KYALAMI, Gauteng – "Poor man’s Porsche". It's a description that's long been used to refer to certain sportscars from the Stuttgart-based manufacturer that don't wear the iconic 911 badge.

In recent times, we'd be talking about the mid-engined Boxster and Cayman models, the former having been with us for more than two decades now. Still, it's worth noting that this description simply can’t be applied to models such as the Boxster Spyder and the Cayman GT4, which in many ways deliver experiences for some enthusiasts that the 911 can’t match.

Enter the GTS models

Now available for the both the Boxster and Cayman, the GTS specification, as before, offers some of the best bits from Porsche’s options list, as well as improved performance. Colleague Ian McLaren drove the 718 Boxster GTS in Malaga a few months ago, and now we’ve had the chance to sample both on the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit.

The turbocharged 2,5-litre, flat-four engine benefits from modest increases of 11 kW and 10 N.m over the S model, for total outputs of 269 kW and 430 N.m when connected to the PDK transmission. The claimed sprint from zero to 100 km/h takes 4,3 seconds, while top speed is an impressive 290 km/h (yes, that makes these the fastest four-cylinder cars on the market).

The chassis is also 10 mm lower than that of the S model, while Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) and a mechanical rear differential also contribute to the sharper package. Exterior updates include darkened lenses for the lights, new front and rear aprons, a sports exhaust and dark alloys.

Behind the wheel

All cars at the launch were fitted with Porsche’s PDK transmission, which is simply better suited to track driving than a manual gearbox. Once behind the wheel, the seats keep you snugly in place. With a limited number of laps on offer, I quickly decided to select the Sport+ mode on the steering wheel dial, prompting a deeper exhaust note, firmer suspension and a more sensitive throttle.

It took just a few corners to be reminded how flat and solid the Cayman feels through a bend. It's also completely stable under heavy braking, with a good level of feel through the pedal, even when the brakes are hot after a couple of hard laps.

As with the GTS’s predecessor, which offered a 3,4-litre flat-six engine, this 2,5-litre flat-four turbo is eager to rev. I played around with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles for a few corners but soon realised that, even though it's fun to use them, I’m quicker if I leave the cog-swapping to the car’s software. This also allows me to concentrate more on my steering inputs and the available grip levels.

Once the car has settled into a corner, there's plenty of mechanical grip, allowing you to sense when the car is nearing its lateral grip limit. Feed in the power and there are no nasty surprises, with the engine behind you simply pushing you through the corner. I find myself often realising that I could have climbed on the throttle pedal even earlier than I did.

Summary

The Boxster and the Cayman are unique in the sense that they offer a mid-engine layout usually associated with vastly more expensive exotica. Having driven both on Kyalami, I can report that the difference in torsional rigidity between the Cayman and Boxster is close to negligible, which makes the latter an even more appealing car.

Needless to say, the Cayman GTS now offers one of the best-balanced experiences you could hope for in a sportscar. Strong competitors such the new BMW M2 Competition and the Audi TT RS put some exciting focus on this side of the market, but it's clear that the Cayman GTS will easily stand its ground.