Test Drive: 2015 Porsche Cayman GTS

The first time I drove a Porsche was in 2001. I had just sold my AWD Eagle Talon and I was looking into getting a rear-wheel-drive sports car. I was primarily on the hunt for a Mazda RX-7 TII or a MK3 Toyota Supra that needed a little bit of work so I could keep within my limited budget. I have a very distinct memory of that day. It was a bright, sunny, clear Tuesday and Toronto was enjoying a lovely spring. Back then, before the rise of online buy and sell forums, Tuesdays were special to me and my friends. Tuesdays were new Auto Trader day, and that meant hours of poring over the latest edition. Whether or not one of us was currently in the market for a new used car or not, we read it from cover to cover, absorbing all the information about different trim levels, models and most importantly, the current market value of any given car. On that particular Tuesday, I didn’t manage to find an affordable RX-7 or Supra, but what I did find towards the end of the new edition, buried in a page full of automotive appliances, was a 1985.5 Porsche 944 — and it was within my $6,000 budget! What makes this memory especially exceptional is that 14 years later, I'm sitting in the Auto Trader office, writing a review of a Porsche. It's funny how life can work out.

When I was asked if I wanted to review a 2015 Porsche Cayman GTS, the resounding “Hell, YES!” could have been heard back in 2001.

I called the dealer up and hopped into my friend's 12-second Mustang and headed over to the dealership. We got there and the 944 was indeed as clean as the dealer had told me over the phone. The car was beautiful. I'd never seen a 944 up close and I was mesmerized by the lines and wide rear end. Upon sitting in the 944, I was immediately struck by how well made everything was. The interior was gorgeous. I ran my hand over all the surfaces and eagerly fired it up. My buddy hopped in and we went on a spirited drive through the neighbourhood. Being a naturally aspirated 944, power delivery wasn't spectacular, but the car's chassis was incredibly rigid and solid. It was balanced, composed, and the car begged to be thrown around corners. I had never felt so confident in a vehicle before, though granted, I didn’t have much to compare it to at the time.

I wanted to buy the car there and then, but I was cautioned to take some time to think it over. After all, it’s a Porsche, not a Honda and replacement costs can be considerably higher. I went home to think about it and said I'd have an answer the next day. By morning, I'd made up my mind to go buy a Porsche, so I called them up only to discover the car was sold about three hours after I left the dealership. That ended my dreams of Porsche ownership but those 20 minutes of driving a 944 marked the beginning of my worship of all things Porsche.

The next time I would drive a Porsche would be 12 years later. I was working in automotive journalism and my dreams were being realized car by car. Over the past few years, I’ve had the good fortune to drive all manner of Porsches on and off the racetrack, so when I was asked if I wanted to review a 2015 Porsche Cayman GTS, the resounding “Hell, YES!” could have been heard back in 2001.

When I first laid eyes on the Carmine Red Cayman GTS, I experienced a similar sensation to what I would feel if Gillian Anderson - circa X-Files - was to walk into the room, with her sultry eyes, and motion a come-hither gesture while asking me if I "Want to believe”. It was gorgeous. The first thing that struck me was the front end. Blacked-out bi-xenon headlights with Porsche's Dynamic Light System Plus and a matte-black front lip connected to a huge opening – sans grille or mesh – is all business. Massive cooling vents on either side of the grille with two crowning LED-strip running lights frame the grille. The embroidered ‘GTS’ on the headrests feature prominently through the windshield. Muscular front fenders accentuate the headlight housings and wrap around the 20-inch wheels perfectly. The 911 Turbo split 10-spoke open design of the wheel shows off four-piston monobloc calipers that clamp down on 330-mm (15 mm larger than a base model Cayman’s) internally vented and cross-drilled rotors up front.

Looking at the side profile of the GTS, you’re immediately aware of the ride height that sits 10 mm lower than that of a Cayman S - thanks to the Porsche Active Suspension Management System (PASM) fitted on the GTS models. The lowered ride height and 20-inch wheels give the GTS a good-looking stance. Unsightly wheel gap is minimized and the brakes, in all their glory, are shown off and the wheel wells are full of tire and brake, promising traction and control with style for driver.

The bulging rear fenders give the Cayman its distinctive shape that sets it apart from the 911. The Cayman’s rear haunches feature a high-riding muscular look in contrast to the flatter, wider, lower profile of the 911. The result for the Cayman is a rear end that may not look as muscular as the flagship 911 but it's kind of like the difference between a well-defined body of a ballet dancer compared to the haunches of a pro football player.

