September 24, 2022

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2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS writes a love letter to mid-engine design

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Strapped into the driver’s seat of the 2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS, I’m trying to listen to the hand radio stashed next to the gearshift, but I can’t make out the words. I assume they’re instructions from the Porsche factory driver that I’m chasing, since I asked before this latest session of hot laps about the ideal line to take in the upcoming heavily banked lefthander after an uphill straightaway.

Instead of speech, the noises sound more like the teacher squawks from a Charlie Brown cartoon because 9,000 rpm of fury is clanging behind me like a thousand tiny firecrackers and I don’t dare to ltake a hand off the wheel to turn up the radio. Whatever I did must have been correct, because after I make it through the turn I hear a “good job!” from the radio and I murmur the same thing back to the hottest 718 Cayman to date. It deserves the praise, because it’s the rare car that can magnify a driver’s skills and provide greater confidence thanks to its sublime mix of balance, grip, and feel.

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

I’ve ventured to Willow Springs raceway in the California desert and as a staunch advocate of Porsche’s mid-engine sports car offerings, this is a day I’ve been waiting for for a long time. Rumors of a 718 Cayman or Boxster coming with the holy grail of engines, the 4.0-liter flat-6 out of a 911 GT3, have swirled for the better part of a decade. The day has finally come to see what this car can do with a race car engine in the middle.

Instead of driving Big Willow, the larger track with more straightaways and high-speed sweeping corners, we are on the smaller Streets of Willow. This tighter and more technical track is the right choice for this car because it provides more chances for the coupe to show off its handling and balance, while still offering a few sections to give the GT4 RS full throttle. 

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

What makes it an RS

Changes to the GT4 RS are substantial compared to the standard 718 Cayman GT4. Beyond what lies in the engine bay, chassis, suspension, and aerodynamic upgrades give the car an all-around boost in performance, not just more speed. 

Starting under the sheet metal, the whole front subframe of the car has been swapped out, integrating the front of a 991 Carrera 4S into the Cayman. This change allows for the installation of a front axle lift system that raises the car’s front diffuser by 1.6 inches so it can make it over speedbumps. The car uses the front and rear axles from the GT4, but new RS-specific dampers sit at each corner and the spring rates are cranked up to increase stiffness. Ball joints are used for all of the chassis bearing points front and rear; when Markus Atz, project manager for the 718 GT cars, was asked if that might make the ride too harsh, he said, “Not at all. The RS models are all about racing. If we have the choice to go to the comfort side or sporty side, we go to the sporty side.”

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

Unlike the GT4’s engine, which was a modified version of the flat-6 from a 992 generation 911 with the turbos removed, the GT4 RS goes straight to the pinnacle and rips out the 4.0-liter flat-6 from the newest 992 generation 911 GT3. In this application it makes slightly less power, 493 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque versus 502 hp and 346 lb-ft in the GT3. Atz said that the goal was to keep the same engine output, but they couldn’t manage to get enough airflow due to exhaust system changes necessitated by the engine’s new position in the middle of the car instead oft the rear. Trust me, you won’t miss the few extra horses, and, most importantly, the engine keeps the same sky-high 9,000 rpm redline.

The only transmission option is a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with the shortest gearing ever found in a Porsche GT car. Seventh is no longer an overdrive gear, so the car’s top track speed of 196 mph is reached in the top gear. The transmission control unit is lifted from the last generation 911 GT3 RS, with some specific tuning changes for the GT4 RS.

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

Porsche made lots of styling updates made with the goal of adding cooling to the engine and improving the aerodynamics. It gets a swan-neck rear wing like the latest generation 911 GT3 with three height settings. The front diffuser also has four settings and on the track we ran with both in their most aggressive performance positions, which produces 220 lb of downforce at 124 mph (a 25% improvement over the GT4). New side air intakes where the rear windows would be and enlarged intakes behind the doors feed additional air to the high-strung engine.

The GT4 RS tips the scales at just 3,227 lb, 49 lb lighter than the GT4. The added air ducts, larger front brake rotors, and spoiler add around 23.5 lb, but lightweight body panels made of carbon fiber, carbon-fiber bucket seats, the GT3 engine, reduced sound deadening, and other minor changes pull out 72 lb. Opting for the magnesium wheels shaves off another 22 lb, and the carbon-ceramic brakes take off another 37.5 lb, but neither option comes cheap—the wheels add $15,640 to the price tag and the brakes $8,000.

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

Full throttle fun

For the three sessions of hot laps, we run Streets of Willow in reverse configuration. The downside is that there are several blind corners and it takes the entire first session of to figure out the best place to point the car when exiting each of them. But the upside is that it offers a steeply banked, descending radius turn that really tests the car’s balance, two straights where I get to lay on the throttle for an extended period, and a slight chicane up a hill that tests the car’s downforce.

With the GT3 engine, those straightaways may have been the best sections because as the engine approaches its 9,000 rpm redline it produces a splendid noise that causes nearly as much sensation as the speed does. It sounds a bit more high-pitched than it does in the GT3, thanks to the shape of the airbox and engine position, but it’s still an invigorating engine note akin to a hive of angry bees. Less sound deadening means the roar crashes splendidly around the cabin.

