We often are forgiving when we're feeling nostalgic, recalling things as better than they were, flawless even. Such is the case with manual transmissions. In our preemptive memorializing of their almost inevitable disappearance, we forget that the move away from stick shifts has been partially because they can be notchy, grabby, sloppy, and miserable in traffic. Then you get behind the wheel of the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0, click its mouse-fur-covered shifter into gear, and find that your memories have glossed over how good a stick can be. If the only impressive thing about the 2021 GTS 4.0 was its wonderful six-speed, that would be enough to make it a worthwhile purchase, but its manual is just one of many delights.
Despite their goodness, Caymans don't get a lot of respect. The 718 GTS 4.0 still gets approached with suspicion, in part because the turbocharged four-cylinders in lesser models (including the previous GTS) is acceptably powerful but not exactly inspiring. Then there's the bigger question for any Porsche— heck, for any sports car: How good can it be when it isn't a 911? Fortunately, the Cayman comes with front and rear cargo areas to haul all that baggage. Go ahead and quiz it. Where does the GTS 4.0 stand in its lineup? The GTS 4.0 is racier and more powerful than the four-cylinder 718 models yet less racy and less powerful than the Cayman GT4, which has 20 more horsepower. But it arguably rides better than all of them. With a base price of $88,150 (as tested: $100,990), it's not the best of any bargain, and yet, it's nearly perfect.
The big deal about the GTS 4.0 is the 4.0 part. Instead of the turbocharged flat-fours found in lesser Caymans, the GTS gets a 4.0-liter flat-six that breathes uncompressed air as nature intended. With so many turbo mills nowadays, the joys of a naturally aspirated powerplant are rare. But as with falling back in love with three pedals, it only takes a few seconds in the GTS 4.0 to remember what's good about unforced induction. This six-cylinder burbles like a happy baby on startup, and it giggles louder the more you stomp on the throttle. With 394 horsepower and 309 pound-feet of torque, this is not a Screaming Mimi of a car. It's a cheerful sweetie, no matter how much Porsche tries to imbue it with menace via a redesigned lower fascia and darkened exterior trim and wheels. Your neighbor will shout, "Cute!" when you roll by, and she'll be right. The GTS is adorable.
Just because it's friendly, though, doesn't mean it doesn't perform. The GTS is light on its feet, changing direction like a barrel-racing pony, and it's just as sure-footed. In our testing, the GTS's 20-inch Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires helped it pull 1.04 g on the skidpad, which is almost enough to fling you from the saddle. Too bad they don't offer Alcantara and leather sport seats with a cinch strap and a pommel. Horse racing would never be the same. Back in the car, you'll gallop to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and cover the quarter-mile in 12.0 seconds flat at 120 mph. There are many quicker sports cars, but few will make you feel so at peace at speed. Wind up the big six and its revs leap upwards like Simone Biles going for gold. Like Biles, you'll always stick the landing, with brakes that bring things to a halt from 70 mph in a solid 142 feet without ever feeling grabby. That's with the standard setup—six-piston calipers clamping 13.8-inch cast-iron rotors up front with four-pot calipers and 13.0-inch rotors in the rear. Porsche's Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) are a $7410 option on the GTS, but nowhere in the notes did our testing team bemoan their absence.
The GTS's real draw is how pleasant it is to drive when you aren't going all out. Trundle along in town, and the action of the clutch feels perfectly balanced with the brake and throttle pedals. The engine chortles behind your head, and the ride quality is as soft and smooth as the Race-Tex faux suede that covers everything from the headliner to the armrests. The gentle ride comes despite the GTS's suspension being set 0.8 inch lower than on standard 718 models. Porsche's adaptive dampers do their job well, offering a forgiving ride for the speed-bump part of town and firming up appropriately with a push of the button when the roads get worth talking about.
Complaints about the GTS are minimal. The six-speed's gearing is a bit tall—you could make a highway journey and never shift out of second gear—but that's only a negative because it's so fun to shift. The GTS 4.0 also doesn't get stunning fuel economy—an EPA-estimated 21 mpg combined—but if efficiency is your concern Porsche makes a nice electric car these days. And the Cayman's cabin is comfortable but not particularly interesting. This car doesn't impress people with big screens and back-seat massaging. Its 7.0-inch touchscreen is not big nor do 718s have back seats of any sort. A family car the GTS is not. But a commuter for a driver who enjoys taking the long way? Sunday solace for a poet inspired by apexes? You bet. While Porsche does offer its excellent seven-speed dual-clutch automatic in the GTS 4.0 for $3730, if you're wavering in your commitment to living the manual life, there is perhaps no better car with which to renew your vows.