Porsche 911 2020 review: Carrera Coupe
The 992 series of the iconic Porsche 911 is off to a hot start, can the entry-level Carrera Coupe keep it on pace?
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If you were to write a recipe for the ultimate driver’s car, there’s a good chance it would wind up looking and smelling a lot like the Cayman GT4.
Yes, you can buy a handful of things without a roof, windscreen, doors or even body panels that wear number plates - few of which qualify in Australia - that will bring a driver even closer to the action, but they really stretch the definition of the word ‘car’.
If you consider the bare fundamentals of a car to include keeping you dry, warm, cool, able to accept at least one passenger and be equipped with fundamental safety features, while being civilised enough to drive every day when needed, plus factory service and warranty support in every capital city, we’re on the same page.
For many pursuants of the ultimate driving experience, the letters G, T and 3 tend to signify this pinnacle, and rightly so after the past three generations of 911 GT3 have defined the benchmark for the perfect balance between track readiness and road-going legitimacy. They’re not the fastest 911s, but as close as you’ll get to a GT3 Cup race car without ditching said number plates.
But as magical as the 911 GT3 formula tends to be, and I managed to spend some quality time aboard the utterly intoxicating 991.2 GT3 Touring with its GT-spec six-speed manual, the idea of a rear-engined car with the back seats removed just doesn’t sit well with my pragmatic brain.
The missing seats do save weight, but surely the result would be even better if the now-useless abyss were occupied by an engine within the wheelbase to neaten the weight distribution. Heck, even the latest 911 RSR has worked this out and become the first mid-engined 911 race car.
Adding stiffness beyond the drop-top Boxster, the already mid-engined Cayman was always crying out for the GT treatment, and it took a full decade to be granted this with the first (981) Cayman GT4 in 2016.
I never had the chance to drive it, but the combination of its theoretically ideal engine layout, track-focused calibration from the holy halls of Porsche’s GT department from top to bottom, with a naturally aspirated engine and a manual gearbox just seemed spot on. Aside from a few complaints about certain transmission ratios, its reputation suggests my theory proved correct.
Despite most of the Porsche range moving toward regulation-friendly smaller capacity turbocharged engines in the years since, Porsche has now delivered a new 718 Cayman GT4 with an even bigger naturally-aspirated engine that's within one cubic centimetre of the GT3’s.
And here it is on Australian roads, sitting at the top of the 718 Cayman tree above the Cayman, Cayman S and upcoming Cayman GTS, and alongside the mechanically identical Boxster Spyder.
|Porsche 718 2020: Cayman GTS 4.0|
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Looking at the new GT4 in isolation, it’s easy to presume that Porsche has just recycled the previous 981 GT4’s styling details and wrapped them around the newer 718 package with a bigger engine.
But aside from the 20x8.5 front, 20x11 rear wheels that still miss out on the GT3’s sexy centre-lock hubs, it’s all discretely new and slightly more aggressive.
The purposeful nose with massive air inlets in the front and outlets in the sides and top now has an extended splitter, which protrudes noticeably more than the Boxster Spyder.
Similarly at the rear, the rear bumper’s diffuser insert has been extended, with the same split dual exhausts of the new Cayman GTS poking through it.
There’s two levels of rear spoiler above the bumper too, with a fixed ducktail between the lights and the reshaped Meccano-like wing at the top is now fixed compared to the previous adjustable unit and delivers 20 per cent more downforce.
The removable front splitter element of the 981 GT4 is also gone, and this simplification has helped Porsche to boost net downforce by 50 per cent while protecting drag and therefore top speed capability. Porsche says this GT4 will do 304km/h, which is 9km/h faster than the 981 GT4 and now Ferrari F40 money. At this top speed, the rear wings and diffuser combine to deliver 122kg of downforce.
Its longer skirts front and rear are complemented by the GT3’s rose-jointed front suspension architecture along with a GT4/Spyder-specific rear wheel knuckles. The whole lot sits 30mm lower than a regular Cayman with PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) dampers offering two switchable settings.
In keeping with Porsche tradition, the standard brakes are similarly exotic, with six-piston front, four-piston rear calipers wrapped around massive 380mm steel rotors at each end. These calipers are natively red, but optioned black on our car. Carbon ceramics are optional, but more on that below.
