I slip out of the house under the cover of darkness. It feels like a getaway. In reality it’s a midweek errand, though the distilled driving dynamics of the 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman T lend the air of an escape. It’s mentally freeing to drive a sports car like this, though it requires a degree of skill. The clutch and stick require precision. So does the steering. It’s not hard work, but it demands focus.
The engine turns over and the exhaust exhales. I’m not even out of the driveway and my cover’s blown. The 718 might perform well in a chase, but it’s not a stealthy getaway car. I do, however, feel like a wheelman. And that’s the idea. Porsche makes big sedans, crossovers, even a station wagon called the Sport Turismo. The 911 is the standard bearer. It’s also relatively large and expensive. The most distilled Porsche experience — perhaps it’s the 718.
The 718 T, specifically, is the sweet spot for many enthusiasts. It offers everything you need, like Porsche’s Sport Chrono Package and Active Suspension Management. And nothing that you don’t — like interior door handles, which Porsche swaps out for nylon straps to save weight. The 718 T treatment transplants many of the performance features from the higher powered GTS and pairs them with the 718’s base 300-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo flat-four. The GTS variants, which crank out 394 hp from a naturally aspirated flat-six, are a rocking good time, but raw power isn’t the calling card of the 718. Rather, the mid-engine layout is complemented by the dialed-in chassis to create pitch-perfect dynamics, which is why you buy a 718.
The 718 Cayman T I tested for a week came in Guards Red, which is a popular color for Porsches and naturally garners attention. The T treatment adds 20-inch Titanium Grey wheels from the 911 Carrera S and center-mounted dual exhaust. The sides read “718 Cayman T” in subtle gray lettering across the bottom of the doors. The “T” variant is available on the Cayman and its convertible twin, the Boxster. This Cayman costs $72,570 with just a few options, like navigation and heated seats, plus destination charge. In the relative sense, it’s not a great deal (remember, you have nylon door pulls), but for a Cayman it’s reasonable. You’re paying for Porsche’s looks, driving character and the Porsche badge itself. In this case, you’re essentially getting a diet GTS, which starts at $86,800. I’ll say it again, you don’t need copious power to enjoy the 718, but some targeted upgrades do make a difference.
The Cayman T is rewarding, After my early morning run, I kept finding reasons to drive it. A red Porsche in the driveway is basically irresistible. An impromptu meeting arises with an old friend? Hey, I’ll drive to you. The Cayman is a sports car that isn’t a cliché. It’s engaging and enjoyable but not abusive or intimidating. The Sport Chrono pack adds a steering-wheel switch that allows you to toggle between driving modes, and a stopwatch on top of the dashboard. I twist the Chrono knob to Sport and head out for a long afternoon drive.
It’s one of those perfect early fall days where there’s just enough sun and just enough clouds that the day takes on the effect of an Instagram filter; one of those days where whatever awaits in the next world feels a little bit closer. Red and gold trees pop around me. I turn the radio off, open the windows and listen to the humming of the exhaust, which gets throatier as I accelerate in second gear. Topping off the acceleration with smooth shifts into third gear then fourth, I build speed and head west. I make a hard left down a twisted path that’s paved but woodsy. The Cayman T eagerly handles aggressive inputs and pulls me back in my seat when I blast onto a busy expressway. Sometimes, I chill out in sixth gear and take in the fall colors. The black interior with red stitching, sports seats and a GT steering wheel is comfortable and ergonomically sound. Practically speaking, two suitcases will fit in the frunk, and there’s space for some flat items above the engine compartment, like a pizza. That’s about it. Limited storage space in sports cars is why Porsche makes crossovers.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer four is plenty capable, and with the manual transmission (which has a shorter shift lever on the T models) will hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. The optional PDK automatic is slightly quicker and more fuel efficient. It’s an excellent gearbox and does good work in many Porsches, but trust me, you want the manual. The Cayman T has Porsche’s active suspension and sits 0.78 inch lower than the standard Cayman, which is already low. The experience is further fortified by torque vectoring with rear differential lock, and active powertrain mounts, which make for smoother driving. The Cayman is just raw enough to feel appropriate for true enthusiasts, but not as harsh as say the Subaru BRZ or Mazda Miata, which offer the same vibe for less money. The Porsche is far more refined than the no-longer-sold Alfa Romeo 4C coupe.
The result is the 718 at its simplest and perhaps its best. The Cayman T is the bridge between the Cayman and the Cayman GTS. The Cayman is very good in bone stock. You don’t need to step up to the S or GTS to appreciate its best qualities: mid-engine dynamics and arresting looks. But if you want just a little more, the T trim is a smart play. The pricing is reasonable, and it dials things up in requisite fashion for enthusiasts who will appreciate the flourish. The Cayman T uses a simple formula, but it adds up.