2020 Porsche 718 Cayman T quick drive review: When the wrong tool is just right
Want a no-fuss way to get to the mountain? Pick a boring SUV. Want to have fun on the way up and back? Look no further.
Tim StevensFormer editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Sometimes the wrong tool for the job is exactly the right tool. That is, at least, when the struggle of achieving your task becomes part of the joy. If getting from A to B is the job, then the easiest, safest and comfiest car you can get your hands on is the "right" choice. But when you start to factor in things like grins per mile, or when you want to add some driving skill to the mix, that practical choice starts to sound awfully boring.
Winter driving only makes things more complex. Cold extremities and slippery roads make it even easier to lean toward picking something safe and secure. You know, something like a big, warm, welcoming SUV with all-wheel drive and heated everything. For my last snowboarding trip to Vermont, however, I resisted that urge.
2020 Porsche Cayman T might actually look better with road salt
My sled? A Porsche 718 Cayman T, outfitted with the 300-horsepower, 2.0-liter flat-four and, blissfully, a six-speed manual transmission. Options on my test car were few, and that was just fine with me, because there was only one that I really needed: heated seats ($530). The $2,320 Porsche Connect system was the spendiest addition, meaning this car came in at $72,570 after a $1,350 destination charge.
That's about how I'd spec mine, because the whole point of the Cayman T is getting back to basics. It's lean and light, baking in some tasty performance options like active dampers and the Sport Chrono package, plus a mechanical limited-slip differential at the back -- necessary for low-grip heroics. Add on a set of snow tires -- Michelin Pilot Alpin in this case -- and you have a perfect shuttle for a purposeful run to the slopes.
Well, with one minor complication: cargo capacity. Unless you're still hot-doggin' it on mini skis, you're simply not getting your sticks in this thing. The Cayman seats two in reasonable comfort, and the frunk is generous enough, but that's about it. Your Cayman is going to need some augmentation to get its slope-style on.
I put in a call (OK, an email) to the kind folks at SeaSucker and they hooked me up with the $399 Classic Ski Rack. Using a set of suction cups rated for hundreds of pounds of weight each (exactly the same cups we use for video production, as it happens), the SeaSucker rack will stick to just about anything that's shiny and smooth. My Cayman T, dipped in Guards Red, was certainly that.
I spent more time fretting and fussing about the rack than actually mounting the thing, a process that probably took all of two minutes. I wanted the rack toward the rear of the car to get my snowboard out of the wind, so opted to put two cups on the glass and two on the roof, ensuring that neither panel bore the full brunt of the aerodynamic drag.
The cups slapped on and, after a few pumps of each plunger, I was quite confident the rack wasn't going anywhere. More importantly, the net result was remarkably good-looking. Like, stop and stare good-looking. I've put racks on all my Subarus and similarly augmented our Volvo XC40 and Audi E-Tron long-term testers, but none made me stop and turn back for another look the way this one did.
I've never been more eager to get on Route 7 than I was the following morning with the Cayman. Growing up in Vermont, I've made that trip more times than I care to count and, while it's a lovely drive, it isn't the most exciting. I've also never taken so many deliberate detours along the way, but if ever I saw a twisty, unplowed road cutting off to the right or left, I just couldn't resist.
With the mechanical LSD and appropriate tires, the Cayman T was a real joy on packed snow, ice and the many other conditions I encountered along the way. Grip was genuinely impressive and, with Porsche's many stability and traction control systems enabled, the thing was surprisingly easy to keep pointed in the right direction. Even downhill braking on slick surfaces, usually a pucker-inducing moment in rear- and mid-engined cars, was a breeze.
There was more fun to be had with the nannies off. Unbridled, the Cayman T actually became more predictable. Slipping and sliding and kicking up enough of a rooster tail to make a Ski-Doo jealous, the Cayman T was a handful, but on the playful side rather than the fearful. The light steering never got in my way, the crisp shifter rewarded every next gear, but I have to say I found the throttle response lacking. The turbo lag on that 2.0-liter never bothered me much in the dry, but it was far more apparent here. Balancing a sliding, rear-drive car requires precise throttle application and it just wasn't quite there.
But that didn't really hamper my joy. I had so much fun on the drive up that I was actually a bit sad to get to the parking lot at the ski resort, though the many smiles and thumbs-up from the other early birds lifted my spirits enough to get over the chore of strapping on boots and gear in such a tiny thing.
And what about the other practicalities of the day? Well, those seat heaters are definitely worth the premium, but the lack of a heated wheel to match is unfortunate. Likewise, the front defroster struggled at times to keep the windshield free and clear, and I can't believe Porsche still won't enable Android Auto in its cars, but in the grand scheme these are foibles, not flaws.
And the SeaSucker? Once I learned to trust it I really loved it. My biggest concern was that there's no way to lock it to the car. Any ill-intended passer-by could just lift a corner on those suction cups and walk away with the whole thing. It's easy enough to secure inside the car, but assuming your roof is covered in road grime, as it will be this time of year, you'll need to do a little cleaning before sticking the rack back on for the return trip. That's no fun when it's this cold. But still, were I in the lucky position to run a Cayman through four seasons, I would consider a SeaSucker a necessary accessory.
Despite acres of corduroy and good conditions, I confess I cut my time on the slopes short that day. Every time I got to the lifts I saw the red Cayman T sitting there in the lot, waiting. After just a handful of runs the siren call became irresistible. So, I threw my board back on the roof and headed home, finding another series of slippy detours along the way.