Porsche’s Cayman and Boxster GTS versions could spell the end for the 911

Could the Porsche 911’s days be numbered by the new Boxster and Cayman GTS, Damien Reid asks?
The Cayman GTS’s 3.4L, flat-six-cylinder engine produces 340hp and 380Nm of torque, which gives a claimed zero to 100kph time of 4.8 seconds for the Cayman manual and 4.6 seconds for the paddle-shift hard top. Courtesy Porsche
The Cayman GTS’s 3.4L, flat-six-cylinder engine produces 340hp and 380Nm of torque, which gives a claimed zero to 100kph time of 4.8 seconds for the Cayman manual and 4.6 seconds for the paddle-shift hard top. Courtesy Porsche

Being a purist when it comes to cars, there’s a poignant moment just after I park the Porsche Cayman GTS following an exhilarating blast through the mountains of Mallorca, Spain, when I feel a little sullen; that I’d just experienced a life-defining moment for one of my childhood poster cars.

With a heavy heart, I realise that the Cayman GTS is now everything that I wanted the 911 to be – and while I still hold the 911 in high regard, nothing can take away from the fact that the sports-car landscape is changing.

As the baby Porsche keeps improving, the decision to choose a 911 over the Cayman or Boxster becomes that much harder – and now, with the GTS version of each, you really have to have a very, very good reason to opt for the 911.

Both the new Boxster and Cayman GTS enjoy a 15hp boost over the regular model, as well as 20-inch alloys, Porsche’s Active Suspension Management (PASM) system, which includes electronically controlled adaptive dampers, and a “Sports Chrono” package that sharpens vehicle response, as standard ­equipment.

The GTS Cayman and Boxster were unveiled earlier this year at the Beijing motor show and the first deliveries are only now starting to filter through to the Middle East. A key message with the new model is that the baby Porsches are to be taken seriously as proper performance cars, with the standard transmission being the six-speed manual, while the seven-speed, dual-clutch, PDK transmission with paddle shifts is an optional extra.

If that doesn’t make the point clear, then just a few minutes spent behind the wheel will leave you in no doubt as to its intentions. Ride is significantly stiffer, it sits 10 millimetres lower and it has a cracking soundtrack from the twin-pipe exhausts that’s like no other Porsche that I’ve heard before.

The 3.4L, flat-six-cylinder engine now produces 330hp and 370Nm of torque in the Boxster and 340hp and 380Nm in the Cayman, which gives them a claimed zero to 100kph time of 4.9 seconds for the manual Boxster, 4.7 seconds for the PDK version and 4.8 for the Cayman manual, with an impressive 4.6 seconds across the strike for the paddle-shift version of the hard top. Top speed is 279kph and 283kph respectively for the convertible and hardtop Cayman, which both tip the scales at 1,345 kilograms.

Let’s put that into perspective against the current, base-spec 911 Carrera, which carries the same 3.4L, six-cylinder engine and PDK seven-speed ’box. The 911 Carrera develops 345hp and 390Nm of torque, gets to 100kph in 4.8 seconds and tops out at 289kph. In case you haven’t already done the maths, that’s a five- to 15hp and 10- to 20Nm win to the 911 – or roughly the same amount that the GTS has improved over the regular Cayman/Boxster S, which, on the tarmac, equates to a six- to 10kph top speed advantage and, at best, wins by just one tenth of a second to 100kph depending on the model, but more likely loses out to its little brothers by up to two tenths of a second.

The question is, would the 911 tempt you to pay an extra Dh88,100 or Dh84,600 compared to the Boxster and Cayman respectively, when, on paper, they’re effectively identical?

Knowing how passionate 911 owners are, and before the hate mail starts flying in, there’s no criticism of either model here, as I’d be happy with anything in my driveway that does a sub-five-second dash and hits 280kph-plus – but if I’m not desperate to flash around a 911 key ring over dinner, there’s a lot of things that I could do with a spare Dh85,000-90,000.

Our time in the driver’s seat of the GTS duo includes some track work on a tiny circuit that’s laced with a series of tight, second-gear hairpin corners that show up the car’s mid-corner balance and grip out of the turns. Only occasionally does the tail step out, but it snaps back without hesitation.

Despite purists (such as myself) salivating over the prospect of ­using a clutch pedal and an H-pattern manual gearbox again, a back-to-back run leaves me in no doubt that technology has made it a better car, with the PDK version being the quicker of the two point-to-point.

On the open road however, getting the chance to freshen up my heel-and-toe clutch-pedal technique and using the manual shifter with vigour brings a smile to my face and, as a weekend tourer, I find it to be the more enjoyable car to punt through the mountains, with the Boxster and Cayman returning very different sensations.

