10

The Porsche Cayman GTS is the new top-of-the-pile version of the firm’s mid-engined two-seat sports coupe. And there has never been a quicker or more powerful one.

Even the stripped-out, diamond-hard 2011 Cayman R made do with 11bhp and 7lb ft less than this, and took four tenths longer to hit 62mph. None of which really helps classify this wonderful introduction, because despite all that, the Cayman GTS isn’t a replacement for the old ‘R’.

While the latter was a fairly short-lived trackday hell-raiser with aluminium doors and a standard specification that chucked out the radio, the air conditioning and even the interior doorhandles, the former is a simpler and more livable prospect. It gets more standard equipment, more power and a more focussed dynamic setup than a normal Cayman ‘S’ – and it costs more than the old ‘R’ did.

Over and above ‘S’ specification, the GTS adds 20in alloy wheels, a retuned PASM adaptively damped suspension setup with 10mm taken out of the normal ride height, Porsche’s Sport Chrono package with dynamic engine mounts, sports seats ‘plus’, bi-xenon cornering headlights, a sports exhaust, special bumper styling, a new rear spoiler and a tastier-looking steering wheel.

For that, as well as the revisions to the cylinder head that produces the additional 15bhp and 7lb ft of torque, Porsche charges a premium of just under £7k. But add as much of that as possible as optional kit on a Cayman S and you’ll end up within just £800 of the Cayman GTS’ price anyway.

What's it like to drive? Probably the best new sports car of 2014. Which will come as a massive surprise to those who know how great Caymans are to drive generally, and how highly we’ve praised them over the years.

But not only that, it’s also a clearly superior sports car than the Boxster GTS we reviewed recently – and by a bigger margin that you’d credit given how closely related the two cars are.

You’ll value quality over quantity of performance to justify spending £55k on a Cayman – but that’s all part of the appeal. This is, after all, BMW M4 money – and the BMW is half-a-second quicker to 62mph, and probably quicker still in real-world conditions thanks to all that twin-turbocharged torque.

The connoisseur chooses the sharpness of response and the gathering noise and force of the Porsche’s naturally aspirated power delivery every time. Blipping the Cayman’s accelerator for a downshift and then leaving it pinned to the carpet on a delicious run to the 7800rpm redline is like immersing yourself in oily, tuneful perfection.

The car isn’t breathtakingly fast, but every bit as quick as a sports car intended to be driven on the road in 2014 needs to be – and rowing your way up and down the box for sharper corners and overtakes only makes the driving experience more vivid.

The car’s controls are beautifully harmonized. Dip the middle-weighted, long-travel clutch pedal and you know exactly how much effort you’ll need to operate the gearlever and steering wheel, and can even gauge the initial takeup of the brakes. The primary ergonomics are spot on, too. You won’t find better placed pedals for heel-and-toe gearchanges in any other car in the world.

Move off and you’ll instinctively feed drive in just-so, because the engine’s modest low-rpm torque won’t bother the clutch and because there’s such precision about everything the Cayman does. Ride quality is firm, never harsh. In the Boxster GTS, you do get the odd tremor and crash through the body structure over nastier broken surfaces; in the Cayman, almost every one is soaked up at each corner.

Lateral body control is awesome. There’s the merest smidge of roll, just to work the outside contact patches and let you know much grip you’ve got left. But steering response and precision are phenomenal, and balance of grip likewise.

Longitudinal body control’s slightly softer, but only because it can be. The Cayman’s mid-engined configuration keeps effortless control of pitch and dive, so the car can afford to be a bit supple over vertical undulations, making for a comfy motorway ride.

It certainly isn’t so soft that it fails to transfer its weight smartly as you play with the pedals – and thusly to give you and endless source of entertainment and adjustability of cornering attitude through the bends.

What you end up with is an almost unimprovable driver’s car. Stable, assured and sharp as a tack at high speeds. Utterly planted the moment you sink the accelerator. But more playful when your driving style demands it; when the rear axle’s deliberately unloaded on turn-in, and the PSM stability control’s disengaged. It's not a car for bullying into a slide with the accelerator – and you’ll end up liking it even more because of that.

Should you buy one? Almost unreservedly yes. The Cayman’s expertly resolved performance and handling have always been a brilliant advert for commitment to a two-seater concept; a shining reason to ask yourself how often you’ll really use the back seats of a BMW M car, an AMG Mercedes coupé – even a Porsche 911.

The GTS’ effectively ends the debate. Unless you’re going to spend at least double the money, the Cayman GTS is the greatest sporting machine you’ll find for balanced mix of road- and track-based entertainment. If you’re bothered that it’s too slow, too small, too weedy-looking or ‘only’ a Cayman, you’re missing the point entirely. This car really is that good to drive.

At least, ours was. Ours also had a pretty spectacular optional specification – because it wouldn't be like Porsche to make everything standard. Its built price started with a seven. My guess would be that you don’t need to spend that much to get the definitive GTS – but you probably do need torque vectoring (£890), passive sports suspension (which is free), and carbon-ceramic brakes (£4977).

You may also want a PDK paddle-shifted gearbox (£2250). Or you could spend £40k on a boggo Cayman 2.7, and get 75 per cent of the full GTS experience for two thirds of the outlay. That’d be the intelligent thing to do.

Then again, intelligent compromises don’t always hit the spot. And greatness tends to be worth paying for.

Porsche Cayman GTS

Price £55,397; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 177mph; Economy 31.4mpg; CO2 211g/km; Kerb weight 1345kg; Engine 6cyls horizontally opposed, 3436cc, petrol; Power 336bhp at 7400rpm; Torque 280lb ft between 4750- 6500rpm; Gearbox six-speed manual

Top 5 Affordable sports cars

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Audi S5 Sportback
    First Drive
    19 January 2017
    The Audi S5 Sportback is more bruising GT than practical sports car, but it makes sense for those wanting a fast executive saloon in coupé get-up
  • First Drive
    18 January 2017
    Despite receiving a cosmetic and mechanical refresh, Lexus's compact executive saloon still fails to provide much driving involvement
  • 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 5h review
    First Drive
    18 January 2017
    Big-selling plug-in SUV gets a light refresh in the face of new challengers to offer decent economy but only average driving dynamics
  • Mini Countryman Cooper S
    First Drive
    18 January 2017
    All-new bigger Mini continues to make a curious, flawed crossover hatchback, though it’s more compelling to drive than some and more practical than it used to be
  • Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid
    First Drive
    17 January 2017
    Plug-in petrol-electric Panamera makes a better case than ever to supplant the diesel best seller, but it still appeals more to the head than the heart