple of weeks behind the wheel of the Cayman to appreciate that, engine aside, it’s still every bit as wonderful as it’s always been. After six months, I was fairly besotted. I’d still go and buy a last-of-the-line, six-cylinder Cayman GTS if it were my own money. But in base spec, the 718 really isn’t as affected by its downsizing as you might fear. The Cayman remains the best everyday sports car on sale.
Images: Adam Shorrock, Mark Riccioni, Mark Delaney, Gary Hawkins, Alex Lawrence, Stephen Dobie