Some things can't be quantified. The sound of a naturally aspirated flat-six engine spinning at 8,000 rpm. Loud-and-clear feedback felt through a steering wheel. The crisp, rewarding action of a manual transmission clicking from gear to gear. All of these sensations are paramount to theexperience. So what happens if you take one away?
- Super-sharp reflexes
- Strong and sonorous flat-six power
- Quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission
- Small paddle shifters
- Outdated infotainment tech
- Can't replace the manual experience
For 2021, the Cayman GT4 is. It's the same gearbox you'll find in a lot of the company's other sports cars, and it comes with a number of benefits. Despite adding 68 pounds to the GT4's curb weight, the Cayman is quicker with PDK. It'll hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, compared with 4.2 seconds with the manual transmission. PDK also allows the engine to produce a skosh more torque -- 317 pound-feet, up from 309 -- and even makes the GT4 a little more efficient, with 1-mpg increases across the board. Of course, the result is a still-dismal 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined, but hey, any improvements are good.
No surprise, PDK works beautifully with the GT4's 4.0-liter flat-six. Left to its own devices, gear changes are as smooth as they are quick, and they're perfectly timed, too. The transmission knows when you're driving hard and holds gears near redline to accommodate. Press the PDK Sport button on the center stack and the DCT is even more alert, keeping the engine revving high to eke out every one of its 414 horsepower. Feel like choosing your own adventure? Metal paddles attached to the steering wheel let you call up your own shift logic, and inputs are rewarded with immediate responses. I wish the paddles were larger and mounted on the column ---- but as far as dual-clutch transmissions go, it's really hard to beat PDK.
But while the DCT's enhancements are undeniably clear, what the GT4 gains in objective performance it loses in subjective enjoyment. So much of why I love the Cayman GT4 comes down to its raw, involving character; in terms of driver feedback, modern cars don't get much better than this. The standard six-speed manual transmission heightens that engagement, pulling you into the experience with a weighty clutch pedal, a hefty gear lever and a short-throw 'box so tactile you'll find yourself clicking through the gears at stoplights simply because it feels that good.
I've heard a lot of people complain about the GT4's manual transmission, saying the gearing is too long to really make it enjoyable. But I don't get the hate. Just because you don't have to shift as often doesn't mean you can't. You don't need to constantly run between 6,000 and 8,000 rpm in the GT4 to have a whale of a time; the 4.0-liter engine has ample midrange shove. You aren't setting lap records on public roads, after all. If you want to shift, just freaking shift.
Still, whichever transmission you choose, the GT4 is a brilliant car. Porsche's 718 chassis can pretty much do no wrong, and in this most aggressive spec, it's a joy to wring out over and over up and down my favorite canyon roads. A constant stream of feedback flows through the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, and I can feel reverberations from the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires up through the chassis and into the fixed bucket seats. These carbon fiber-reinforced chairs aren't exactly built for long-haul comfort, but then again, neither is the GT4.
Yet at the same time, the Cayman is shockingly livable. The chassis isn't so stiff that it'll punish you for driving on rough pavement, which is remarkable considering how taut this car is on a mountain road. Wind and tire noise certainly make themselves known, but it's nothing you can't drown out with a few twists of the stereo volume knob. Or, you know, just open the sport exhaust and dig into the throttle. There's nothing like the wail of a flat-six.
The Cayman's interior is definitely showing its age, though the simple arrangement of fixed buttons on the center stack makes them easy to locate while driving, and there's a satisfying click to their action. The fabric door pulls have yet to lose their novelty, and don't forget, the Cayman is also quite functional. The mid-engine layout means there's a deep frunk and a small but usable luggage compartment under the rear hatch.
If there's one place where the 718 really feels outdated, it's in the tech department. The GT4's 7-inch color touchscreen runs the oldest iteration of Porsche's PCM software with a relatively basic menu structure. You can getbut continues to be unavailable. Want the latest and greatest driver assistance features? You've got the wrong car, pal.
Look closely and you'll notice this Gentian Blue GT4 has a roll cage behind the seats, but don't get too excited. This is part of a Clubsport package that isn't available in the US that includes a six-point seat belt for the driver and a lightweight fire extinguisher because, you know, racing can be dangerous. The only reason this specific car has the Clubsport option is because it's a German-spec GT4 that Porsche imported to the US for testing. The European number plate on the front bumper isn't just for show, is what I'm saying.
The 2021 Cayman GT4 starts at $102,550, including $1,350 for destination, and the new PDK option adds $3,210 to the bottom line. Grab a few key options like the full bucket seats ($5,900), carbon ceramic brakes ($8,000), LED headlights ($2,140) and a not-boring paint color (you can get it in Frozen Berry pink!) and a nicely optioned GT4 will run you around $125,000. Considering this thing can chase down supercars costing twice as much, that hefty-sounding price tag oddly feels like a bargain. Weird, I know.
Would I personally go for the PDK option in the Cayman GT4? No. It takes away from the driving experience too much for my liking, and the performance gains can't make up for that loss of involvement. The Cayman GT4 is one of the world's best sports cars, and that's true whether you go manual or automatic. But for a car that's so focused on an all-encompassing sensory experience, I can't imagine buying one without a historically quintessential element of the bond between car and driver.