The tyres are new N1-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, measuring 245/35ZR20 up front and a broad 295/30ZR20 at the rear.
This all combines to deliver a claimed 12-second faster 7:28 Nürburgring Nordschleife lap than the 981 GT4. This is also four seconds ahead of the Carrera GT’s official time, and one of those will cost you at least $800,000 these days.
Claimed 0-100km/h performance is the same 4.4s as the previous 981 GT4 though, despite gaining 26kW from its extra 195cc, but both are countered (officially) by an extra 80kg of overall weight.
The manual-only (for now) GT4’s 0-100km/h time is only three tenths quicker than a regular Cayman with the optional PDK auto and Sport Chrono Package. This is a solid half-second behind the most recent GT3 manuals and the AMG A45 S that will cost you half as much, but remember that GT Porsches are about a whole lot more than just acceleration numbers. For the record though, Porsche says the new GT4 will climb to 160km/h in 9.0s and 200km/h in 13.8s.
We like to think of the Cayman as the 911’s little brother, but the also-aluminium and steel composite-bodied GT4 is actually officially 7kg heavier than a GT3 Touring at a stated 1420kg unladen. It’s hard to pinpoint where the extra 80kg over the 981 GT4 has come from, but various reports suggest it’s due to a more complex exhaust system and the larger starter motor that comes with its start/stop system.
This is where things get interesting though. Like the new 992 911, European-spec 718 GT4’s come with petrol particulate filters (PPFs) within its dual exhausts to help it gain the required Euro 6 emissions compliance. Australian models do not come with these filters because the high sulfur content in our unleaded fuel is outside the operating parameters of the PPFs. But, the Australian GT4 spec sheet states the same 1420kg. As I write this after returning our GT4, I’m wishing I’d thought to visit a weighbridge during our time with the car. Could Australian GT4s be lighter, and therefore faster?
Bottom line though, the 718 GT4 has a significant fundamental performance disadvantage over the GT3 Touring due to its inferior weight-to-power ratio, which is officially 4.60kg/kW vs 3.84. Even if the lack of petrol particulate filters made it 80kg lighter, the GT4’s number would still be 4.34kg/kW. Lucky it’s $120,000 cheaper than the 911 (when new) then!
It also turns out there’s not as much of a difference in the weight distribution either between the two. Despite having all of its engine ahead of the rear axle, the new GT4’s weight balance is officially split 44/56 front to rear, compared to the 40/60 figure touted by the latest GT3. There’s clearly a lot to be said for that transmission, exhaust and that rear wing sitting behind the axle!
This fact is also illustrated by the GT3 only scoring an extra 10mm of rubber on each rear tyre, but this is surely a stat for the pie hole of modern-911 doubters.
Another myth worth busting is the size difference between the GT3 and GT4. The ‘baby’ Porsche is 130mm shorter overall, but rides on a 27mm longer wheelbase and is actually 16mm wider between the mirrors. The GT4 is only 2mm lower too, according to the spec sheets.
Despite sharing front suspension architecture, the GT4’s 1538mm front track is 13mm narrower, and the 1534mm rear track is similarly 21mm narrower.
So given that the 911 is actually a pretty large car these days, so too is the Cayman. An MX-5 rival, it is not.
The inside of the GT4 has also been treated to some GT department finery, stepping up from the already slick details of the regular 718 Cayman.
A combination of black leather and Alcantara covers most surfaces, offset by decorative stitching and brushed aluminium (or body colour at no cost) inlays, GT-traditional fabric door pulls and GT4 logos on the door sills and embroidered into the headrests.
The same delightfully round (not flat-bottomed) and buttonless steering wheel from the GT3 is wrapped with Alcantara. But as ideal the faux suede is when wearing racing gloves, my GT4’s steering wheel would take advantage of the smooth leather no cost option which is much grippier with naked hands. This option also swaps the Alcantara gear selector to the same leather.
At the centre of the 718 GT4 story, or rather just ahead of the rear axle, is a 4.0-litre (3995cc) naturally aspirated flat-six engine, romantically paired with a six-speed H-pattern manual transmission. There’s a dual-clutch PDK version on the way, but not until 2021.
This engine shares the same 4.0 label as the most recent GT3, but is one cubic centimetre smaller, with a 13:1 compression ratio that's just shy of the GT3's 13.3:1.
