Test Drive: 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman

Carving up our favorite canyon roads in the Los Angeles area in the automaker's second least expensive vehicle

We’ve been (temporarily) handed the keys to some remarkably exclusive and outrageous sports cars, but the truth remains: we’re most satisfied by simplicity. And nobody does simple like German automakers, especially Porsche. The brand has a very particular way of making entertainment a function of all their cars, from entry-level to ultra-luxury. Such is the case with the 2020 718 Cayman, the second least expensive vehicle Porsche offers (though still $59,900), only after the Macan SUV.

In a marketplace defined by specialty models more than ever before, it’s difficult to understand if there’s a place for “basic” cars that don’t have extra badges to show off or industry-first features to brag about. So while the 718 Cayman may be “basic,” good luck finding one without any additional options on a US car lot. Additional good luck if you believe you have enough restraint to order one from Germany without ticking a single box in order to keep the cost below $60k. Porsche knows this. But the carmaker could also increase the base price of any of their models and people would still buy them—in part because of the brand cache they’ve cultivated, but most importantly because they’re just that good. Our week with a 2020 718 Cayman (in Racing Yellow) proved that point—showing that even the lowest rung of the Porsche ladder is miles above many competitors.

Three attributes define our vision of a successful sports car. First, the vehicle must possess enough character to make you want to drop what you’re doing at any given moment and go for a drive. Though we wouldn’t opt for Racing Yellow on the Cayman, we spent plenty of time behind the wheel and, when not on the road, thinking about it. The car certainly creates a sense of occasion—the second quality we’d argue to look for—when approaching, driving and even gazing at it as you lock up. The car’s tidy, sleek design bodes well for its timelessness.

Third on the list of essentials: aggressiveness. It should look fast even when parked, feel fast when you’re driving and actually be fast. Perhaps surprisingly, few contemporary sports vehicles can legitimately check all three of those boxes, primarily because the sensation of speed has been engineered out of so many insanely fast vehicles. The Cayman delivers a refined aggressiveness that’s felt from the moment you get the 2.0L turbos revved up.

As mentioned, it’s incredibly difficult not to tick at least one box when spec-ing out this vehicle, and that’s because there’s one must-have option: the Sport Chrono Package. For $2,090, drivers are given control over the responsiveness of the drivetrain via a subtle steering wheel-mounted dial. Our Cayman was equipped with Porsche’s vaunted PDK auto-manual seven-speed transmission instead of their (also exceptional) seven-speed manual and that proved even better for our testing purposes. Though we prefer a manual transmission for maximum driving enjoyment, the PDK provides an abundance of connection and allows drivers to focus further on the character of the chassis in each of the five driving modes—Normal, Sport, Sport+, Individual and Sport Response. Selecting the Individual mode allows drivers to toggle between steering, suspension and drivetrain settings from the three core modes. Sport Response provides 20 seconds of maximum power—like using turbo-boost in Mario Kart.

Around town, Normal mode sets the Cayman up to be a smooth and enjoyable daily ride, though clicking over to Sport mode provides an appealing extra exhaust burble and elevated throttle response when navigating city traffic. Things get spicier in Sport+ mode and we enjoyed the heat when carving up our favorite canyon roads in the Los Angeles area. It was out there, on the winding mountain roads, that the Cayman (with 300hp and a 170mph top speed) revealed it’s a highly capable mid-engine sports car—hidden under layers of conditioning that has us thinking a base model isn’t “enough.”

Many Porsche enthusiasts are compelled by the S, GTS or GT4 badge. But, for the vast majority of drivers, the 718 Cayman is plenty of car. It owns all the characteristics that a true sports car should, and we’d happily gaze upon an Aventurine Green Metallic model in our garage.

Images by Andrew Maness