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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Road test: 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman

What's in a number? Quite a lot, it turns out, in the latest generation of the Cayman

The 718 Cayman, in lava orange. Delores Johnson / The National
The 718 Cayman, in lava orange. Delores Johnson / The National

Porsche has long loved the use of three-digit numbers to differentiate between model generations, most notably with the onset-of-time-­defying 911. Which feels, for the most part, natural. The current 911, for example, is internally designated by Porsche as the 991. But you will never see these numbers on its exterior.

Which brings us to the somewhat forced inclusion of digits on the current generation of the Porsche Boxster and, in the case of my test car, Cayman, the roadster Boxster’s perma-roofed sister. Apologies – the 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman. Sorry, Damen und Herren of Porsche, you can attempt to switch numbers for a word – because the word “Cayman” isn’t externally badged here, but “718” is – but nobody is going to be replying to the question “So what do you drive?” with the answer “Oh, a Porsche 718”. The numerical homogenisation is a nod to the fact that the Cayman and the Boxster’s respective bodyworks match more than ever.

Not that numbers other than the speedometer will be your chief concern once behind the wheel. Indeed, while driving, the only update that might cause temporary consternation is the noise made by the Cayman’s now downsized engine. It is, to put it bluntly, not quite becoming of its reputation as an uber mini-sports car. Because the Cayman and Boxster are now powered by turbocharged four-cylinder units, where once sat naturally aspirated flat-six powerhouses. Unsurprisingly, though, these new engines do give good fuel-economy returns.

Does it matter, per se? To start with, yes. Give it a couple of days, however, and you will be too busy being addicted to firing around the little Porsche to unduly worry, delighting in its puppy-dog-keen short shifts and feeling it stick to the tarmac like its very existence depends on it, with steering elements half-inched from the 911 Turbo. You can skip from 0 to 100kph in 4.7 seconds, a 0.7-second improvement, maxing out at 275kph. Its 300hp is up 25hp. It positively flies where cars of this size usually nip. At this scale, the 20-inch tyres look positively humungous.

The Porsche 718 Cayman in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
The Porsche 718 Cayman has a 2.0L, flat-four cylinder engine. Delores Johnson / The Nationa

It has previously been suggested that the, ahem, 718s, at sportiest sub-model pinnacles, are close to rivalling the 911. And while the raw performance of the Turbos and more-extreme variants is in a slightly different league, there is undoubtedly an argument when it comes to taking on the lower-end Carreras.

Visually, the latest generation is the best Cayman yet, not least in my test car’s fiery shade of lava orange, from its all-black front air intakes to its central dual tailpipes.

Inside, you feel less like you’re climbing into a pre-defined space in a car and more like you have slid yourself into position as the final part of a perfectly dimensioned micro masterpiece.

That is not to say that you are contorted to fit, Tetris-style, into the two-seater, though; it is more that the Cayman operates around you in perfect synchronicity. OK, so storage space is at an absolute premium in the cabin – albeit aided by small luggage compartments front and back, facilitated by the mid-engine layout. But if nothing else, it has some of the niftiest hidden cup holders in motoring today, popping out from behind a hidden panel above the glovebox.

The media centre of the Porsche 718 Cayman. Delores Johnson / The National
The media centre of the Porsche 718 Cayman. Delores Johnson / The National

The steering wheel, based on the 918 Spyder’s, is a thing of small beauty, managing to combine a mix of controls (buttons, rollerball-esque scrollers and a drive-mode knob) without feeling thrown-­together. And when you press the button in the middle of that drive-mode selector, there is an extra-enjoyable option, Sport Response, which nigh-on redlines the revs for 20 seconds as a timer counts down until your overtaking-friendly boost disengages. It is slightly silly, but a whole lot of grin-­inducing fun. Ditto the dash option to display a G-force dial.

So, given the choice, baby Cayman or grown-up 911? It is a controversial choice, but I would opt for the former and pocket the change (the Cayman is, for the first time, cheaper than the Boxster, too). To be honest, the choice would still be tight if the prices were closer together. The Cayman really is that enjoyable.

The specs: 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman

Price, base / as tested Dh222,500 / Dh296,870

Engine 2.0L, flat four-cylinder

Transmission Seven-speed PDK

Power 300hp @ 6,500rpm

Torque 380hp @ 1,950rpm

Fuel economy, combined 6.9L / 100km