Why has Porsche AG since 2005 seemed reluctant to address the clear beauty and greater potential of the Cayman? The Typ 981 Boxster is fine on its own island now as a more serious little sunny convertible and capable roadster. The “little bastard” Cayman, however, still inadvertently threatens its iconic 911 sibling. It even seems on some days to threaten the whole business strategy the company has for its beloved and carefully planned product line.
Understand me? It’s like a brilliant car created almost out of spite. It’s also a car that a great percentage of senior Porsche employees in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Leipzig, and Weissach will confess to me in hushed tones is their personal favourite. It’s a guilty pleasure and just the sort of sports car that might appeal to our inner James Dean.
All models that have had the GTS badge and/or decal, starting in 1963 of course with the wonderful Typ 904 Carrera GTS, have had pretty styling and great dynamics. Now I am here on the fascinating island of Mallorca for this entertaining drive test of both the Boxster and Cayman GTS. Prior to the two days of truly adrenalin-rush driving on the little bendy slippery roads and little bendy 3,5-kilometre Circuit Mallorca outside of the main town of Palma, I honestly wanted these cars from Osnabrück to be small-scale Ferrari 458s. Rather, I desperately needed them to fill their 2.475-mm-wheelbase tyre contact patches with such attitude.
So many around the world frothed over the first-generation (987) 330-horsepower Cayman R, but I did not. This was because the car was still too softly engineered for me to feel like I was holding my Alcantara heart in my hands when I took the paddle-free wheel. Anything calling itself R or RS or GTS anything needs to be able to feel at least mostly that way for me to swoon on it.
Porsche has finally done much here to elicit swoons. Both the 981 Cayman and Boxster Ses already have pleased me to no end, particularly via their new authoritative styling overseen by the brilliant Michael Mauer and his team. But then also simply due to the crazed banshee cry of the optional sport exhaust without which I could not ever live if I purchased one of these ultra-balanced GTS two-seaters with 3436-cc flat-six engine mounted in the correct place. Sort of superficial as Porsche-adoring reasons go, but there it is.
Mallorca’s western jagged mountain range has some really nice tunnels, too, boy howdy. Meanwhile, product planning has thrown in as standard with GTS units royal goodies such as that sport exhaust I love so. Rarely have so many grown adults testing cars driven so many times back and forth through so many tunnels and downshifted so many times with so little need to do so. Nor, therefore, been so late back to the evening’s lodgings because of it. On the stock Boxster S in particular, this exhaust system – from Faurecia, I believe, unless someone can school me – comes off too loud and overcompensating for its past reputation as a hairdresser’s car. This is accentuated by various degrees when I am rolling through villages where the homes and storefronts form a narrow three-storey sidewalk-free canyon in which the locals begin to hate me for this exhaust. But I can poke it off and become a kindly citizen again, free to poke it back on once I am back out in the countryside.
I won’t belabour it because the goodness in either the Boxster or Cayman GTS recipe goes well beyond just the unreal soundtrack, but those pipes are something righteous. They come on automatically when you press the Sport or Sport Plus buttons for the Sport Chrono interface, or you can turn them on (or off) in any mode by pressing the button with the twin-pipes icon etched thereon.
All settings on the chassis, suspension, and wheel mounts are exactly the same as those on the S trims. Two differences are that the GTS package includes the “standard option” of PASM and 20-inch Carrera S wheels – 8”x20” front and 9.5”x20” rear. This sets a GTS 10 mms lower than an S while the 20-inch wheelset with Pirelli P Zero tyres – 235/35 ZR20 88Y front, 265/35 ZR20 95Y rear – tangibly enhances lateral grip to keep things online through tight curves while being able to carry more speed.