Pressing the exhaust button in the centre console opens up the baffles and delivers an outstanding orchestra of crackles, bangs and pops on the overrun that rivals the best that the noted masters of automotive tailpipe symphonies, Maserati and Aston Martin, can muster.

On a brilliant spring morning in Spain, with a string of mountain tunnels to bounce the sound off and an endless ribbon of point-and-squirt bends, the Boxster steals my heart and crushes the hairdresser’s tag that it’s carried for years.

Its exhaust is the most un-Porsche-like sound that I’ve experienced, but with emotional touch points such as this often being the decisive factor when placing an order, and with its primary competitor, Jaguar’s F-Type, nailing a luscious crescendo from its 5.0L V8, it’s a point that Porsche had to address.

Fortunately, it hits a home run for aural pleasure and also makes the decision that much tougher to justify spending anywhere between Dh35,000 and Dh167,000 more to buy the F-Type, especially as the two cars are pretty evenly matched performance-wise.

While the Boxster leaves your head out in the breeze copping those gorgeous sounds, the Cayman GTS is altogether different on the same stretch of road with the windows up, Sports Plus button engaged and race face on. If anything, its suspension could be considered too tight in this mode, as the front splitter buffets off the dips and crests in the road, but it’s always entirely composed.

Aside from having the engine in the correct place compared to the 911, it’s also 110kg lighter. When you include its dynamic engine mounts, which come as part of the Sport Chrono Package, that stiffen depending on whether the car’s cornering, accelerating or braking to reduce torque twist, it’s an entirely different beast to punt around tight roads.

With the extra confidence of having the laws of physics working more for you than against – unlike the 911 – as well as the reduced weight and clever engine mounts, I’d be very surprised if the base-spec 911 Carrera could keep up with the Cayman GTS in this environment.

Using the GTS badge brings Porsche’s mid-engined range into line with the rest of the model line-up, as the 911, Cayenne and Panamera all feature the GTS model as the most focused, driving-orientated version in the range – and so it now effectively replaces the Cayman R.

It’s also a small hat tip to the 904 Carrera GTS of 1963, which was the first Porsche to carry a GTS badge. Like these two, the 904 was also offered as either a hardtop coupé or a convertible, carried a mid-engined layout and sold in very limited numbers, being capped to just 100 units. Thankfully, there will be a better chance of owning its modern-day sibling.

While the GTS and R carry the same power-to-weight ratio of 4kg per hp, the newer variant is a full two seconds quicker per lap round the benchmark Nordschleife circuit of the Nürburgring in Germany, dropping into sub-eight-minute ­territory.

The GTS models are distinguished from the regular Cayman S and Boxster S by their revised front and rear bumpers, blackened bi-xenon lights and 20-inch Carrera S alloy wheels with 235/35 tyres at the front and 265/35 tyres at the rear.

Inside, the purely two-seater GTS models get sports seats and a leather interior with Alcantara trim, but otherwise it’s business as usual compared to the regular versions.

Priced at Dh254,900 for the Boxster and Dh258,400 for the Cayman (inclusive of features that have previously been extra-cost options), it’s an attractive package to say the least, although the company expects the GTS versions will account for only 15 per cent of total Cayman/Boxster sales.

Porsche now has the luxury to play around with niche sports coupé models, thanks to the volume sales from Panamera, Cayenne and the new Macan compact SUV, which they plan to churn out at the rate of 50,000 units per year – the compact-SUV market accounts for 1.3 million cars per year and is forecast to grow by 3.4 per cent per annum until 2024.

All of that still only gives Porsche a 0.25 per cent overall market share, but it allows the company to indulge in its bread-and-butter of building sports cars.

Yet with products such as the 918 Spyder, a rumoured GT tourer to take on the Ferrari F12 and the Bentley Continental GT, and the stunning little Cayman and Boxster GTS, I was feeling a bit worried about what the future holds for the venerable 911.

Aside from the limited-edition 918 Spyder, the 911 is the lowest selling model in Porsche’s range, but then I figured that’s OK, because it’s the flag-bearer, thanks to its racing prowess in GT3 and endurance events around the globe.

Which is great, except for the leaked pictures of Porsche testing a GT4 version of the Cayman this month, complete with the extra air intakes, larger brakes and roll cage that defined the 911 GT3. If that runs the 400hp, 3.8L engine from the Carrera S, as rumoured, then my heavy heart for the 911 could well be justified. These are curious times, indeed, for the evergreen Carrera, but its tenure at the top of the Porsche food chain is unlikely to be up anytime soon, despite the undeniable driveability of its upstart new little GTS brothers.

weekend@thanational.ae

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Published: May 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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