As I boarded my flight to head to Atlanta, I knew that my life was about to change. Soon there would be a tipping point, from the moment where I'd never driven a Cayman GT4 transferring into the moment where I had. There were two possible outcomes facing me, either the car would astonish and I'd fall in love, or it could be a letdown and I'd be forever disappointed at what might have been. I was either in for the most exciting drive of my life, a bullring battle with a heady opponent, or the opposite, a calm mid-morning stroll with a limpwrist poseur. The GT4 is a car that shouldn't have happened. We were told for years that it wouldn't come, and we should stop wishing. But this day was the day when I would match wits with a Cayman GT4. In the rain. At Road Atlanta. And see which version of me came out on the other side.
The rainy conditions were not ideal, but they only helped to show off what a great car this is. The chassis is very well balanced, I never once experienced understeer, and my few minor bouts with oversteer were induced by pools of standing water. In all instances, I felt very much in control of this car, rather than the other way around. It did exactly what I wanted of it. It didn't feel out of sorts in the slightest, never putting a foot wrong. Once I learned the outer limits of this Porsche, it was quite easy to place a wheel precisely where I wanted it on the track.
This trip was a joint US launch with the GT3 RS (more on that car later), and we were in lead-follow groups with Hurley Haywood leading the GT4s in another GT4, and David Donohue leading the GT3 RS group in a 991 Turbo S. We started each 30 minute session split about a minute apart on the track (about half a lap, give or take). When driving the GT4 with Hurley in the lead, we easily caught up to the tail end of the GT3 RS group with a handful of laps to spare in the session. While no times were released, or even recorded, we had to have been averaging several seconds per lap quicker than the guys in the GT3 RS group.
This was my first trip to Road Atlanta as a driver. I've been to the track dozens of times, but never driven on its surface. The course itself is a bit daunting, featuring several blind corners and crests and dips. In the rain it becomes ever more difficult, as the curbs that can normally be hammered over in the dry suddenly become quite slippery and require more caution to navigate safely.
The complaint for the last few years with Porsche has been their implementation of electrically assisted steering, which has rid them of the traditional steering feel that Porsche had pretty much perfected in the 997. I have to say, the GT4 felt near-perfectly weighted for race track driving. Perhaps not quite as good as it used to be, but pretty darn good. It felt like it had good communication, as Road Atlanta's very bumpy surface was communicated to my finger tips. Instead of being able to read the road like braille through the steering wheel as you could before, now its about as precise as running your fingers along a tile floor and feeling the grout.
Another complaint from the Porsche faithful has been a lack of manual transmissions coming from Porsche's GT division. Andreas Preuninger, head of the GT program, mentioned in his discussions with us at this event that the success of the manual-only GT4 has made the GT program rethink the use of manual gearboxes in future GT program cars. This Porsche might be responsible for a return to manual GT3s. Forget about that, though, because the 6-speed in the GT4 is one of the best transmissions out there. Shake hands with your GT4, make friends, because once you feel how amazing this car is, you'll never want to get out. Porsche had to pry me out with a crowbar when my time was up (and that's not just because these cars were fitted with the optional 918 Spyder-style carbon buckets that were about 2-inches too narrow for this corn-fed midwesterner).
To even out the complaints to a smooth trifecta, the GT4 has recently been lamented because the transmission was said to be geared too long for rapid acceleration. I can't say how true or untrue this might be for the street, as we only spent time in the car on the track, but for track driving, I really loved the way that the gearbox mated to the engine. Because this car uses the Carrera S power unit, it has an excellent power-to-weight ratio, and the torque curve is extremely wide, much wider than you'd get in a non-GT Cayman. These factors add up to a car that can remain in one gear for much of its acceleration on the track. In the case of Road Atlanta, most of the track was negotiated in 3rd gear. There were probably a few places where a downshift to 2nd would have gained me a few tenths, but being as wet as it was, caution was riding shotgun with me in the passenger's seat. On a dry lap, I'm sure 2nd would have gotten some use, and perhaps even an upshift to 5th at the end of the acceleration zone between turn 7 and turn 10a. Keeping focus on hitting the right lines and keeping the car pointed in the right direction was made easier by not having to worry about being in the right gear. The slowest part of the track, the 10a and 10b complex, were negotiated at about 45 miles per hour, and the acceleration in 3rd was still more than sufficient. At the same time, 3rd gear taken to red-line netted about 110 miles per hour on the straight between 5 and 6.
This is the ultimate extension of the Cayman platform. This is what we, as enthusiasts, have been asking for for years. Since the introduction of the Cayman, we knew it deserved more, it deserved better. This is it. We talked, Porsche listened. The GT3-derived suspension and a larger engine, that's what the Cayman has been asking for all along. When infused with just the right amount of 911 DNA, the Cayman morphed into something altogether different. It transcends the 'sports car' moniker. But it's not a supercar either. The Cayman GT4 is its own thing. An adept car, or perhaps a master car.
So I've driven the GT4, and I've lived to tell you about it. The car didn't bite my head off, though at this point I almost prefer that it had. This car may not have killed me, but it certainly ruined me. I'll never be able to drive another car without comparing it to this one. Within seconds of extricating myself from it, after my first session on track, I calmly walked over to where Andreas Preuninger was standing and I shook his hand in congratulations for a job well done. What I really wanted to do was hug him. Porsche didn't do a good job with this car, they did the best job.
At the end of the day, the Cayman GT4 absolutely blew me away. I didn't find anything to complain about with this Porsche at all. It was without doubt the best car I've ever driven. Bar none. 'Seriously?' you may be asking yourself. Yes. Seriously. It's that good. This Porsche has me searching the deep web for illicit kidney buyers. The Cayman GT4 has me launching an eBay listing for the naming rights to my first child. If you see me driving a Cayman GT4 any time soon (I'll take mine in Sapphire Blue Metallic with radio and A/C deleted, please and thank you), I'll likely be sporting a surgical scar on my lower back, and my son 'Amazon.com Brownell' will be in the passenger's seat. And I'll be smiling like an idiot the whole time.