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Making Sense Of A New Turbocharging Era

Old World Order No More

I miss cassettes and CDs. It was so fun and engaging to pop open the covers and pull out the lyrics and stay with each track as each note accentuated each word. It made you feel closer to the artist and their music. A timeless feeling that I miss these days all too often. It's a similar feeling I yearn for now and then, whenever I jump into turbocharged sports cars of today. It's that mechanical process that gets my soul going but oh well, turbocharging... ​I cringe at the word just like some of you may.

Why in the name of all holy pistons do we need to brain such things? Just give us our raw, naturally aspirated flat engines and leave us alone, no? It's the same way I feel about my music, and as you can imagine, it's the same feeling I get when I look at how turbocharging has de-sensationalised the driving experience. Yes, it serves a grander and larger picture in terms of bettered efficiency, lesser damages to Mama Nature and to help the general Joe and Jane drive better (and easier). However, with all kinds of progress comes some drawbacks. And yet, Porsche have found the trick of walking the tightrope, as they have always done throughout history and they're showing it off in the new 718 Cayman.

I drove the Cayman's sibling, the Boxster and the 'S' variant late last year at Porsche World Roadshow 2016. Out on track, the mid-engine sports cars were so at home on Sepang Circuit. Confident and eager Porsches (as they should and always be!), they were not breath-taking or thrilling, but I left knowing that these were properly engineered vehicles that not only ticked all the necessary boxes for performance, but they delivered a very crisp lifestyle sentiment about themselves. The challenge now though, is to recall the sensations of what it felt like to drive its wheels silly out on track. The very fact that I'd have to dig up my notes on that drive to explain the driving sensation felt behind the 718 Boxter is my point exactly; it's not impactful enough for me to remember it months down the line, hence the predicament at wheels of the 718 Cayman I drove some moths back.

For starters, the Cayman's build has always been the right size for the hesitant and slightly, insecure driver. By 'insecure' I mean those of us who prefer lesser power and more handling feedback. That's what the Cayman model series has brought to the world since late 2005. As Porsche experimented over time with bigger naturally aspirated engines, the marque made us more excited about the Cayman's potential and abilities. The linear distribution of NA power through a mid-engined Cayman is pure fun because the car's balance is nerdishly on point to such an extent, that the insecure drivers began to do-away with their poor driving self-esteem to become road champion men and women.

Those earlier Caymans came with bigger capacity engines of course, naturally aspirated and well over 2.0-litres, yet still churning out horsepower levels just below the 300 mark. This made us dream of a Cayman with a 911 soul, which is how the Cayman GT4 came into existence, with a manual tranny at that. No one would've enjoyed the Cayman GT4's flat-six engine any other way and I for one became an instant fan of that car. However, flash-forward to the present, we have this curious 718 Cayman generation now in all its turbocharged glory.

Two variants give you a selection between a 2.0-litre engine for the standard and a 2.5-litre for the S version. Both have the same four-cylinder flat engine running on different tuning; the stock dishes out 300 hp while the S pushes out 350 hp with 'variable turbine geometry' (VTG), a cool term to describe a turbocharging gismo in place to further modulate the right boost levels in different engine conditions. Like the Boxster, the '718' is an ode to a legendary Porsche racing car from the late 50's and as we learnt, it's not just to make it sound sassier to say in commercials. There is a lot of racy-ness about this new Cayman breed.

Where in the outgoing generation, you had to work the throttle to unlock the Cayman's agile nature, in the 718, the Cayman comes alive very early. And I mean very early. Pin the throttle and you'll experience the pure fruits of slapping on a turbocharger in a flat engine from very low rpm levels. Power is instantaneously rushing out on tap which livens up your cabin rather quickly. With torque delivery (380 Nm in the stock variant we tested) rushing out early in such a linear fashion, there was nothing else to do but to steer the coupe steady and hum to myself. ​Why hum? There's a curious exhaust note from this Cayman. It's far from the mechanical, chest-hair-growing stuff we'd prefer, and it's not as bad as a the over-played 'Despacito' song. It's just weird, and I never truly figured out how I felt about it even when I returned the 718 back to Porsche Malaysia.

