Even Among Elite Metal, the Porsche Cayman GT4 Shines

We spent two days at Thunderhill romping on the Viper ACR, BMW M2, Corvette Z06, and others. But our chief auto critic just can't get over the Cayman GT4.

Porsche Cayman GT4
Lawrence Ulrich/TheDrive.com

Last week, our staff rented out Thunderhill Raceway Park and took a little California field trip. Two days. Seventeen cars. An embarrassment of riches, even by The Drive's standards. And the Porsche Cayman GT4 was the best, hands-down.

Let fans of the other cars splutter, whether it’s the Dodge Viper ACR, Corvette Z06, BMW M2, Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R, Jaguar F-Type R, Cadillac CTS-V or Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio. Okay, that last one's a joke, unless you think $32,000 is appropriate for a yellow emoji (pick the “cute” face) whose ragtop opens like the bellows of a concertina. From fantasy two-lanes in northern California’s Mendocino National Forest to the big-boy circuit at Thunder Hill, the Porsche sang its Ode to Joy in perfect tune. A classical masterwork that no other sports car, sedan or coupe could match.

The GT4’s 385-horsepower rating is a new high for the Cayman. It’s a Genie’s granted wish for every fan who imagined the 911’s 3.8-liter flat-six turned lengthwise to power a 2,955-pound, mid-engined Porsche. Its 4.2-second 0-60 sprint and 183-mph top speed are formidable. Yet the Cayman was overwhelmed in sheer horsepower by not just the Ford, Dodge and Chevy bullies, but also SUVs. Those included the brilliant BMW X6M, the not-brilliant Mercedes GLE 63 AMG, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. It didn’t matter. Internet reductivists will surely jockey brochures, poke their calculators, and declare the most muscular car or fastest-lapper the winner. Adolescents also judge a woman’s beauty strictly by the size of her breasts.

Lawrence Ulrich/TheDrive.com

We rented out Thunderhill to evaluate and film cars, not to race each other, so there were no stopwatches in sight. By seat-of-pants measures, the scaly-armored, 645-hp Viper ACR was surely the quickest around the track, followed (closely) by the 650-hp Corvette Z06. Both are remarkable machines, testaments to Yankee ingenuity and carpet-bombing overkill. But I’d spend my own money on the Cayman GT4 without thinking twice, and many of my colleagues agreed without even the usual perfunctory argument. Even Adam Seaman, a BMW senior driving instructor who joined us for giggles, couldn't help but be smitten.

“The Porsche is incredible,” Seaman said. “It’s just so balanced and flick-able. The shifter is solid, perfect.”

Our GT4 test car came in just shy of $105,000, which is lot to spend on a Cayman. I’d drop the $7,700 carbon-ceramic brakes and $4,700 sports seats, a pair of carbon-shelled Iron Maidens that should come with a winch to yank you back out. Now you’re closer to $87k, and that'd get you a bewinged Porsche that looks as beautiful as it sounds. A car you’d wake to every morning and drive every minute, while your crude, one-note Viper awaited its next trailer ride to the track. A Porsche with the Apollonian perfection of the 911 GT3’s electric steering rack, much of its suspension magic, and the six-speed manual gearbox you can’t get in the GT3. Think of the Cayman GT4 as Porsche’s version of unprotected sex: Nothing gets between you and the steering, the engine, the clutch and shifter.

Okay, so the 3.8-liter engine can’t scale the 9,000-rpm heights of the GT3. But the GT4's 7,800-rpm redline is there for the chasing, especially with extra-tall gearing that sees second gear peak at just 80 mph. It also costs $45,000 less than the 475-horsepower GT3.

Lawrence Ulrich/TheDrive.com

And don’t assume the Cayman was totally over its head against cars with more brute force. On tight road courses especially, where handling and braking is at a premium and long straightaways can’t cover up sins, the Porsche can give many more-powerful sports car a battle for their lives. The Shelby GT350R is tremendous, but it didn't horizon the GT4.

After two blissful days of testing, I drew the long straw and secured the Porsche for a three-hour return drive to San Francisco airport. Stacked up in traffic before the Bay Bridge, the Cayman finally muffed a note in its daily-driving repertoire: A surprisingly heavy clutch pedal, easily as stiff as the Z06’s. But a left leg workout is a small price to pay. Porsche fans always suspected that the Cayman, powered up and properly girded for battle, might be a better sports car than a civilian-issue 911. The answer? Yes. And priced directly atop a stripper, 350-horsepower 911 coupe, the Cayman GT4 also answers prayers—for a turnkey, track-ready Porsche GT that doesn’t require a Daytona budget. Too bad it's already sold out.