Being the only automaker that currently offers a rear-engined car, Porsche is therefore also the only automaker that offers a rear-engined car (the 911) alongside a mid-engined car (the 718). Which grants a more rewarding driving experience is hotly debated among Porsche fans. I’m better than a lot of things, but I’m definitely not above this silly debate. So, I went and found out for myself.
I headed to the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles, California, which offers a Mid vs. Rear Engine Experience that had me in a 2022 Porsche 718 Cayman and then in a 2022 Porsche 911 Carrera S immediately after. The experience completely takes place on a closed-circuit environment, so it was a great way to feel out the cars in a safe and controlled manner.
My thesis was simple: There’s no way the 911—even with all its modern hardware—could match the Cayman’s superior layout. There’s a reason why all the best Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and McLarens are midship. I’ve driven 911s and Caymans separately, just not back to back. But I was confident that the differences between the two would be black and white. Cake.
The actual day, however, revealed an answer that wasn’t so simple and threw all that thinking out the window.
2022 Porsche 718 Cayman Review Specs
- Base price: $64,850
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four | 7-speed PDK | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 300 @ 6,500
- Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1,950 to 4,500 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,010 pounds
- Seating capacity: 2
- 0-60 mph: 4.7 seconds
- Top speed: 170 mph
- Quick take: Like something you wear as opposed to something you drive, the 718 Cayman exemplifies perfect balance. On a bigger track perhaps you’d ask for more power, but I can’t imagine needing much more.
- Score: 8.5/10
2022 Porsche 911 Carrera S Review Specs
- Base price: $124,450
- Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six | 8-speed PDK | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 443 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque: 390 lb-ft @ 2,300 to 5,000 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,382 pounds
- Seating capacity: 4
- 0-60 mph: 3.5 seconds
- Top speed: 191 mph
- Quick take: The sports car that can really do it all. Fast and capable, the only downside of the Carrera S is that you’ll often feel like its limits exist far above your own.
- Score: 8/10
The Porsche Experience Center, Los Angeles
First, though, let me tell you a bit about the Porsche Experience Center. There are two in the U.S., one in L.A. and one in Atlanta, Georgia, which is also where Porsche Cars North America is based.
Located in Carson, California, which is about a 45-minute drive south of downtown L.A., the PEC utilizes its 53-acre property to house a 50,000 square-foot event space with VR simulator pods, 6,000 square feet of gallery space, and a restaurant that’s shared with Porsche Motorsport North America. The rest of the complex includes an off-road course and seven on-road driver “modules”—an acceleration straight, a kick plate, a low-friction circle, an “ice hill,” an open paved area for autocrossing, and a 1.3-mile track. There’s also a one-to-one recreation of the Nürburgring’s famed Carousel banked turn.
You can sign up for a variety of driving experiences through the PEC. The experiences cost a few hundred bucks and were 90 minutes apiece, but you don’t stop driving for nearly the entire time. Porsche supplies the circuit, the cars, the insurance, the safety marshals, the gas, and a one-on-one instructor. All you need to do is swipe your credit card and show up. As a way of dipping your toe into track driving with legitimately some of the best cars being sold on today’s market, it’s a pretty damn good deal.
Depending on which experience you buy, you’ll do different activities. For example, my instructor and I worked on autocrossing, controlling the sudden loss of rear-wheel traction at the kick plate module, learning how to modulate oversteer at the low-friction circle, practicing launching and straight-line speed, and practicing on-track driving at the 1.3-mile track. The track itself is a very progressive and flowing thing with no harsh braking zones, so you can really focus on smoothing out your steering and braking and throttle application. Even if you’ve done a bunch of track driving in the past, I can promise you you’ll learn something new here. There’s always something new to learn.
In fact, I’d say the only downside to the experience was that I just wanted to drive more after it was over. It certainly doesn’t cover the scope of what you learn at those multi-day driving schools, but you get a small taste of everything.
How the 718 Drove
Every single time I get into a 718—doesn’t matter which—I immediately get the feeling that I’m wearing the car rather than driving it. The regular 718 I drove had the flat-four that everyone likes to shit on, but I’ve personally always liked it. It’s a mid-engine Subaru. Also, because the car only weighs 3,000 pounds and has 300 horsepower, you can pretty much floor it wherever you go for a very, very manageable thrill. The brakes bite hard but naturally, so learning how to seamlessly bring the 718 down from speed and into a corner is a very quick and easy thing to learn.
