the porsche cayman gts 4.0 is brilliant no matter which transmission you choose

Photo credit: Porsche

I first drove the Cayman GTS 4.0 early last year when Porsche offered its new coupe with just a single transmission, the six-speed manual. Amen. At the launch event in Scotland, Porsche promised a dual-clutch PDK transmission option was nigh. But with that super-sweet engine and manual transmission equipped, I couldn’t have cared less about the alternative.

I was wrong.

After revisiting the GTS 4.0, the coupe still occupies that Goldilocks spot between the GT4’s back-breaking ride and the lesser thrills of a flat-four Cayman; the substitution of Porsche’s PDK gearbox hasn’t diluted a drop of the GTS’s joy.

I didn’t get to probe the Scottish hillsides this time, but Porsche dropped off a GTS PDK at my front door in Seattle (where we share the Scots’ lack of sunlight and love of stiff drink). I spent more time folding the car into my daily rhythms with this stint, rather than dodging sheep on soggy highland backroads. The PDK GTS rewards its driver, same as that manual car. Because the gearbox choice here is ultimately incidental.

the porsche cayman gts 4.0 is brilliant no matter which transmission you choose

Photo credit: Porsche

Every bit of information about the car’s behavior is still there, rumbling up from the GTS’s rear axle, vibrating up through the seat and armrests, or buzzing from the engine and exhaust into your backside. The GTS’s hyper-accurate steering and the feedback from a superb electric steering rack remain. The PDK dilutes exactly none of this baseline goodness.

In some cases, it can even help. The GTS’s footwell feels narrow on either version of the car. But with two pedals rather than three, you’ve got just a bit more space to let your left foot relax. While the dead pedal stretches wide enough, its placement awkwardly cants your ankle, since your left foot has to sit so far inboard. This layout is evidently due to the GTS’s wide front track, which ultimately eats into the pedalbox. That alone wouldn’t deter me from buying the manual, but might be a factor for buyers with bigger feet or people who plan to do serious highway miles in their GTS 4.0.

Other complaints are few and minor. The side mirrors are too damned small; they look great on the car, but don’t cover enough of the real estate on your flanks. As mentioned, the car is capable of long-distance road-tripping, but if you’ve got anything else in the garage with real trunk space and extra suspension compliance, take that. The GTS’s wide front tires make the steering wheel tug at your hands on the interstate. And the ride can grow tiring on longer jaunts; toward the end of a weekend-long road trip with my wife, she began demanding that someone get her out of the thing with more than 100 miles to go.

the porsche cayman gts 4.0 is brilliant no matter which transmission you choose

Photo credit: Porsche

But those are minor gripes. In all honesty, my wife has never had patience for sportier rides; she’d do well to review waterbeds or Eames loungers for a living. The GTS doesn’t have a luxurious interior, but the space is very competently arranged. Without the sunroof equipped, the car’s interior is a delightful contradiction, cozy at the hips, but airy enough to fit my shoulders and head without imposing on either. And the cabin swaddles you in its own way; black microsuede throughout the simple, dark cabin shrinks the space around you. You still look down on those front fenders like a hawk on a wire, with perfect visibility helping you aim the car. The view from the cabin makes you feel far closer to the front axle than you actually are. That helps you place the Cayman perfectly on slim country lanes, or just simply parallel-park it without dinging a wheel.

And no, the PDK doesn’t affect much of what makes the GTS a GTS. This is not damning with faint praise. Compared to even the best conventional automatics, such as the ZF boxes that flourish in BMW’s lineup, the PDK feels miles more developed and mature. Aside from some stumbles during quick stops at four-way intersections, when the stop/start feature on the car caused the drivetrain to stutter and feed in power just a fraction of a second too late, the gearbox is faultless.

You can loaf along in sixth gear around town, secure in the knowledge that the second you need to pull off a pass or swerve around a suicidal sheep, the PDK will drop into second in a fraction of the time it would take a conventional gearbox to do the same. And obviously, on a racetrack, PDK reigns supreme.

You get that seamless, efficient, intangible thrill only found in a finely calibrated machine performing at the very edge of its use case. When off the track, the PDK allows for a truly effortless driving experience when it’s 6:00 a.m. and you just want to drink coffee and listen to The Strokes while gearing up for a day at the office. It falls away when you need it to fall away. It’s engaging when you’re chasing the red end of the tachometer.

Is one gearbox better than the other? Personally, I’d still have the manual. That doesn’t make it better. The PDK is not your father’s slushbox, and lionizing the manual simply because it exists has become tiresome. The modern PDK is a precise, livable, and engaging thing. Anybody who chooses a Cayman GTS to pick up groceries or hunt 911s at a track day has earned their enthusiast stripes in my book, whether there’s a stick between the seats or not.

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