Porsche's Cayman GT4 is a brute that shows no respect to 911 big brother

Porsche's Cayman GT4 is a brute that shows no respect to 911 big brother

The earth has moved at Porsche. For the first time ever, there is a model in its entry-level range which outpunches its standard flag-bearing 911.

Enter the new Cayman GT4, the most focused and hardcore Cayman of all.

While every Cayman model to date has had its output reined in so that it remained in the shadow of the iconic 911, the GT4 has no such qualms about stepping on its big brother's toes.

It swipes the 3.8-litre flat-six from the 911 Carrera S. And while this engine delivers a mite less power in the GT4 than it does in the Carrera S (385bhp against 400bhp), it still obliterates the 345bhp of the base 3.4-litre 911.

The engine is not the only thing nicked off a 911. The GT4's entire front axle is lifted from the track-bred 911 GT3, to the extent that the suspension components are actually interchangeable between the two cars.

The brakes too are taken wholesale from a GT3, and are much larger (by 50mm at the front and 80mm at the rear) than those on the Cayman GTS, the next-fastest model in the Cayman range.

The GT4's adaptive dampers are also borrowed from the GT3, although in this case, they are tuned to the GT4's specific characteristics.

In fact, the GT4 is even a dead ringer for the GT3 at the front, with its jutting front bumper sporting a deep front splitter and a trio of gaping intakes, and a slimline air vent just ahead of the bonnet's leading edge which mimics that of the GT3.

The GT4's 20-inch wheels are also a carbon copy of those on its big brother, except that those on the GT4 are each fastened by a quintet of wheelnuts instead of the centre-lock ones on the GT3.

At the rear, the GT4 charts its own path. There is a pronounced ducktail spoiler in place of the standard Cayman's subtle lip, and above that proudly sits a huge rear wing. There is no attempt to integrate the shape of this wing with the rest of the Cayman's pert tail, but despite (or perhaps because of) its brazen functionality, it is oddly alluring.

And functional it is. That rear wing, coupled with the deep front spoiler and other detailed aerodynamic tweaks, helps the GT4 achieve positive downforce at speed - the first Cayman to do so.

The GT4 is visually distinguished further by "sideblades" added to the air intakes on its flanks, which create a "ram air" effect at high speed. The car also sits a full 30mm lower than the standard Cayman.

And the GT4 is every bit as hardcore to drive as it looks. There is no dual- clutch autobox option, so it is manual or nothing.

The clutch requires a hefty pump with the left foot. Its stumpier gear lever shortens the throw, but also demands more effort to engage.

The transmission does feature one bit of electronic assistance - an automated throttle-blip function on down shifts. It is a hoot and makes you feel like a hero, but hardcore drivers who buy this car are likely to turn it off so they can do their own heel-and-toeing.

Like the gear lever, the steering has also gained some heft, but it rewards the extra effort with razor-sharp responses and lovely, endless feedback through the alcantara rim.

As I discovered on the Portimao circuit in southern Portugal, the GT4 is an extraordinary track weapon. It is devastatingly fast, of course, to the extent that the claimed 4.4-second century sprint time feels very conservative. (This figure actually pips the manual 911 Carrera S by 0.1 second.)

Down the straights, it hurtles to high three-figure speeds in an instant, with power delivery that is mighty but also perfectly linear. It is also aurally thrilling, howling to its 7,800rpm redline with hair-raising intensity.

The car scythes through the dauntingly fast sweepers at speeds sufficient to rearrange your internal organs. It betrays barely any roll and always feels totally planted, with its raft of aerodynamic appendages no doubt working overtime to keep the car glued to the road.

And even past the limits of adhesion the GT4 remains composed, sliding progressively at both ends and never snapping out of shape. Around tighter bends, the tail will edge out if you provoke it with enough throttle, but even then it does so predictably, so that the experience is grin-inducing, not heart-stopping.

Speaking of stopping, the brakes are phenomenal, whether they are the standard metal composite brakes or the optional carbon-ceramic ones. Pedal feel is firm and confidence-inspiring, and even when braking at high velocities into a hairpin corner, the car tracks arrow-straight with no squirming or weaving.

A drive through the hilly, twisty roads near the circuit reveals an extremely firm suspension set-up, even with the dampers in the softer of their two settings. Clearly, the stiffer setting is to be reserved for the racetrack, or mirror- smooth roads.

Still, the ride is far from harsh. The upshot is superb body control, which allows the car to dance between bends without being upset by undulations. Even on the road, the GT4 feels like a track car.

With its manual-only gearbox, weighty controls and resolutely firm ride, the GT4 is clearly not for most. But for those who revel in its rabid performance and love how it flings itself around a racetrack as if it were second nature, the car's uncompromising character is a badge of honour. It is, perhaps more than any other, the ultimate purist's Porsche.

stlife@sph.com.sg

The writer is a regular contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.