Less is More
The Victorian poet Robert Browning was a wise man. Not only did he have the good sense to move to Italy, but he also coined the phrase 'Less is more’.
This assertion that simple things are somehow superior to their complex peers has struck a chord with so many people in so many walks of life, including Porsche.
In a world where luxury cars are all the rage – Mercedes, BMW and Audi all outsold Toyota and Nissan in the UK last year – it seems odd that a manufacturer like Porsche would move one of its cars downmarket. Nevertheless, that's exactly what the German brand has done to the Cayman coupe.
Not so long ago, this six-cylinder mid-range sports car was finally peeping out from the shadow cast by its big brother, the 911. Now, however, the new Cayman is the cheapest car Porsche makes.
By becoming even more closely related to the convertible Boxster (a car once derided as the 'poor man's Porsche’) under the 718 banner, the Cayman has slipped beneath its soft-top stablemate in the Porsche hierarchy.
And it isn't just the Cayman’s social standing that's been reduced: the engine has shrunk in the wash, too. Tucked behind the seats was once a six-cylinder petrol powerplant that was adored by everyone who tried it. But thanks to climate change and the demands of the European Union's fuel economy test, that soulful, sonorous engine is gone, replaced with a smaller, turbo-charged four-cylinder unit.
Porsche enthusiasts will complain that this quest for economy has deprived the Cayman of its character, and they probably have a point. If you drive the two cars back to back, you might notice that the new engine doesn’t feel as sophisticated or as stately as its forebear.
To you and me, though, less really does seem to be more. There’s something naughtier and more rebellious about the new car’s exhaust note, and that isn’t the only thing going for it.
Whichever version you choose, it has plenty of power. Enough, in fact, to outrun its bigger, heavier predecessor. Even the standard 2.0-litre, 295bhp car cracks the 0-60mph dash in less than five seconds and tops out at more than 170mph. The 345bhp, 2.5-litre S model is about half a second faster to 60mph and gets closer to 180mph, and the 361bhp GTS version is even faster.
Add in the fact that it’s slightly more economical and marginally less polluting, and you’ve got more than enough reason to favour the Cayman; no matter how you frame it, these are undoubtedly good things.
But there’s more to a sports car than performance alone – a coupe like this has to feel right.
Fortunately, few car manufacturers can set up a car as well as Porsche, and the Cayman is just another of Stuttgart’s masterpieces.
It isn’t just the sublime feel of the steering, the perfect weight distribution or the smoothness of the gear change – plenty of sports cars have those qualities – but the Cayman brings them all together in a much more rounded way.
It’s as though Porsche’s engineers meticulously and obsessively designed and developed this car until they simply couldn’t find any more faults, no matter how small or insignificant.
You can’t even criticise the ride. The car feels as stiff and rigid as a sports car should, but the suspension is pliant enough to soak up the worst of the bumps. Buy one of these and long trips won’t strike fear into your heart or pain into your back.
I’m sure much of that is down to the seats. Despite being the ‘basic’ Porsche, everything inside the 718 Cayman is beautifully made, and the seats are more-or-less perfect. Okay, they’ve got manual fore-aft adjustment as standard, and that feels a bit like penny-pinching, but you sink into them as though they were moulded for you. You’ve got bags of wiggle-room, too, and the driving position is spot on, even if, like me, you’re well over six feet tall.
And the best thing about buying the cheapest Porsche? It’s cheap.
No, not cheap like a packet of crisps is cheap, but relatively inexpensive compared with its rivals. Prices start at around £40,000, and that’s about £10,000 less than you’ll pay for a Jaguar F-Type. It’s also about half the price of Porsche’s other coupe – the famous 911.
Of course, it’s not all hunky-dory. The biggest issue is the practicality – or lack of it. It only has two seats, and because the engine is just behind the driver, rather than in front, the boot isn’t what you’d call capacious. There is a fairly sizeable storage bin (there’s no other word for it) under what would ordinarily be the bonnet, but it’s a funny shape, and you get some even funnier looks if you try to put your shopping in there.
The buttons on the dashboard are tiny, too, and you might want a couple of extra toys thrown in for your money (fully electric seat adjustment, for example), but other than that, I’ve got nothing. The 718 really is that good.
If this is the automotive manifestation of ‘less is more’, then I’m all for it. The 718 Cayman may now be the cheapest Porsche, but that’s a bit like being Manchester City’s cheapest player – it’s hardly a slight on its ability.
James Fossdyke, Drive Editor
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