How a self-confessed auto-phile finally understood the love for the manual gearbox, in a Cayman GT4 on track.
In the spirit of the new year and new beginnings, allow me to take this opportunity to tell the story of how I reconciled with one of my personal automotive demons: the manual transmission.
While it might sound like a chore to hear about a young man confronting his most benign of automotive fears, fret not as this story also just so happens neatly tie in the tale of my recent experience with a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 on track in Sepang. An event that was rather fun indeed.
My Issue With The Manual Transmission
To further embellish the accompanying story, let me first lay down the problems I have with this particular style of transmission.
Yes, I can already hear the barrage of hate about how can I be a car enthusiast without diligently praying to the altar to the manual transmission. Then again, I have always (quietly) held the belief that a manual gearbox isn’t actually all that great.
In my mind, the manual gearbox represents a bygone era of technology. An era which has been handily replaced by raft of automatic and dual-clutch transmissions that are virtually in every new car these days.
While having the ability to dictate the gear of your choice at every single moment is a nice luxury to have, the idea of having a computer do it instead seemed, to me at least, to be the better option. Particularly considering how good the new generation of automatic and dual-clutch transmissions are these days, I held steadfast in my belief of automatic supremacy with the rationale that these styles of transmissions actually frees up more of my time to the task of actually enjoying the drive, without having to worry about my ratios.
Besides, being a city dweller, the thought of having to deal with the nuisance of a clutch in traffic every single day is frustrating enough to give up the thought of even driving anywhere, and take a Grab instead. Driver involvement be damned when you just want to get from one point to another with minimal hassle.
Most pertinently however, I personally never really had any experience with a good manual gearbox. In fact, aside from the Kancil with a slipping clutch in which I passed my driving test with, I had never really had the opportunity to drive any manual equipped car for a meaningful period of time.
Happily however, I have since managed to see the light when it came to the benefits of this antiquated style of transmission. All of which incidentally happened when I had the privilege to drive a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4. An already fantastic sports car in itself, that was made all the more better thanks to a sweet six-speed manual gearbox.
A Brief Explainer On The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
To those unfamiliar with the 718 Cayman GT4, this new performance-spec Porsche marks not only the return of one of the most haloed boot badges in Cayman history, but it also marks the comeback of the naturally aspirated flat-six in this mid-engined Porsche sports car.
Having always featured a six cylinders in the middle since its first iteration back in 2005, a turbocharged flat-four however soon became the only engine option available with the latest 718 generation of the Cayman. All because of the need to comply with tightening emissions regulations.
Due to the loud enthusiast lamentations however, Porsche has since decided to plonk in a 911-derived flat-six back in the middle to create the second generation Cayman GT4 we see here.
The Review Portion Of The Story
As for how it drives, much like the Cayman GT4 of yore, the simple fact is that this new iteration is still flippin’ fantastic.
Many a reviewer have already gone at length about the superb handling and sweet powertrain of this Stuggart stallion. Simply put however, Porsche has literally turned every performance dial in this track-focused mid-engined sports car up to 11. And on track at least, it was all the more better for it.
The steering, for instance, is direct to the point of almost being telekinetic. Just point it at exactly where you wish to go, and you’ll be there with millimetre precision. The (optional) Porsche Ceramic Composite (PCCB) Brakes too, even after being trashed around the Sepang short circuit for lap after lap, still bit hard with little to no discernible brake fade.
Nevertheless, the undeniable star of the show with this newly-launched performance Cayman variant would have to be that six-pots that are nestled right behind the twin sports seats.
From my brief experience behind the wheel, what I could report is that the 4.0 litre naturally-aspirated flat-six is a sonorous beast, especially at full chat down the main straight at Sepang. Furthermore, with a healthy 414 hp and 420 Nm of torque, it has more than enough punch throughout the rev range to press the driver back into the seat when giving it a boot full out of a corner.
Honestly however, at the risk of sounding like the world’s biggest chicken, I couldn’t actually take all of this amazing aspects of the Cayman in. Partly because I was spent way too much time fixating on not stalling (or generally making a hash of myself in) this near-million-ringgit sports car in front of everyone else on track, but it was also more due to the fact that I was actually genuinely enjoying the manual transmission experience in this particular Porsche.
How I Came To See The Light
Many enthusiasts go on and on about the freedom of being able to row your own gears as the main reason to own a manual transmission. Then again, this argument is easily countered with the advent of the paddles that feature prominently on any new automatic or dual-clutch transmission worth their salt these days.
From my own discoveries at least however, the real pleasure of the manual transmission is not found within the region of the gear change action itself. Instead, where the manual really shines is actually when having to operate the clutch pedal.
Any numpty can row between the gears as much as they wish, clutch control though is a skill that needs to be honed and mastered. And as with any skill, whenever done bang on right, it rewards the driver with that indescribable extra sense of accomplishment, which in turn further adds to the enjoyment of the driving experience.
Continuing on the topic of driver enjoyment, the responsibility of having a clutch to control just adds that deeper layer of driver involvement to the proceedings of actually driving the car itself. In other words, it could be said that the clutch pedal helps bring the whole driving experience back to a more human level of enjoyment, where the human is working together with the car, instead of just merely going along for the ride. Something which incidentally is just what many a car enthusiast yearn for in cars that are getting increasingly clinical and technologically advanced these days.
It has to be said however that this revelation I had with the manual transmission is undoubtably made all the more better thanks to the firm pedal feel of the clutch pedal and the short throw, snickety gear change afforded to in this track-focused Porsche. Handily too, the Cayman GT4 also comes with an auto-blip feature on downshifts. Making even a complete amateur like me feel like a pro when it comes to changing gears, which further added to the enjoyment of driving a stick I suppose.
Thus far, I’m still adamant in my stance that a manual transmission is still perhaps not for the vast swathes of the current motorists. Particularly since the new-age automatic and dual-clutch transmissions are oh so good these days.
Additionally, it will probably be a long time coming before I personally put up with daily driving a manual car, in city traffic especially. That said though, after what I have experienced with this Porsche, I now see why the manual deserves to live on in a certain subset of enthusiast cars.
In summary then, long may the manual transmission live on. Not because of the row-your-own sensation that everyone raves about, but instead for that third pedal which is what really makes it special.
Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Technical Specifications
Engine: 24-valve naturally-aspirated flat-six petrol
Displacement: 3,995 cc
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission
Max Power: 420 PS @ 7,600 rpm
Max Torque: 420 Nm @ 5,000 – 6,800 rpm
0 – 100 km/h: 4.4 seconds
Top Speed: 304 km/h
Price: RM 999,000