The updated taillights feature a clear lens with blacked out inner sections to match the gorgeous headlights up front. While the taillights look great during the day, they truly shine (ba-dum-dum) when the sun goes down. The halo LED design looks fantastic and I was told by a friend that as they were following me, they were absolutely mesmerized by the lights. The rear fascia is also finished in matte-black, adding to the sinister, yet refined look of the GTS. When in dormant mode the active rear spoiler disguises itself as a low-profile duckbill-style lip and when it pops up, the spoiler instantly transforms the GTS into party mode, providing actual downforce at higher speeds.

The interior of the GTS matches the exterior. It’s all business but somehow manages to also feel refined at the same time. The all-black alcantara with contrasting Carmine Red accents and stitching invites the driver inside and makes you never want to leave. Carbon-fibre trim on the dashboard, doors and centre console add to the functional feel of the cabin. Like all Porsches, the driving position can be adjusted to absolute perfection for most drivers - thanks to the supportive Porsche Sport Plus seats and alcantara-wrapped wheel combination. Pedal position and placement is perfect for heel-and-toe downshifts.

Our tester was equipped with Porsche Communication Management (PCM) and CDR Audio System. I’ll be honest, I didn’t listen to much music in my time with the GTS as the exhaust provided a better soundtrack, but I did test the system and it offers up a crisp and powerful sound. The Bluetooth connection was flawless and it was simple to connect and set up. Once paired, I never had any issues for my time with the GTS. Navi and back-up camera systems worked as advertised.

Now the aesthetics, interior and options have been covered, let’s move on the goods — how does it dance?

The way I felt when I drove my first Porsche in 2001 came rushing back to me as soon as I fired up the GTS. A grin the Cheshire Cat would be proud of enveloped my entire face. The GTS is equipped with Porsche’s selectable sport exhaust system; at the push of a button, the driver can activate a valve in the exhaust system to shift between a more open setup, or a more closed setup for when you want to remain a little more stealthy. The raucous and brutal roar of the sport exhaust system set to open mode begged for a few quick revs. You don’t have a choice, it’s science. As soon as the GTS fires up, you’re compelled to give the throttle a couple of deep stabs. The heavens open up while the 340-hp 3.4L boxer-six clears its throat. On the way up through the rev range, the GTS snarls and roars and as soon as you let off, you’re rewarded with highly satisfying and addictive Rice Krispies.

The clutch on the GTS doesn’t require Herculean left leg muscles, as it’s really no stiffer than a BMW 335i or a Nissan 370Z. It grabs with a predictable bite that enables the driver to initiate quick and authoritative upshifts. It’s a quick car to learn and most drivers will get the hang of it after a couple of upshifts, resulting in smooth and seamless shifts. Gearbox feel is good for a sports car, I mean, really good, and when you’re getting on the throttle a little harder and a little higher up in the rev range, shifts feel just as smooth as they do at lower RPMs. A lot of sports car gearboxes can be pretty clunky and notchy, but the buttery smooth feel of the GTS is benchmark material to me. Heel and toe downshifts are a breeze, or you can enlist the aid of Porsche’s automatic rev-matching system. I pride myself on being a pretty confident driver that loves heel-and-toeing down three gears in rapid succession at the end of a back straight or before a particularly fun off-ramp, but Porsche’s rev-match system is far quicker and more precise than I could ever be. It's just one less thing to think about when you're on a hot lap. Rev-matches come just as fast as you can slide it into gear. This is working smarter, not harder.

The Cayman GTS comes standard with the Sport Chrono Package (SCP) and the aforementioned PASM. The SCP enables the driver to select different settings for damping and steering feel, according to the preference you have at the time.

I had the good fortune to have the GTS over a cottage weekend, so this meant I had to drive the GTS 200-odd km each way to the cottage through some of the best roads in Ontario up in the Muskoka area (life can be so hard sometimes). Traffic was light so I was able to play around with the PASM and SCP settings at different speeds and scenarios. With the exhaust set to quiet mode, PASM set all the way to soft and the Sport modes of the SCP disengaged, you’re still unmistakably driving a highly capable rear-drive sports car. The exhaust was quiet enough to carry on a conversation with my passenger at left-lane highway speeds without raising our voices. The suspension was compliant but still firm enough to remind you that you’re alive. The steering and throttle feel were as you would expect from a Porsche — crisp, quick and gratifying.

