Replacing the lead singer in an iconic rock band is a thankless task. Van Halen fans never fully embraced Sammy Hagar. Paul Rodgers’ recent stint as lead singer with Queen was okay, I guess, and Axl Rose is now screaming it out in front of AC/DC. All fantastic singers and more than worthy in their own right, but how to you replace David Lee Roth, Freddie Mercury and Brian Johnson?
Enter Porscheâ€™s 2017 reboot of its beloved mid-engine Boxster/Cayman. Same deal. The operatic flat-sixes that have propelled this duo since their respective inceptions sing no more, replaced by a pair of gruff turbo flat-fours.
Oh, the conundrum.
Have the darlings of the sports car world been emotionally eviscerated by their two-pot-ectomy? Porsche lends some credibility to this conceptual shift with the 718 pre-fix, pilfered from a mid-engine four-cylinder racecar of 1957-62.
Base cars get an all-new 2.0-liter single-turbo four that makes 300 horsepowerÂ and 280 lb-ft of twist from 1,950-4,500 rpm. This 718 Cayman S rolls with a 2.5-liter version kicking out 350 horsepower and 309 lb-ft, on board from 1,900-4,500 rpm. Thereâ€™s more to the Sâ€™s increased grunt over the standard car than merely increased displacement. The engine also benefits from variable vane turbo technology. At lower engine speeds, small adjustable vanes in the exhaust track just before the turbo act like a tiny venetian blind, partially closing to increase the exhaust gas flow rate, spinning the turbo up sooner. Those vanesÂ open up at higher engine speeds, which allow for max high-end power.
Both engines use an air-to-liquid intercooler, and a six-speed manual transmission is standard kit. The seven-speed dual clutch PDK will set you back $3,200.
This 718 Cayman S tester looks imminently familiar yet sexier, especially in optional Miami Blue. With only the hood and windshield carrying over, the new bodywork is edgy and rakish. The more pronounced front fenders bookend a flatter nose with thinner and wider air intakes. Up front we see Porscheâ€™s signature four-point LED driving lights. Thereâ€™s fresh detailing on the sides, and the tail is all-new, sporting multi-element LED lights connected by a black bar with raised Porsche lettering.
Time to take this siren for a spin. Sliding into the optional 18-way sport seats, Iâ€™m presented with a marginally refreshed cabin, featuring a new steering wheel and recontoured vents. Iâ€™m lovinâ€™ the view over the sharply creased front fenders. The big news here is Porscheâ€™s (finally) up-to-date touchscreen interface that features a logical menu, pinch and swipe functions, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The 2.5 liter fires up and settles into a baritone idle. As before, driving position is nigh on perfect. Sliding the PDK shifter back to D, weâ€™re off into the brave new world of Porscheâ€™s mid-engine sports car.
Oh yes, itâ€™s different. Thereâ€™s a new game in town and itâ€™s called mid-range punch. While the old sixes really didnâ€™t get down to business until the tach topped 4,500 rpm, this 718 with the optional (and exceedingly brainy) seven-speed PDK will waft you along all day without even cresting 3,000 rpm if you let it. Yikes.
Granted, Iâ€™m in default normal mode, which PorscheÂ programmed to sip fuel and fool the powers-that-be into giving the Cayman impressive economy numbers. On light throttle, youâ€™ll be in fourth gear by 30 mph. Helping with this ruse is auto start/stop and a â€œsailingâ€� function wherein the engine decouples from the transmission and rests at idle when coasting at higher speeds. The latter is eerily seamless; the only real clue is the swinging tach needle.
But nobody buys a Cayman S to gingerly putter about in a quest to match its official 21 miles per gallon cityÂ and 28 mpgÂ highway. These cars are here to be enjoyed â€¦ and thrashed when conditions allow.
Pressing the Sport button wakes thing up, calling up a more aggressive shift map, enhanced throttle response, further lenience in the stability control and a more vocal exhaust note with entertaining pops and gurgles on overrun. New for 2017, Sport Mode works independently of the two-stage adaptive PSM (Porsche Suspension Management), so the drivetrain can be on high alert while keeping the ride complaint â€” good for pressing on over rougher tarmac.
The 718 Cayman S charges with a mid-range ferocity the old car never had, yet Porsche has not abandoned the upper reaches â€” this engine pulls strongly to its 7,500 rpm redline, which is just 300 rpm shy of the outgoing sixes. Up here, it howls like a stuck yak, while generating an equally frantic pace. Gearing is taller, so corners that were once taken at high-revs in second gear are now huffed around on a wave of torque. Again, different. But damn, this car is fast.
All other attributes of the Cayman S carry forward â€¦ enhanced, of course, because this is Porsche. The 718 feels sharper out on these country roads, slicing and dicing the twisties with poetic balance and telepathic handling. Thereâ€™s a lot going on here: retuned springs, larger damper pistons, half-inch wider rear wheels, stiffened rear subframe and two (instead of one) adaptive hydraulic engine mounts. Additionally, the steering rack is 10-percent more direct and the brakes gets bits from the 911. This new 718 S eclipses the old carâ€™s Nurburgring time by an astounding 16 seconds.
I canâ€™t for the life of me understand why Porsche specâ€™d this press car without the Sport Chrono Package. It adds launch control, a racier program for both PDK and stability management, and includes the new-for-2017 rotary drive mode selector that lives at 4 oâ€™clock on the steering wheel. Itâ€™s an ergonomic success, making switching between Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and (new) Individual settings a breeze while on the move. And pressing the centre of the button puts all systems in full attack mode for 20 seconds.
After a week behind the wheel of this 718 Cayman S, my inner whining (re: the loss of six-cylinder power) slowly faded to the background. Itâ€™s still there, mind you, but Iâ€™m working on it. And while the 718 does go down the road in a markedly different manner, this Miami Blue wedge has assured me the Cayman S remains as one the greatest sport cars on the planet.
And for that, we give thanks.
[Images: Â© 2017 Peter Bleakney]