This current setup is a similar formula to the 981 GT4, but the engine capacity has grown by 195cc and the new 26kW-greater 309kW peak power output is delivered 200rpm later at 7600rpm, or just before the 8000rpm redline. Max torque is the same 420Nm as before though, and available from a 250rpm higher point at 5000rpm, but its span all the way to 6,800rpm is 550rpm broader than before.
These numbers are 59kW and 40Nm less than the latest GT3, but it needs 8250rpm and 6000rpm to reach its respective peaks, but doesn’t redline until a stratospheric 9000rpm.
Anything with such oversquare dimensions as its 102mm bore and 81.5mm stroke is bound to be pretty peaky, but Porsche boasts that it has made direct-injected Piezo injectors work for the first time with such a rev capacity.
The 991 GT3 was a landmark for the model name in only offering the more technically pure PDK dual-clutch auto transmission, but the latest 991.2 version spread this appeal to include the now pleasure-centric manual.
The new GT4 is going about it the other way though, being manual-only for now, with the PDK to come later. However it’s the former that fits the recipe for ultimate driver appeal I mentioned at the start.
But rather than the GT-specific manual unit from the GT3, the GT4 unit is simply a version of the regular six-speed Cayman unit with a shortened shifter.
All ratios match other manual 718 Caymans, with each ratio significantly taller than a GT3 manual, with a slightly shorter final drive ratio. Does this matter? Read on...
After the transmission, power is sent to the wheels via a mechanically locking rear differential, which works in conjunction with the Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) which can apply individual rear brakes to send power to the opposing wheel when needed.
I’ve always been more of a fan of the Cayman’s two boot/two seat layout than the 911’s tiny front boot/tiny back seats tradition. Unless you need to carry tiny people in the back, you’ll probably agree.
The GT4 continues with the Cayman norm, with the deep 150-litre cavity in the nose complemented by a very handy 275 litres under the rear hatch, with an extra shelf above the engine for long or flat items. Considering a standard shopping trolley holds 212 litres, the Cayman’s net 425 litres is arguably Costco-ready.
There’s also a pair of handy lidded cubbies either side of the rear shelf, an expandable compartment in each door, and the 718 has still got the 991 911’s brilliant adjustable cup holders that fold out of the area above the glovebox.
Despite only having two seats, there’s no top tether or ISOFIX provision to fit a baby seat on the passenger side of the GT4.
With a $206,600 list price that’s exactly $119,800 lower than the starting point of the 991.2 GT3 Touring when it was new, the 718 Cayman GT4 appears to be a relative bargain, particularly given it’s less than $35,000 more than the Cayman GTS that’s due to arrive any minute. This is relative value, remember.
The new GT4 does start at a $16,300 higher point than the previous GT4, but I doubt that’s going to rob Porsche of any sales.
For a car with such a track focus, it’s still packed with fundamental comforts like dual-zone climate control, heated seats with partial electric adjustment and auto headlights.
Unlike the 911 Carrera T, there’s no silly need to opt in to have the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) multimedia system, which brings built-in sat nav, DAB+ digital radio and Apple CarPlay but still no Android Auto. There’s also cruise control but not an active system.
It also comes prepared for the Porsche Track Precision smartphone app, which works in conjunction with the sat nav to deliver track telemetry to your phone including sector and lap times.
Our GT4 was also fitted with an array of options, including 18-way electric sports seats ($5150), yellow stitching throughout the cabin ($6160), carbon fibre interior details ($1400), Alcantara sun visors ($860), body colour seatbelts ($570), yellow top centre marking on the steering wheel ($500), and Bose surround audio ($2470).
On the outside, it was treated to a black GT4 tail badge ($540), gloss black brake calipers ($1720), LED headlights with active beams ($2320), colour coded headlight spray nozzles ($420) and electric folding door mirrors with puddle lamps ($620).
It was also equipped with the Chrono Package ($1000), which brings the now-classic analog stopwatch on the dash top and lap-recording capability and advanced trip computer functions within the multimedia screen. The Chrono Package can also be combined with a further optional lap trigger, so you can take control of your own automatic lap timing at track days.
All told, our Cayman GT4 carries a sticker price of $230,730 before on-road costs.
The standard body colour choices are the Racing Yellow of our test car, white, black or classic Porsche Guards Red. There’s numerous other options available, at a price.
The Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) package is also available as an option ($16,620), which is signified by yellow calipers and pushes braking performance even further with 410mm front and 390mm rear rotors, and cuts 50 per cent of the weight of the standard rotors from the unsprung mass.
Carbon-framed but still leather and Alcantara clad full bucket seats can be had for $11,250, and a bolt-in rear rollcage, six-point driver’s harness and 2.5kg fire extinguisher comes with the Clubsport package ($8250).
The 718 Cayman GT4 carries an Australian official combined fuel consumption figure of 11.3L/100km, which is right up there these days, but remember it is a highly-strung naturally-aspirated 4.0-litre engine. It does have a start/stop system to help mitigate consumption in congested driving conditions and cylinder deactivation to do the same under light throttle cruising.
We saw a 12.4L/100km average on the trip computer at the end of our testing, which is not bad considering our mixed conditions included the photography session, which is never easy on consumption.
According to the fuel flap, the GT4 will manage on 95 RON premium unleaded, but prefers more expensive 98 RON to do its best.
Based on our test average, the 64-litre tank should give an easy 516km between fills.
Porsche does a great job of keeping up with the modern car status quo in many areas, but still falls into the niche performance car fold when it comes to occupant safety transparency.
So there’s still no independent safety rating for the Cayman, let alone the GT4.
As far as features go, it ticks the fundamental boxes, with dual front, side and curtain airbags, along with stability control which incorporates the aforementioned torque vectoring function for the rear wheels.
It’s also got a reversing camera built into the multimedia screen and rear parking sensors, but no sensors at the front or cross-traffic alerts at either end.
Given its intended function of spending significant time on race tracks, you may be happy to take safety in your own hands, but be aware that it’s missing a lot of features that do come standard on a Mazda2 for less than $20,000.
3 years / unlimited km warranty
Like all Porsches, the Cayman GT4 is covered by the brand’s three year, unlimited kilometre warranty. This is still around average for the big premium brands, but note that Genesis and Mercedes-Benz have stepped up to five-year periods.
Despite being such a focused performance model, GT4 service intervals are still noted as 12 months or 15,000km, but rather than offering a capped-price servicing plan, Porsche leaves pricing up to individual dealers.
The GT4 tingles the spine from the moment you twist the key fob in the ignition. This is almost a retro touch in this start-button era, but still provides a more comfortable place to store keys than your jeans.
The 4.0-litre settles to a high idle, with the engine generating a metallic whine that conventional analysis would probably be deemed as a ‘hell of a racket back there,’ but if you’re on board with its purpose it’s a welcome part of the GT experience.
The abundance of Alcantara, fabric door pulls and perfectly placed controls bring a great motorsport ambience to the cabin. The lack of the usual flat-bottomed wheel may be a bit less racy, but I’m a big advocate of round wheels in road cars with more than one turn from lock to lock as they don’t feel like you’re steering with a 50 cent coin.
While I’ve gone to town on the engineering details above, I’m not going to pretend for one second that I was able to test the full breadth of the GT4’s performance or dynamic capabilities. A race track with comparative data would be essential to tell that story.
I’m also not going to pretend I felt a clear benefit of the Cayman’s mid-mounted engine - the modern 911 overcomes it’s arse-dragging layout so well - but it fills me with joy just knowing that the sharpest formula is being applied to the sharpest layout.
I can tell you that the GT4 feels perfectly suited to its spot on the Cayman spectrum, which starts off in a pretty special space with the base model, and gets marginally sharper with each trim level right up to GT4. And the GT4 is juuuust on the civilised side of too harsh to drive on the road, but dripping with precision from every moving part.
That roar from behind is always there, and pushing the exhaust button on the centre console only liberates a tad more snarl and burble.
There’s no drive modes here, aside from the two-mode PASM dampers that probably deliver no advantage in Sport mode than adding to the ‘racy’ feel. The default setting is excellent given the limited suspension travel and low profile tyres, it’s really quite compliant even on coarse country roads.
You can actually hear the throttle opening via the right hand air inlet scoop adjacent to the driver’s right elbow. It literally gulps for air as you depress the accelerator pedal. Given there’s a matching inlet on the passenger side, they’d probably have the same experience.