As an old-school gearhead that’s slowly coming to grips with modern cars and all the toys the future has brought, being able to select drive modes is still something of a novelty to me. Switching from all the modes set to soft to full boogie mode is like going from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1 – i.e., switching from the lowest state of readiness to imminent nuclear war. With the exhaust ‘turnt up’, Sport Plus engaged and PASM set to sport, the GTS bares its claws. A small blip of the throttle rewards the driver with instantaneous response. Engine braking is also enhanced and when you back off the throttle for the incoming corner, you get the gratifying snap, crackle and pop from the exhaust combined with predictable engine braking to put you in good shape to set your corner up perfectly.

Getting back on the throttle of the relatively light GTS invokes a gratifying rush that rewards you with an extra boost of fun once the needle climbs past the 5,000 rpm mark on the tachometer. At no point did I ever wish for more power from the GTS. It has the perfect hp-to-weight ratio for maximum fun without any intimidation like some higher-hp cars. The combination of the snarling exhaust and slightly peaky power band makes for some very fond memories and good times.

The PASM system is made up of an electronic system that regulates the behavior of your dampers. When set to Sport mode, the dampers stiffen up and the GTS becomes that much sharper. Steering inputs mid-corner - due to the the PASM and SCP set to Sport Plus - are more precise. Rebound and compression are also affected and it quickly becomes apparent the GTS is track-ready. When set to soft, the dampers soak up the bumps relatively well, in Sport mode, you feel every bump and change in road surface through the wheel, but the GTS also takes a firmer set once you’re mid corner. The GTS, true to its RWD, mid-engine layout, enables the driver to enter a corner fast and exit even faster. The weight balance and amount of traction is communicated plainly and at any time, the driver is aware of just how much traction is available. This is true for whatever mode you are in, the difference once you go to DEFCON 1, is that everything is enhanced and sharper.

The roads in the Muskoka area are made up of a wild combination of high-speed sweepers, decreasing radius corners, switchbacks and chicanes. Even at safe road speeds, the Cayman is a joy to drive. You feel connected to the car at all times, in complete control, and the more you drive the car the more confidence you have in it. Steady-state cornering capabilities are astounding. Without a doubt or any hesitation, I would say the Cayman GTS is right up there with the flagship 911 in terms of its road capabilities. At higher speeds (speeds you’d never see on a road), the GTS would probably give a little to the wider 911 with its rear-engine layout and bigger power, but for public roads and most race tracks in Canada, you’d be hard pressed to go faster in any 911 than you would a Cayman GTS. I can't stress enough just how much fun you have driving this car. It inspires confidence. It's light. It's comfortable when you want it to be, and stiff when you want to turn up the fun dial. It's not going to win many drag races but I can tell you I'd pick a GTS over any 911 for personal use, due to the drivability and fun-factor, hands down.

I guess I’d be remiss not to mention fuel economy. The six-speed manual GTS is rated at 12.7 L/100 km city and 7.1 L/100 km highway for a combined rating of 9.0 L/100 km. The PDK GTS is rated at 11.4 L/100 km city and 6.3 L/100 km highway for a combined rating of 8.2 L/100 km. Due to my heavy addiction of hearing the GTS snarl throughout its rev-range with heavy doses of the go pedal, I achieved a combined rating of about 12.5 L/100 km in real-world driving. I did manage to achieve 8.1 - 8.8 L/100 km through a 50 km stretch of hilly highway at around 110 - 120 km/h. That’s pretty impressive to me. Your mileage will vary.

Considering a base model 911 Carrera starts at $96,200 with no options, and a 911 Carrera S starts at $112,800, the well-optioned Cayman GTS is a great alternative to the kind of Porsche buyer looking for the ultimate driving experience for the lowest relative price. I know what I would buy...

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Alfa-Romeo 4C
Jaguar F-Type Coupe

2015 Porsche Cayman GTS
2015 Porsche Cayman GTS
Base Price $85,800
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,085
Price as Tested $103,095
Optional Equipment Carmine Red colour $2,950; GTS Communication package* $4,200; 20-inch 911 Turbo Design wheels $1,640; ParkAssist (front and rear) with reversing camera $1,730; Convenience Package $1,030 – heated seats, two-zone automatic A/C; Infotainment Package w/ Bose $4,560 – Porsche Communication Management w/ navigation, Bose surround sound, satellite radio, online services

*Despite the name, this is an interior trim package
Optional Equipment