Porsche's fantastic 718 Boxster and Cayman range gets a new halo model this year: the GTS. Available with either a fixed roof of removable top, and with manual or dual-clutch automatic transmissions, the GTS siblings are not only the best-driving versions of Porsche's 718, they're arguably the best performance values, too.
But the best of the best, as far as I'm concerned, is this 718 Cayman GTS, fitted with a six-speed stick-shift. Sure, a Cayman GTS equipped with the automaker's PDK dual-clutch gearbox has more power, and thanks to its standard Sport Chrono pack with launch control, will sprint to 60 miles per hour a half-second quicker. But small spec gains like that can't make up for what you lose in terms of driver involvement and enjoyment. The 718 GTS is a delicious concoction, and one best served with a stick for stirring.
All GTS models use the same 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine as their Boxster S and Cayman S counterparts. No matter the transmission, the 718 GTS makes 365 horsepower -- a 15-horsepower increase over the S. But while automatic models make 317 pound-feet of torque, manual-transmission cars make do with 309. And I promise, you won't notice that small discrepancy from behind the wheel.
Instead, you'll be happy about the other GTS-spec upgrades, including Porsche's Active Suspension Management (PASM) chassis and rear torque-vectoring system. The former lowers the ride height by 10 millimeters while the latter brakes the inside wheel while cornering, sending more power to the outside for improved handling. GTS models also get larger brakes -- including the 13-inch front stoppers from the Porsche 911 -- nestled behind 20-inch Carrera S wheels wrapped in 235/35 front and 265/35 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires.
My Racing Yellow test car also comes with the GTS-optional PASM Sport Suspension, which lowers the car by an additional 10 millimeters (20 millimeters in total), as well as Porsche's carbon composite brakes -- upgrades of $290 and $7,410, respectively. They're worthwhile additions if you'll be using your GTS as a track car, but if your main objective is enthusiastic street use, I recommend leaving both on the table. The Cayman GTS is set up so brilliantly right from the get-go that these additional extras don't do much to vastly improve the experience. Besides, the requisite squealing from the carbon ceramic brakes gets rather annoying around town.
I could drive this thing forever
You fall in love with the gearbox instantly. Feel the heft of the clutch pedal and affirmative bite of the take-up point against your left foot as you engage first gear, and enjoy rowing your way into second, third, etc. Even beyond the precise click-click action of the gearbox, I love its tall lever and position on the center console. It's a joystick that's simply delightful to use.
There's ample power right off the line, all 309 pound-feet of torque available from 1,900 rpm. And because that torque reserve remains strong all the way up to 5,500 rpm, you often don't need to downshift in order to execute a lazy pass, though it's hard to resist the temptation of the GTS' automatic rev-matching in Sport and Sport+ modes, blipping the throttle as you drop a gear, the standard sport exhaust popping and burbling on overrun when you finally lift.
I could wax poetic about driving the Cayman GTS until the proverbial cows come home. At its core, even the most basic 718 model is a brilliant performer, with incredible balance thanks to its mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. But while some higher-performance cars just feel like boosted versions of their base-spec kin, the GTS drives like it was always designed to be this exact car from its inception. Every facet of its dynamic ability -- the perfectly weighted, super-sharp steering; the confident poise and flat cornering; the linear, powerful stopping power -- feels perfectly dialed into one another. Add in the involvement of a third pedal and a manual cog-swapper and you've got one of the finest driver's tools on the road today.
Really, driving the Cayman GTS is an experience blissfully bereft of complaint. Porsche purists still whine about the aural quality of the turbocharged flat-four engine -- I get it, it sounds like it's missing two cylinders, because it is -- but the tradeoff is a level of performance that's even more impressive than the last-generation, flat-six GTS. The new 718 GTS is a car that's closer in demeanor to the old Cayman GT4 -- one that's just as fast around the Nürburgring Nordschleife, too.
Simple interior, simple tech
If I'm to register any complaints about the 718 Cayman GTS, it concerns what's inside -- or, rather, what isn't. You get sport leather seats with Alcantara inserts, but if you want fully electronic adjustability, that'll be extra. If you want those seats heated, that'll be extra. If you want automatic climate control, that'll be extra. If you want navigation in your Porsche Communication Management infotainment system, yes, that'll be extra, too. It's certainly not unlike Porsche to nickel-and-dime customers on these sorts of options. But am I really that crazy for thinking features that come standard on a $27,000 Honda Civic Touring should also be included in the base spec of a $80,000 Cayman GTS?
That said, what you do get is a handsome, nicely executed cabin. High-quality materials make up every touchable surface. The GT Spirit steering wheel is devoid of redundant controls, save the circular drive mode selector in the lower right opening. The buttons along the center console have a satisfying weight to their click. And hey, with both a front and rear trunk, you've actually got 15 cubic feet of cargo space -- the same as a Toyota Camry.
The PCM infotainment software is housed inside a seven-inch touchscreen with proximity sensors that light up key functions as it senses your hand's approach. From a ease of use standpoint, PCM is one of my favorite systems. It's quick to respond and intuitive to navigate, with clear, crisp graphics, even in this smaller-hardware version. The 718 range doesn't have the upgraded, 12.3-inch PCM interface as the new Cayenne and Panamera, but it does offer an adjustable LCD display in the gauge cluster that shows various driving data, infotainment readouts or a navigation map (if optioned). Apple CarPlay is included, should you prefer to let your smartphone do the heavy infotainment lifting. Android users, meanwhile, are still out of luck.
How I'd spec it
I could play with Porsche's online car configurator all day. And yes, while it's technically possible to create a mildly horrifying, super expensive Cayman GTS, my ideal spec is pretty darn rad.
For starters, paint my car Chalk, which is a hue worth every penny of its $2,580 price premium. I'll keep the standard dark-finish Carrera S wheels, though I'll happily check the model logo and "GTS" decal delete boxes, which are no-cost options. Inside, I'll take the basic interior spec, though I'll begrudgingly pay $530 for heated seats and $770 for automatic climate control. I'll exercise some restraint and skip everything else, which brings my ideal spec to a cool $85,100, including $1,050 for destination.
The 718 Cayman GTS tested here -- which has the aforementioned carbon ceramic brakes, PASM sport suspension and navigation system -- comes in at $92,580.
A value proposition -- no, really
The frugal part of my brain would like me to point out that there are lots of other sports cars on the market that offer thrilling performance for a lot less money. BMW's M2, for example, or the fantastic Chevy Corvette Grand Sport. But I don't want those cars like I want a Cayman GTS. I'll even argue that both of these competitors, not to mention plenty of other cars, aren't quite as sharp as Porsche's mid-engine superstar.
On the other hand, frugal Ewing brain, the $85,100 of a perfectly spec'd Cayman GTS is actually $6,000 less than the most basic Porsche 911 Carrera. Plus, if I tried to option a Cayman S to similar levels of performance, I'd actually wind up spending more money. The Cayman GTS a way to get one of Porsche's best-driving sports cars at its least-expensive price points. And that's a value proposition that's hard to overlook.