Another seemingly standard option is the €3.486 seven-speed ZF PDK transmission with the appropriate centre console lever and paddled sport steering wheel. To get the six-speed manual, you need to specifically check the box that indicates this. (More on this in a bit.) The 30-kg heavier PDK setup is definitely a treat and it in theory makes us all a little quicker (4,7 seconds to 100 km/h) and a little more fuel-efficient. At this point, the automated dual-clutch system cannot be slighted much, apart from one’s sheer personal preference perhaps. Between the distinct differences from automatic or manual mode in Normal to Sport to Sport Plus and the enthusiastic rev-matching on all downshifts, PDK has by now established itself as legitimately “Porsche” enough to be embraced. Roughly two-thirds of the world GTS clientele will choose PDK and just two Cayman GTSes and two Boxster GTSes were given the manual for our test fleet in Mallorca.
Of the entire bunch on hand to try, there was one particular 340-ps Cayman GTS that stole my heart forever. It was equipped with the non-PASM stiffer and 20 mms lower Bilstein sport suspension, had the manual six, had also the €2.838 manual adjustable Sport bucket seats (versus the bulkier €2.838 18-way electronically adjustable that they’d like us to buy), and the €7.380 350-mm diameter PCCB set. Oh, my, oh, my, did this series of hot laps ever please, pedal placement perfect for heel-and-toeing into the tight bends. It was in this car where I felt Porsche had made me a little Maranello Vier-Fünf-Acht. Taking this beast to the 7.500-rpm and higher realm just because it felt and sounded so fine at it in second, third, and fourth gears – this was it. Though a stacked 991 911 Turbo S is awfully divine on the proper track or sweeping mountain road, I have to admit that this sweet little 981 hardtop GTS – and in the exclusive new €2.364 Carmine blood red – is my new objet de desire in sports car terms. Okay, it would be near or over €100.000 by the time I was finished, which is pretty silly, but when you gotta’, you gotta’.
Though I have an unapologetic preference for the Cayman experience versus the Boxster, I spent Day One in the 330-ps open GTS over a 180-km scenic loop around nearly the entire island. I do greatly appreciate the easy roof mechanism, also that this roadster is easily one of the best looking out there, looking good even with the roof closed. The slight loss of cargo room in back (from the Cayman GTS’ 184 litres to 130 litres) is a laughable fine point anyway. I left the Boxster GTS open all day anyhow, given the fair Mediterranean weather, and wind buffeting inside was held to totally acceptable levels.
Of course, the best thing about the open GTS, besides the sunshine, is how much dramatically louder that exhaust can get, especially through those tunnels I was telling you about. And, according to Porsche’s weight scales, the Boxster GTS weighs only an irrelevant smidgen more than the Cayman GTS, both cars officially rated at 1.345 kgs with manual and at 1.375 kgs with PDK. You surely lose some all-important structural rigidity once you lose the roof and become a Boxster, but you gain an orchestra, the balmy breezes, and a tan. This is the only case I know of, too, where the open version costs less than the closed one. The Boxster GTS starts at €71.708 while the Cayman GTS begins at €75.548, a pricing strategy reflecting the (albeit small) additional power and torque of the Cayman GTS – up by 10 ps and by 10 Newton metres of torque.
All these details duly accounted for and listed for your reading curiosity, what sucks me into these stupendous useless two-seaters is that both the Boxster GTS and Cayman GTS are easily the most fun stupendous useless two-seaters under all conditions. At the start of Day Two, this was brought home hard for me out on a notoriously insane handcart trail of a paved mountain road called PM210 between the rustic cramped towns of Bunyola and Alaró. I’ve driven this endless-feeling 45-km aerobic workout many times before and anything bigger than a Boxster or Cayman is entirely too big. In addition, these older cattle routes are paved in a lava-like local rock that over time has been polished slick as wet glass. Whereas on the track I leave off the PSM functions, out here – no matter the car tested – I leave it all on. The e-steering and PASM set to normal on my Cayman GTS worked to perfection even in the many instances when a wheel lifted off the pavement just because the hairpin was so physically tight that it could not be avoided. In this ultimate test, the PDK, though not my first choice for these circumstances, also did well.
I realise that Porsche will take time to figure out how to fully publicise both the 911 and the Cayman/Boxster, but these two little GTS units more than likely will not need much help that way; every owner will be the perfect ambassador. Deliveries begin by June and about 15 percent of 981 buyers are forecast to become GTS club members.