In the early days, the notion of a couple of downsized variations of the iconic Porsche 911 did seem a little strange, and the first generations of the Porsche Boxster and its hardtop clone, the Cayman, were perceived as lightweights by many ultratraditionalists. And also praised by car critics, we must remember.
Nowadays, the shock is how good the two newer two-seater cars are, presenting would-be Carrera buyers with some serious choices, at a lower starting price. Big asterisk here: Read on for all the details on how that may or may not necessarily be the case with the all-new 2014 Cayman S.
Cayman’s significant, third-generation redo has radically transformed the car, adding a new nose and aggressive light fixtures that immediately remind you of the revolutionary work seen in the new Corvette Stingray and the most recent waves of Ferrari products. Inside, there’s that solid buttress of transmission and center console that’s made its way from the Panamera and the Cayenne to the rest of the family. Top it all with a 3.4-liter flat-six-cylinder engine good for 325 horsepower (the standard Cayman setup is a 2.7-liter variant making 275 HP) and you have a good-looking, rear-wheel-drive pure sports machine that’s still one of the best-handling automobiles on the market.
A longer wheelbase, shifted windshield position and big air intakes on the body also differentiate it from the Boxster, if you’re looking for a more distinctive ride.
The value proposition may have shifted somewhat, however. In the old days, Cayman was seen as a way of getting much of the Carrera’s flash and sizzle at a more austere price point; my Cayman S began its life with a $63,800 starting point (anything with the name 911 on it nowadays is at least $84,300), but a significant pile of options meant the dreamy test car I drove was pushing $89,000, and that’s a lot of coin.
That did, admittedly, include a few bits that someone seeking pure driving excitement at a little less cash could possibly live without, though the $6,700, 800-watt Burmester audio system is a pretty wicked add-on, and the unbelievably firm adaptive sport seats (two upgrades, nearly $4,500) did help push it into a more 911-ly direction.
Bare-bones or not, you’re getting a wildly accomplished automobile in the Cayman S. The 325-HP output may seem austere in an era when even domestic muscle cars are pushing 500 horses off the showroom floor, but in the smaller, impossibly low-to-the-ground Cayman, I think you’ll find 325 quite sufficient.
Transmission choices include the ever-improving seven-speed PDK automatic, blindingly fast and efficient and dangerously close to pushing manual choices out the door entirely.
Happily mine featured the virtually bulletproof six-speed automatic that even gets some charmingly rattly throttle blipping in Sport-Plus mode.
That particular combination seems to create an experience equally visceral and dynamic, noisy at full throttle, and blindingly fast. Even if it does seat only two and offer less combined cargo space than a recycling blue box. Well, 15 cubic feet. Pack carefully.
Do not even come near a Cayman S if you’re looking for a sloppy, comfortable ride, however. The aforementioned sport thrones are punishingly precise, and the armrests hurt if you lean on them. Even the steering wheel is as tough as a golf club shaft. Potholes bigger than a gentleman’s wallet need to be completely avoided, as the stupid-wide (and optional) 20-inch wheels will send that shock straight to your spine. Not stiff enough for you, Billy? Hit the shock dampers and tighten it up even more for track conditions.
A masochist’s dream? It ain’t the 911 GT3, thank goodness, but all of those relentlessly sporty touches mean a package of handling dynamics virtually unmatched in any other car out there. The rooty chug and gurgle of that flat-six is also a nice throwback to Porsche’s underlying DNA.