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

Porsche estimates a blistering 0-60 mph time of 3.2 seconds and it feels fully capable of hitting that mark. The engine’s throttle mapping makes it is easy to put down the exact amount of power I want in any situation. That trait is only aided by the precision of the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox; it’s a perfect dance partner on a track, working in lockstep with the driver and engine. Whether accelerating or braking hard, it always finds the right gear and there are no surprise shifts mid-corner that can upset the car’s balance. If you do choose to use the paddles, they work telepathically. I grab my own gears for about half a lap until I realize that the computer is doing a better job and stop that foolishness quickly.

Like the GT3, this engine delivers power in a different way than the turbocharged powertrains that power most of the other 718 variants. The shorter gearing does give it some more kick at low rpm than I found in the GT3, but to unlock the best response you have to get high up in the rev range as maximum horsepower doesn’t arrive until 8,400 rpm. In its more aggressive settings, the transmission does a great job of keeping the engine in the power band once it gets there. I find that the way to extract the best performance is to take late apexes in the corners before straightaways, so I can get on the gas earlier and let the engine wind all the way out.

The chicane is the spot on the track that requires the most faith. It’s a slight left-right-left over a crest that leads into the back straightaway. The instructor noticed my nervousness after the first session of laps, but assured me that if I take it full out and trust the downforce the car will handle it beautifully. He’s right. As I pass 100 mph, I can feel the car hunker down and become even more stable as I keep the throttle pinned down.

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

Honesty is the best policy

“We decided to have a very pure car. No rear axle steering, no electronically controlled differential lock. It’s all mechanical. It’s a real analog car, it tells the truth to you,” Atz said in describing the GT4 RS. The car acts like a mirror held up to your own driving. Brake too late, get on the gas too hard, turn in too sharply, and the GT4 RS is happy to let you know about each mistake.

But somehow the GT4 RS doesn’t feel harsh when it points out your deficiencies. Hop on the throttle with too much vigor on corner exit and the car starts to slide a bit, but it does so gradually and gives you a chance to course correct. Brake a hair too late into a corner and the car’s center-focused weight helps it to maintain balance and prevent disaster. Make those kinds of mistakes in a 911 and be prepared to dig gravel out of the wheel wells for the next hour.

The steering is spot on, with the perfect amount of weight and loads of feedback. Initial turn-in feels dialed up a notch from the other 718 Cayman models and it’s absurdly easy to put the car exactly where you want it in a corner. The strength of the 718 Cayman platform is its balance, and that too has been enhanced, thanks to the added stiffness of the suspension. Even as the car rotates it still feels controlled, and heavy braking that nearly activates the ABS doesn’t cause the nose to dive as it tracks dead straight.

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

Despite its stiff suspension, the GT4 RS also controls rebound extraordinarily well. I can feel it compress under braking or as downforce increases as speed builds, but it doesn’t leap back up as you might think it to unsettle the nose going into corners. Instead, it slowly unfurls itself and the balance is maintained, even when I let off the brakes (which offer superb stopping power) too suddenly.

Driving the GT4 RS feels like a cheat code. I’m not good enough to extract the maximum performance from the car—only a professional driver would be—but its prodigious abilities provide added confidence and the car is making me look better than I am. Once I learn to trust the grip and how neutral it stays under braking, I push beyond what I thought my limits were on this track. 

Perhaps more importantly, it’s incredibly fun to drive even when not pushed to the absolute limit. Even on the first set of hot laps which were taken at a lower speed to learn the track layout, it feels eager and lithe rather than bored. Though our testing only took place at the track it presages a car that will also be fun running through canyon roads at less than full blast.

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

The cost of fun

The 718 Cayman GT4 RS starts at $143,050, including destination, a $40,500 markup over the  718 Cayman GT4. That translates to $1,716 for each of the 23.6 seconds that the GT4 RS shaves off the standard GT4’s time at the Nurburgring (7:04 for the RS vs 7:28 for the GT4 on the old layout).

My test included two versions of the GT4 RS, both with the ceramic brake package and front axle lift systems added among other cosmetic options. One car (the gray one shown above) comes with the Weissach package equipped, which gives several of the body parts an unfinished carbon-fiber look, titanium exhaust tips that glow blue when heated, a carbon-fiber intake cover and air inlets over the engine, and a Porsche decal on the rear glass. It adds another $13,250 and is the only way to also get the lighter magnesium wheels. Adding the Weissach package, wheels, brakes, and various cosmetic/interior upgrades stretches the price of the gray car up to a lofty $195,190. 

That puts it within about $1,000 of the 2022 911 GT3 I tested last year, and given the stature of each model it would seem silly to spend that much on a Cayman variant. However, the more I contemplate this conundrum, I think my choice would be the GT4 RS if the two cars were put side-by-side on a track. 

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS

Yes, the 911 GT3 has the higher performance ceiling as its faster ‘Ring time (6:59.9) would suggest and it has more cachet. But as good as it is, the GT3 still needs to be approached with a level of fear as it’s more punitive on mistakes and can get loose in a hurry. The 718 Cayman GT4 RS, in contrast, is easier to drive near the limit, and its forgiveness and approachability make up a large part of its appeal. I feel the need to be perfect behind the wheel of a GT3, but in the Cayman I feel like I’m learning to grow my own limits at the car’s encouragement. It’s an incredible teacher, and an even better machine.

The 2022 718 Cayman GT4 RS arrives this summer and is available for order now.

Porsche paid for track time and a hotel room for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.

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