2019 Porsche 718 Cayman T first drive: Brilliant, but bittersweet

The 718 Boxster and Cayman represented a step change for Porsche. Replacing its junior sports cars’ iconic flat six engines and throwing in turbocharged flat fours was a bold move. They offered comparable power and more torque than before, while also boosting fuel economy and lower emissions — which keeps governments happy. In theory it’s a “cake and eat it, too” sitch.

The 718 range is pretty simple: Base cars get a 2.0-liter H4 with 300 horsepower, S models use a 2.5-liter H4 with 350 horsepower and GTS variants use the same 2.5 but crank out 365 horsepower. Plenty of choice for everyone, right? 

The T gives the base car the kind of toys you get on the S and GTS models to give the tiny 2.0 a little more kick. Speccing the T (which means “Touring”) nets you 20-inch alloy wheels, the Sport Chrono package (and the Sport, Sport Plus and Individual drive modes that come with it), a 20-millimeter lower ride height, Porsche’s torque-vectoring system, auto rev matching on the standard six-speed stick shift and various cosmetic tweaks to make it stand out.

In the interests of purity Porsche has seen fit to take the infotainment system out to save weight. Mercifully, you can spec it back in free of charge, so you won’t end up lost or missing your favorite radio show. (US-spec cars probably won’t get this infotainment-delete option, like on the 911 Carrera T, since backup cameras are now a piece of federally mandated safety equipment.) To keep weight down further, Porsche’s replaced the door pulls with straps, so it feels a bit like a race car and you feel like a hero.

The 2.0-liter motor keeps the same 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet as the base car, so accelerating to 60 miles per hour takes 4.9 seconds with the six-speed manual and 4.7 with the optional PDK dual-clutch automatic. The top speed is just the fun side of 170 mph. Drive sensibly and you might see around 27 miles per gallon on the highway. You won’t do that, though, because the car makes it difficult.

The standard stick is a joy to use and you’ll want to use it often. A short throw twinned with an easy clutch makes choosing your own cogs a fun experience. The T has plenty of torque, sure, but the rev-matching throttle blips on a downshift can become addictive. Keep the motor on song and exploiting the ample torque will put a big, silly grin on your face.

These 20-inch wheels and a 20-millimeter lower ride height are part of the 718 T package.


Porsche

You’ll have to work your way around the ‘box, however, because if you have the motor under 2,000 rpm it’s a bit gutless. There’s some nasty turbo lag on display here. Finding yourself in the wrong gear when you really need to make some progress is frustrating as you wait for the turbo to wake up. Keeping the 718 T in third gear and waiting for the car to accelerate from 20 to 30 mph is agonizing.

Then there’s the noise. Even with the T’s sports exhaust, it just doesn’t sound good: The sporty setting just makes the warble bassier. At highway speeds it drones, and when you’re pushing hard it’s just unpleasant. The smaller-capacity engine may make the Cayman better on fuel, but it’s worse on the ears. Losing the flat-six howl of old robs the Cayman of some character. The noise isn’t as bad in the Boxster, simply because popping the roof down means much of the din is replaced with wind noise.

Still, the torque is fun. As is the steering. Porsche’s steering setup is one of the best out there, offering all the feedback a mortal could possibly want. Same goes for the brakes — there’s plenty of feedback and they’re a giggle to use.

Fabric door pulls replace traditional handles, and in some markets, you can spec the Cayman T without an infotainment system.


Porsche

Combining all the elements, the 718 Cayman T is a damn fine driver’s car so long as you keep the turbo on song. There’s so much grip on offer that you’ll find yourself cornering rather quicker than you’d thought you could get away with. It could get a little uncomfortable on rough surfaces, but that’s to be expected.

Playing with Sport and Sport Plus modes are a joy. Sport turns the wick up a touch, giving the Cayman T a more aggressive feel, but keeping the dampers in a more comfortable setting. Sport Plus ups the ante even further, setting the dampers to “holy hell that’s stiff” for a harder drive. Unless you’re on the smoothest of smooth roads, they’re best left in their normal setting.

The 718 Cayman T is a tough one. It’s a truly brilliant car to hustle if you keep the turbo on boost, but the noise is its Achilles heel. If you really must have a 718 but don’t want the extra power (and marginally better noise) the 350-horsepower S offers, the T gives the base car a little extra pep and a new lease of life.

Don’t want a Cayman coupe? The T treatment is also available on the 718 Boxster convertible.


Porsche


Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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