The sharpness of the throttle response is refreshingly focused, given most cars seem to second guess your right foot in the name of fuel efficiency these days.
It’s also rare to experience such a big naturally aspirated engine for the same reason, and it’s really tractable for something with no turbos attached, pulling sweetly from about 2000rpm in a linear fashion all the way to the 8000rpm end of the tacho.
That six-speed shifter is also a sharp tool, with its shorter throw probably behind its slight weightiness and the gates are all nicely defined and it clicks from gear to gear just as it should, even when stone cold in the middle of a Blue Mountains winter.
Do those relatively tall ratios matter on the road? I must say I didn’t really notice during my time with the car. They’re all close enough to one another and it rockets away from rest. It might make a difference if you were chasing outright acceleration times or tenths on a tight race track, but I don’t feel it detracts from the everyday driving thrills. And it actually sits at 2600rpm at 100km/h in 6th, so it’s about 600rpm shorter at that speed than the production car norm.
If you’re still working on your heel-toe coordination there’s an auto-blip function for ensuring perfect downshifts, but thankfully this is switchable for those of us who enjoy doing it the hard way.
I feel one of the defining elements of the GT4’s precision is the amazing lack of play in its drivetrain. Therefore it feels just as sharp stepping off the throttle as it does on, which is great for maintaining smoothness as you approach the limits of adhesion.
Helping to telegraph these limits is the steering, which no matter what you may recall about the pre-electric Porsche steering days, is simply excellent by modern standards, with lovely feel and consistent weighting. As I mentioned above, I’d prefer grippier leather around the rim than the standard Alcantara, but that’s easily fixed.
The general handling is playful but balanced and controllable when those big Michelins are cold, and fantastically capable when you’re underway. It feels as though the centre of gravity is so low it should scrape along the road.
One thing that does like to interact with the ground with frustrating frequency is the elongated front splitter. Even the most gentle driveway entrances and speed humps need extreme caution to avoid that blood-curdling noise, and it makes you worry it’s going to kiss the ground under hard braking. Thankfully, the GT4 sticks with the GT tradition of integrating a replaceable unpainted section for this perilous edge, but I can’t imagine ever being comfortable leaving any GT4 residue on the bitumen.
Speaking of brakes, the GT4 leaves you wanting for nothing in terms of stopping power on the road. The standard steel units are quite huge after all, although they do require more pedal pressure than most to do their best. They also hardly generated any brake dust on the rims during our time. Or perhaps they’re just colour coded with the pad material...
The previous 981 GT4 earned instant legend status, and the new one is surely better again. Anyone who bemoans its sub-911 status either has no shortage of the folding stuff or hasn’t driven both.
There’s certainly faster things around - an E63 or M5 are a full second quicker to 100km/h for similar money - but GT Porsches are about a whole lot more than acceleration times. That Nurburgring figure is more of a decent guide to its outright capability, and it’s about 10 seconds faster than the M5 on that score. I know which car would be more fun to generate those times too.
That fun extends to outright driver satisfaction too, with the overall precision of the mechanical package combining with the peaky nature of the naturally aspirated engine and manual transmission to make the driver a key component in achieving its best.
Given its aero bits aren’t delivering their best until triple the Australian national highway limit, I reckon there’s room for a Touring version in the same vein as the wingless 991.2 GT3. One that also uses the shorter splitter from the 718 Spyder. Now that would be a great driver’s car for the road.
The also-4.0-litre Cayman GTS will surely come close to this, but the GT version will always be the master of the finer details.
As far as performance driving pleasure goes, the 718 Cayman GT4 is the rightest of rights in my book, so far.
Professional photography supplied by David Parry Photography
|Boxster||2.0L, ULP, 7 SP AUTO||$94,800 – 119,900||2020 Porsche 718 2020 Boxster Pricing and Specs|
|Boxster GTS||2.5L, ULP, 6 SP MAN||$141,900 – 179,410||2020 Porsche 718 2020 Boxster GTS Pricing and Specs|
|Boxster GTS 4.0||4.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$150,500 – 190,300||2020 Porsche 718 2020 Boxster GTS 4.0 Pricing and Specs|
|Boxster S||2.5L, ULP, 7 SP AUTO||$115,000 – 145,200||2020 Porsche 718 2020 Boxster S Pricing and Specs|
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|Price and features||8|
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