THE FOLLOWING 1,200-or-so words constitute something of a tease, because unless you've already ordered a brand new Porsche Cayman GT4, there's very little chance of getting your hands on one – or at least not for a considerable time. Every example of the first allocation of Porsche's new, mid-engine road rocket – the first Cayman to bear the coveted GT initials (the GTS doesn't count), worn only by the marque's purest, high-performance road cars – was sold long before the car's launch. And though the company says production numbers will be determined by demand, the wait is certain to be lengthy.
That's not, of course, counting the interminable speculation as to whether there'd ever be a properly hard-core Cayman, which began way back in 2005, shortly after the introduction of the Porsche Boxster derived coupe. The conventional wisdom was that there wouldn't, on the grounds that a GT-badged Cayman would likely eat into sales of its bigger and more expensive brother, the 911 Carrera, even though the former's chassis was clearly capable of handling way more power and performance. True or not, the appearance of the GT4 has finally laid that theory to rest.
Long though the wait has been, it now looks as if it's been worth every minute. For after two days with it on the roads of southern Portugal I'm convinced that the GT4 is not only plain brilliant, but also one of the best Porsches – and thus one of the best sports cars – ever built.
In retrospect it could hardly have been otherwise, for once the project received the green light, the team at the Weissach skunkworks were given the run of the Porsche parts inventory. From these they selected such prime ingredients as a naturally aspirated, 3.8-litre, quad-cam flat six that's more or less straight from the current Carrera S. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, front axle, steering, parts of the front suspension and dampers come from the 911 GT3, as do the brakes, which can be upgraded to carbonceramic discs, while the optional one-piece bucket seats are almost identical to those on the fabulous 918 Spyder hypercar.
Bespoken for the GT4, however, is the six-speed manual gearbox, a glorious short-throw affair that's almost as slick as a stick-shift can be – I say “almost”, because I do manage to fluff a gear change now and then, though hardly to the detriment of rapid progress across the Portuguese countryside. Porsche readily admits that a seven-speed, dual-clutch PDK box would have been quicker but, so as to ensure maximum driver involvement, that won't be available for this ultimate Cayman, even as an extra-cost option.
Equally unique are the GT3-style air vent between the headlights, the splitter and enlarged front and side air intakes and, at the rear, the massive wing that helps plant its curvaceous rump onto the road (Porsche says that the new aero add-ons together produce 100kg of downforce). Track is slightly wider than on standard Caymans, and the GT4 also rides closer to the tarmac.
For a car designed to be hardcore, the 4's interior is surprisingly civilised. Although the body-coloured canvas door handles give a nod to its race-track focus, and the racing seats can only be adjusted manually, everything is otherwise luxuriously finished and beautifully detailed, from the (extra-cost) contrasting stitching on the dash, doors, gearshift gaiter, wheel and squabs, to the liberal expanses of Alcantara and hide. Properly circular – there's no flat bit at the bottom – and devoid of buttons, switches and paddles, the steering wheel is refreshingly oldschool, its upper half framing an instrument binnacle that groups speedo and ancillaries around the central tachometer. The seats hug my torso like a corset and are wonderfully supportive. All, in other words, is exactly as it should be.
Slotting the motor in behind the cabin requires rotating it 180 degrees compared with the Carrera installation, the only other major difference being a revised exhaust system that results in a slight reduction in power and torque. In fact, at 380bhp and 420Nm, the GT4 gives away 15 horses and 20 Newtons to the 911, though these shortfalls are easily compensated for by the Cayman's lighter weight, and the agility and balance provided by its mid-engine layout. Performance is scintillating, with 0-100km/h in a claimed 4.4 seconds and maximum speed of 295, though what these figures don't convey are the unblown engine's eagerness to rev, the instant throttle response that quickly builds to a volcanic eruption above 4,000rpm, and the chassis' refusal to come unstuck.
Although torque isn't phenomenal, a gently ascending curve of grunt means abundant flexibility from the horizontally opposed six. On the hill roads leading to the Algarve's Portimão racing circuit, where short straights are repeatedly punctuated by tight bends, third gear seems to work just fine, the engine pulling lustily from as low as 35km/h to a scarcely believable 170, so I rarely feel the need to snatch a lower or higher ratio. And such is the incredible power of the carbon-ceramic brakes fitted to the test vehicle, which reliably haul the car from dizzying velocities to near walking pace and positively encourage last-moment braking, that I'd swear the GT4 is a swifter and more accurate cross-country tool than a bona fide supercar costing three times as much (and remember that in Europe it costs a relatively paltry €86,000).
The Cayman makes all the right noises, too, sounding positively animal when the Sport and exhaust buttons are engaged and the boxer motor barks through the twin tailpipes, with rorty throttle blips to enliven the downshifts. A separate button on the console firms the active dampers, and though Sport is never so brutal as to rattle my spine out of kilter, the Normal setting can be regarded as the default for all but the smoothest road surfaces. On corners the GT4 grips like Superglue, a tribute to its revised suspension, those fat Michelin tyres and the additional downforce that plants it firmly on the tarmac, while the electromechanical steering is sharp, pinpoint accurate and unfailingly intuitive.
In fact, so rewarding, accessible, forgiving, fast and fun is this ultra-Cayman, as it darts along the wonderfully empty byroads in warm Mediterranean sunshine, that I'm beginning to feel absurdly confident by the time I reach the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. Here, on this undulating and demanding racing circuit, twice world rally champion Walter Röhrl is waiting to demonstrate the GT4's track abilities.
I climb in beside him for three heart-in-mouth laps, the car seeming to dance at the very edge (though the motorsport legend tells me he's driving “at around 30 percent”), and I realise two things. First, that I'd never have made a racing driver, and second, that given more power in this fabulous chassis, Röhrl would take the Cayman round even faster.
As for me, I'm so smitten with the GT4, a car whose awesome abilities more than fulfil its promise to provide the ultimate in driving pleasure and involvement, that I'd happily sleep in it, so reluctant am I to vacate the driving seat. You'll probably have the same problem too, assuming you can get hold of one – though don't give up hope entirely if you can't: the next few months should see a Boxster Spyder, with the same characterful engine and roof-down fun to boot. And how desirable does that sound?