If the Mazda Miata is the perfect starter sports car, then the new Cayman T is the perfect starter Porsche. For some people, it might be the perfect Porsche, period. After spending quality time with the new T, we can imagine an owner being perfectly satisfied with its simple goodness and not aspiring to one of Porsche’s more powerful and expensive sports cars. But we could have told you that after little more than a drive around the block. The T is that good.
The Cayman T has just gone on sale in the United States as a late-2020 model, joining four other variants in Porsche’s mid-engine 718 coupe lineup: the base Cayman, S, GTS 4.0, and GT4. (For open-air enthusiasts, there’s now a Boxster T as well.) Porsche reminds us of a master chef who finds ways of concocting multiple compelling dishes from many of the same quality ingredients. The T is the company’s latest delicacy, a combination of several flavorful condiments from the Cayman’s near-limitless options list. It’s a low-cost dish, too—well, low cost by Porsche standards—that you could almost duplicate by ordering the options separately.
Here’s the recipe: Start with a base Cayman and its standard 300-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four and six-speed manual transmission. Add the PASM sport suspension, which includes adaptive dampers and lowers the car 0.8 inch. Mix in a mechanical limited-slip differential, 20-inch 911 Carrera S wheels, and the Sport Chrono package. Garnish with blackened tailpipes, black rear-deck badging, a smaller-diameter GT sport steering wheel, and optional sport seats with a techy-look fabric. Add all the above to a standard Cayman, and it’ll cost you about three grand more than the T’s $67,750 base price.
Still, you won’t quite have a T. Only the T comes with its wheels painted a spiffy titanium gray, plus matching sideview mirrors and lower-body “T” decals that confirm you’ve got a specially cooked-up Porsche. The T also gets “718” stitched into its headrests, as well as the GT4 model’s short-throw shifter and awkward-to-use pull straps in place of the interior door handles. Our test car tacked on another $4820 in options—including navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming mirrors, Apple CarPlay, seat heaters, and a larger fuel tank—which brought the as-tested price to $72,570.
In keeping with the basic nature of the T, we’d jettison all the extras save for the bun warmers ($530). After all, loading this car up with extras negates its reason for being. With its ground-hugging stance and fat Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires—235/35R-20s in front, 265/35R-20s at the rear—an unadorned Cayman T is simple, tasteful, and purposeful.
It’s that simplicity and purposefulness that makes it such a joy. In a digital world, the T feels and drives like an analog machine. Aside from its digital gauge cluster and center-stack screen, the interior is straightforward. The materials are basic, the sport seats are deeply pocketed, and the steering wheel is free of buttons and switches—except for the all-important drive-mode dial. Three pedals on the floor and a stubby shifter between the seats. You fire it up by inserting the key fob into an ignition switch—located left of the steering wheel, per Porsche tradition—and twisting. Indeed, the cabin could almost be from an earlier era in Porsche’s history.
The driving experience, however, is fully up to current Porsche sports-car standards. Which means the T feels wonderfully connected, communicative, and pure. There’s even some of the 414-hp Cayman GT4 in the way the T moves. It doesn’t quite tear toward apexes with the racy aggression of the track-oriented GT4—a car that starts at $100,550—but the family ties are definitely there. The T slices through corners with crisply progressive steering that feeds back clear messages about front-tire grip. The chassis is balanced and forgiving. Go ahead, shut off the stability control and play. If the tail steps out in a slow corner, it’s because you were ham-fisted with your inputs, and the slide is gradual enough to correct with a flick of the wheel. The brakes are a perfect blend of pedal feel and response.
While the T can’t match the GT4 for sheer performance, it comes impressively close. The T hits 60 mph in 4.4 seconds to the GT4’s 3.7-second run. The T circles the skidpad at 1.01 g of lateral grip versus the GT4’s 1.10 g—the latter aided by larger Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 track tires. And the T’s 149-foot stop from 70 mph is just a foot longer than the GT4’s. Of course, horsepower will ultimately win out, and the T falls behind the GT4 at the quarter-mile mark by 0.9 second and 10 mph. The gap widens until the T levels off at a claimed top speed of 170 mph. The GT4 goes on to 188.
Not that you’ll be thinking of those disparities when piloting the Cayman T. It rides with unexpected suppleness, and its shifter is a precision instrument. Only the flatulent burble of its Subaru-like exhaust note at low engine revs breaks the spell, though the flat-four does sound more engaging as it nears its 7400-rpm redline. It pulls through the top half of its rev range strongly, but you will notice a distinct lag in thrust below 3000 rpm while the single turbo spools up its full 19.0 psi of boost. Twisting the steering-wheel mode dial to the Sport setting helps offset the low-rpm laziness with quicker initial throttle response. Interestingly, it also bumps the idle speed from 800 rpm to 1000, which reduces the clutch feathering required to move off the line smoothly. In normal mode, with the lower idle speed, the clutch takeup requires more finessing than we’d like.
Beyond the nostalgia for the days when all Caymans, not just the most expensive two, belted out flat-six ballads, we have nothing negative to say about the T. Sure, you can have a 495-hp Corvette C8 with the Z51 package and adaptive dampers for nearly a grand less than a base Cayman T. But the Cayman T has a flavor all its own. It’s a perfect entry point to everything that’s delicious about Porsche’s sports cars, a starter model so good you won’t be hungry for more.
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