Perhaps the very best part of the 718 is its steering. It’s actually pretty weighty, but also very accurate, which leads to greater driver confidence. Also, I definitely messed up a couple of corners, and not once did the car even come close to snap-oversteering. Is that even really a thing anymore with modern cars?
I err on the cautious side when it comes to track driving, and the 718 seemed perfectly happy to keep pace with my seven-tenths efforts. Likewise, I never felt like the car was too fast for me. Freed from the fear of overshooting a corner, I had a blast. The only time I heard—heard, not felt—a squeal of protest from the tires was during a particularly tight, late-apex corner. This, my instructor assured me, was due to the 718 having skinnier front tires.
I’ve driven the flat-four Cayman on public roads before, but hustling it around this compact, 1.3-mile circuit made it feel like a big, gas-powered go-kart. It was a very good thing.
How the 911 Drove
The 911 brought on the immediate sense that I was driving a bigger car. There was simply more body to see out of, more weight to sling around. But there was also more power to balance everything with. In fact, the Cayman felt optimally powered yet less willing to get up to any mischief; the Carrera S handled itself with a touch more tail-happy innuendo.
But only if I reached for it. Being up nearly 150 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque makes a hell of a difference when your cars don’t weigh that much to begin with. It was enough to startle me the first time I mashed on the 911’s throttle down the track’s main straight. The power swelled with a building crescendo, but a smooth stab of the brakes brought things easily back down again, and the razor-sharp steering flicked the light nose around the uphill chicane without drama. It was sharp, but also lighter and offered up less resistance.
And because the 911 had wider rubber up front, it handled the same corners with a bit more authority than the Cayman. You could do things a little harder and faster and not worry about hearing the fronts screech in protest.
Bigger power comes with bigger responsibility, though, and I felt myself naturally exercising a bit more caution with the 911. After I got adjusted, though, what felt like an ideally sized track for the Cayman became a bit cramped for the Carrera S.
But here was the biggest shock of all: Never before have I experienced any silliness from a 911. I did here. Perhaps it was just the circuit’s layout and the way it encouraged agility rather than outright, straightline speed, but the bigger Porsche responded with a shimminess I’d not felt prior to that day. So there is a little goblin underneath all those layers of perfection after all.
I still stand by the belief that a mid-engine layout is the best engine layout. And I believe Porsche acknowledges this, too, as the 911 RSR race car famously became mid-engined a few years back. The automaker has just thoroughly worked over the roadgoing 911s by adding performance hardware to make them drive like mid-engine cars.
The result is a modern 911 that handles shockingly like a mid-engined car. At no point did I feel the ass threaten to swing out when it wasn’t supposed to; the balance and handling were consistently superb. Against the lower-powered Cayman, the Carrera S was definitely the more playful of the pair, though both provided equal amounts of joy when pushed. The 911 did it through power, the Cayman through maneuverability.
While I fully did not expect the differences between a mid-engined car and a rear-engined car to be so slim, ultimately, I’d still go with the Cayman. I couldn’t shake the sense that the 911’s limits were far above my own, whereas the 718 was something I was more comfortable working with. Its levels come across as very attainable, and I don’t think I’d get into as much trouble with it as I would with the 911. Of course, if you get tired of the flat-four, there are flat-sixes to trade up for, and you can keep ‘em between the axles.
Whenever I talk to Boxster or Cayman owners at meets, the conversation almost inevitably ends the same way. “I love my car,” they say, “but I’m just waiting until I can trade up for the 911.” The 911 has reached near-mythical status among enthusiasts. Porsche can charge whatever the hell it wants for them and they’ll still sell. I guess that’s what nearly 70 years of pedigree will earn you.
There’s no doubt the 911 is objectively great. But every time I’m behind the wheel of a Cayman, I feel like the car’s working to impress me and not the other way around. There’s an approachability to it because it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging around almost seven decades of expectations. This is not a science by any means. But there’s something to it. I can just feel it.
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