MT. HOOD NATIONAL FOREST, Ore. – "Get action!" That was Teddy Roosevelt's cure for what by modern standards would've likely been diagnosed as depression and attention deficit disorder. Basically, it meant do things and go places, which for him was bounding across the Badlands of Dakota territory, going off to war in Cuba and casting off onto a near-fatal quest through the Amazon rainforest – just to name a few adventures in what was indeed a life of near non-stop action.
I've been thinking a lot about Teddy Roosevelt recently. Not because I'd dare compare actual medically diagnosed disorders to being a bit down due to the state of the world, but because I think his notion to "get action" will forever ring true. Doing things and going places is indeed restorative, and the automobile presents a means by which to do both. And "going places" does not mean Target.
Driving the 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 most definitely qualifies as doing something. This is not a car in which you just lean back and switch on the adaptive cruise control – literally, you can't get ACC, and the optional full bucket seats don't recline. You drive the 718, with the steering and throttle responding to the delicate fidgets of your fingers and toes; the mid-engine layout rotating about you at its center; and the transmission shifting gears only when you tell it to. And with its bespoke lowered suspension and naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six, the GT4 goes further than any other Cayman by making you not only a part of the action, but allowing you to feel and hear every part of it, too.
For the going places part of the T.R. equation, I'd be driving from Portland, Ore. to Detroit … also Oregon. Now, besides making for a fun headline, I had heard that the 100-mile scenic route to this tiny town on a lake of the same name consists of exceptional driving roads. Fitting name, then, although perhaps an ironic one given the dearth of such roads in actual Detroit.
Fitting for Oregon is the off-and-on drizzle throughout the day, which at least makes my on-road drive of the GT4 comparable to my on-track drive last July that more fully revealed the car's attributes and capabilities. A hardcore sports car wearing performance rubber and blessed with 414 horsepower might give you pause in such damp conditions, but the GT4's utmost control and the linear doling out of its 309 pound-feet of naturally aspirated torque breed confidence. This is definitively not a showy, high-powered hooning machine – the dual-mode sport exhaust barely gets louder in its loud mode, and refrains from crackling and popping on overrun.
Oh, but it's still very loud. The sharp, rumbling exhaust note pairs with the telltale clatter of the naturally aspirated flat-six to instantly ID the car long before it can be seen ("Oh, you hear that? The GT4's almost here"). There's just something so special about this engine tucked only a few inches from your right kidney – it's raw in sound, response and performance that can't be matched. Again, literally. The 718 is the only Porsche that gets this particular engine, and even then, it's restricted to the GT4, its 718 Spyder convertible twin and an option for the GTS. Derived from the 4.0-liter turbocharged flat-sixes found in the 911, it of course goes about its sweet-sweet business without forced induction.
On a track, keeping it near its 8,000-rpm redline was joyously routine, yet with its 309 pound-feet achieved at a perfectly reasonable 5,000 rpm, it's easy to keep revs low and still get up to speed with sufficient enthusiasm out in the real world. On more than one occasion I needed the centrally mounted tach to remind me that I was missing the star attraction. The amount of acceleration from 5,000 to that redline is astonishing, with speed and noise continuing to build to an extent that repeatedly surprised. There can't possibly be more. Nope, nope, there is.
All that noise is such that rolling down the windows isn't exactly needed, but with a break in the rain, I do so to listen to that glorious sound echo off the pine-lined ravine cut by the Clackamas River. The road here consists of long, high-speed sweepers that only occasionally get the blood pumping in a car that can flawlessly flick and flutter through whatever roller coaster of tight turns and elevation changes you throw at it. Yet, this drive is as much about going places as it is doing things, and to that end, the scenery is spectacular – gentle rapids on the right, rising cliff to the left, oh-so-Oregon green everywhere. The city is long gone, exhale.
Eventually, the Clackamas narrows and the road lining it follows suit as I travel deeper into the southern end of the vast Mt. Hood National Forest. Corners become sharper and more frequent, there are more elevation changes and the pavement becomes worse with broad patches and heaves. The last bit means the PASM adaptive suspension's firmer mode remains off for the sake of my back and chassis stability, while also being extra mindful of speed given the GT4's 1.2-inch ride height reduction and Leno-esque chin spoiler that had earlier scuttled an attempt to simply get up my driveway. No underbody work was consequently harmed in the making of this Rooseveltian journey.
The road is clearly not a frequently travelled thoroughfare, a point made obvious by the numerous shrubs growing into the roadway. Yet, its lack of use isn't due to a lack of excellence. It lets the GT4 do its nimble thing, dancing through corners, pivoting around the driver and speaking through the steering wheel in a way that starts to make the car feel like an extension of you. It's cliché, but it's also the best way to describe why it's so good.
The eventually optional PDK automatic would theoretically quicken things further and let me concentrate more acutely on the chassis, undulating pavement and encroaching shrubbery, but the six-speed manual is itself an appropriate masterpiece in a car already museum-worthy. The perfectly weighted, easily modulated clutch and mechanically direct gearbox deserve plaudits in their own right, but the GT4's Auto Blip function that automatically rev-matches the engine and transmission when the clutch is depressed lets it achieve a best-of-both-worlds goal of flawless gear changes and the added involvement of shifting through an H pattern and operating a clutch. And don't worry, you can turn Auto Blip off if you want to go completely au natural.
The twists, turns and foliage are interrupted only by the brief camp site or artifacts of past campers whose definition of "get action" means "leave garbage." To call such people pigs would be an insult to swine. Though, in all fairness, blitzing through a national forest with flat-six and dual-note exhaust blaring is not exactly an officially sanctioned activity of the Sierra Club. I slow down, upshift and roll down the windows again. At least 22 mpg over 200 miles in a 414-hp sports car is far from guzzling.
Eventually I reach Detroit … Oregon … to discover a town unquestionably hurting from the coronavirus shutdown, but also starting to show signs of renewed life. The Cedars Restaurant, which cutely declares this Detroit to be Motor Boat City, has a handful of cars parked outside despite being 1 pm on a Thursday, yet the picturesque, nicely maintained Lodge at Lake Detroit motel clearly has no patrons. This part of Oregon has been cleared for "Phase 2" of re-opening, meaning that while many restrictions remain, the ability for visitors to take advantage of nearby Lake Detroit and use the town for services and as a stopping point (including those needing its Tesla Supercharger) are made perfectly viable. I stop for pictures and a coffee. Hopefully it all survives for further exploration another day, but for now, the journey had already left me sufficiently re-energized and restored.
Action gotten, then, the road back to Portland would be straighter, more traffic-packed and therefore duller. An Interstate would be involved. This would not be the GT4's forte. The ride is actually surprisingly well-damped and comfortable for such a focused machine, but stretches of rough pavement inevitably take their toll. So too does the noise, and although I'm not as bothered by the narrow full bucket seats as others, their limited padding and adjustment (including zero recline) make longer drives such as this a bit trying. I was a bit sore the next day. Opting for more traditional, comfortable seats is therefore recommended, especially since the GT4 manages to so capably go places thanks to its other road tripping attributes – the stereo's surprisingly good and there's room for three-plus suitcases.
Of course, one doesn't need a Porsche 718 GT4 to do something, nor a spectacular road through the Cascades to go places. This was a best-case-scenario I was lucky enough to indulge upon, but let it at least serve as a reminder that when social distancing and an unjust world take their emotional toll, at least some relief can be had by grabbing the keys and going for a drive. Get action.
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