What better place to let loose the new Porsche 718 Cayman S than Sicily’s rugged hinterland? Following in the traces of the Targa Florio in a four-cylinder, mid-engined coupé.
Certainly, the Porsche 911 may well be a great sports car icon – but the latest version of the 911 is more of a comfortable Gran Turismo than a rock-hard corner carver. For just under a week following in the traces of Europe‘s toughest road race, the legendary Targa Florio on Sicily, we therefore borrowed a prophetic Zuffenhausen catapult that was less willing to compromise – the brand-new Porsche 718 Cayman S. It is no accident that the compact sports coupé has those three numbers emblazoned on its rear with which Porsche made racing history in the 1950s and 1960s: with famous drivers like Hans Herrmann and Herbert Linge behind the wheel, the lightweight and agile four-cylinder Spyders were able to beat the powerful racing machines from Scuderia Ferrari. The Porsche 718 won the European Hill Climb Championship four times and the notorious Targa Florio three times. More curving ability you don’t need.
Our curiosity is all the greater when we pick up the Ocean Blue pre-production Cayman in the wonderfully dilapidated port of Palermo: will the newcomer live up to its great heritage? And will it put in a convincing performance on those challenging country roads on which great names in racing such as Tazio Nuvolari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jo Siffert and Vic Elford earned their laurels? In terms of the technical philosophy at least, the new 718 is a continuation of the ancestral line: with four instead of the current six cylinders, the boxer engine in the sports version has lost almost a litre in engine size. In spite of this, due to the variable turbo power available, it delivers an enormous 350 hp on the road. Maximum torque is around 420 Newton metres no less – and delivered at between 1,900 and 4,500 rpm. From standstill to 100 km/h, we confirm conscientiously on our smartphones over a quick espresso in our port dive, the Cayman 718 S takes just 4.2 seconds. The autostrada along the coast going east is hardly the place for such dramatic acceleration tests: if a dented Fiat Punto hadn’t just happened to pull out in front of us on the left lane, a military looking radar trap reminds us that the Sicilian police don’t play games – regardless of the cars motorsports heritage and Targa Florio. Just under an hour‘s drive later, just before we reach Cefalù, the navigation system tells us to leave the autostrada to drive up into the rugged Sicilian mountains. And then the scene changes instantly: worn out, pale and burned dry by the sun, the country road takes us through tight, hardly visible bends into bushes and shrubs. Time to engage sport mode and – click, click – hitting the toggle switch, we take off. The turbo that until now has been purring along quite happily suddenly becomes more aggressive, barks like a southern Italian sheepdog, and drags us screaming and shouting through the countryside. Even the stability management system has its hands full to keep the little monster on the road.
But caution is advised: a knee deep pothole opens up in the asphalt behind every second curve. The boys in the local villages also take hardly any interest in the roadways. And on top of that sheep and goats generally graze so close to the edge of the road that an animal psychologist would almost certainly diagnose suicidal tendencies. Birds of prey circling a short distance away have similar comforting effect as the rusty car wrecks that hang here and there between the rocks like some macabre decoration. On the other hand: if drivers like Nino Vaccarella raced through the hairpin bends here in their 600 hp prototype racing cars four decades ago, then our high-tech catapult with its biting ceramic brakes and countless assistance systems should pass this test of courage with ease.
First and foremost, the Porsche Active Suspension Management system, which individually regulates the damping force for each wheel, is undoubtedly an advantage on the gravel road. Those living in Cerda or Collesano who drive down the former Targa daily, should perhaps do without the lower sports chassis when ordering the car – the noise produced by the freshly polished Zuffenhausen underbody on crumbling Sicilian asphalt ultimately gets on your nerves. As an alternative, it is certainly worthwhile choosing the optional six-speed manual transmission, which, with its dynamic throttle-blip function, not only generates the optimum engine speed for every downshift, but it is also wonderful as an acoustic signal warning the driver of melancholic sheep on the road, as mentioned earlier.
Over another espresso, we draw our first conclusion: we are dealing with a genuine, no-compromise, absolutely fierce sports car. The turbo delivers a more pleasant boost, but at high revs means a much louder ride. The fact that the four-cylinder engine sits just two hand-breaths away from your back makes the whole thing somewhat more emotional. It‘s a pity actually that there are no blind tests for sports cars – as hot-blooded as the little Porsche might be, despite downsizing and forced breathing, the Italian competition could learn quite a lot. Particularly on winding mountain and valley sections, it is possible to go so hard through the combinations of throttle, brake and gear changes that even Hans Herrmann and Herbert Linge would have been delighted. The Porsche 718 Cayman certainly lives up to its so name, no question.