It was only after I took things light did I realise a very pleasant new difference about this 718 Cayman- cruise with it gaily under 60-70 km/h, and my goodness, it is an exquisite ride that greets your senses with a very practical slant. This is how turbocharging grants a big perk in a sportscar like this; you can take it easy and enjoy the available luxury in a daily-driving setting, something a lot of exotic cars struggle to deliver. In this 718's case, you can switch things up a notch in a second with a click on the drive mode selector and its damper settings soften to suit the laid-back theme. Porsches have always been known to be daily-driving sportscars, but this 718 Cayman raises the identity a little more. This experience also brought out the 718's interior, showcasing its solidly simple and friendly nature in true Porsche style. I do believe that I am not the only one who loves this minimalist feel to a cabin where all the buttons and controls dont suffocate you. It's greatly improved in the 718 Cayman with sleek silver lines and leather-clad seats that cocoon you in place quite nicely.

The juicy bit for me personally, is how the interior, as new and as polished as it will be from hereon in, was actually very "old-fashioned" in terms of positioning and layout. I could almost trust my own mind and touch 100% to intuitively seek out functions without having to stop by the road and look for them. None of that. They've been carefully designed and positioned to suit the driver and his/her shotgun rider. Much of the refined feel of the cabin comes from Porsche's latest infotainment system, which allows you to connect to your necessary smartphone apps. To me, all these make this 718 Cayman all the more loveable because it caters for the daily jog without forgetting its purist of fans.

To be honest, while we parked the car out for our shoot, I couldn't help but admit to at least one thing- this is a darn good-looking Cayman! There's some signs of aggression from its haunches yet a friendly side profile and from the rear, it always looked like a Porsche and this writer, can definitely appreciate that. That's when I thought about how Porsche's have always attracted with its signature looks that evoke the analog driving thrill instantly. I guess it will be difficult to watch this efficiency game nullify the mechanical sensations of a Porsche driving experience which is probably why the exterior styling has been designed to keep those naturally-aspirated sentiments. Thumbs up for that Porsche!

While I'm also being very emotional here by expressing my distaste for the level of fakeness that comes with turbocharging, I cannot deny that Porsche have done something innovative to their Cayman model series with this new 718. It's razor sharp when you unleash all of its early-rushing torque and it can get quite fun in spirited bouts on open roads. I didn't have to step on the throttle to cut my lines, rather a few light pokes in mid-corner and the Cayman would glide and smoothly exit those bends, giving you confidence in its abilities rather quickly, which is a good thing. I believe the minor tweaks to the new chassis to accommodate the turbocharged power have made an already athletic car, even more fitter for the prowl. It has its own unique method for expression in the way its powertrain works with that magical PDK transmission to facilitate the quick outflow of power. There was always power with me all the time because it's so easily accessible and at the ready, again, because of that turbocharger. It being easier to drive, makes it an improvement, so turbocharging- 1, ranting purists- 0.

There is of course the novice opinion that the European block of carmakers are late on this turbocharging bandwagon. Over here in Malaysia, we have a big JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) following, a group of fans who equate speed to turbochargers to driving. In fact, there are a huge number of people in Asia who can't understand why a Porsche is a work of high-art. They'd rather sit and stare for hours at a heavily modified, after-market Subaru. I'm not belittling anyone's tastes here, and forgive me if I have. Still, when I tie it all back to that experience of cassettes and walkmans, I also think of how fast-paced today is; I'd be quite a dud to be frantically looking for a cassette deep in a bag, when I could just swipe to my Spotify app on my phone and be headbanging to Iron Maiden in seconds. That's the case here with the new 718 Cayman and this whole turbocharging future. You can either love it for the newness that it brings to Porsche's mid-engine range or get left behind whilst still holding on to the sensations of an era that is well, and truly, behind us.

It's more of a case of how the grass always seems greener on the other side, and with stricter regulations confining European carmakers by the month and year, it just irks me how I might be part of the last few generations of young'uns to experience the raw, unaltered character of a naturally aspirated Porsche. When the time comes, I will miss it. I don't know if the rest of the world will miss it too, but I hope there's a walkman or two still lying around for me to strap on and stay out of the debate myself. Those old cassettes and compact discs are still my favorite of course; the experience is closer to my soul than it is farther, just like how I was left wanting a naturally aspirated flat-six under the hood of this Cayman. I'll admit, the differences are noticeably bettered in an objective sense and Porsche have made a good car even better. It will have its own set of fans in years to come if it doesn't already. This writer however can't help but modify Pink Floyd's most famous song to sum up my point, "We don't need no turbocharging… we don't need no torque control… No fake sensations in a Porsche... People leave our cars alone… Hey, people, leave our cars alone!"