By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
The perfect car exists.
Well, the perfect sports car: The Porsche Cayman.
Yes, the 911 is quicker — and faster. But mere acceleration is not what a sports car is all about. The mid-engined Cayman is inherently better balanced than the rear-engined 911.
And besides, the 911 is only quicker if you buy the 911 S. The as-it-sits 911 Carrera is actually not quite as quick as the Cayman.
Well, not as quick as the Cayman S I tested.
4.5 seconds to 60 — vs. 4.8 for the Carrera. Plus about $30,000 left in your bank account.
But this is not merely about money, either. What the Cayman offers is priceless: Perfection of line — and the capability to hold just about any line you can throw it into. It is a surgical tool, a conductor’s baton — with which you, the driver, perform a symphony of high-performance motoring.
WHAT IT IS
The Cayman is Porsche’s mid-engined hardtop two-seater coupe — as distinct from the mid-engined Boxster convertible and the rear-engined (and four-seater) 911.
Base price is $52,600 for the standard Cayman equipped with a 2.7 liter, 275 hp version of Porsche’s famous “boxer” flat six engine, teamed up with a six-speed manual transmission.
The Cayman S ups the ante to 3.4 liters and 325 hp. Base price for this one is $63,800.
At the pinnacle is the Cayman GTS — 340 hp, 12.9 seconds through the quarter mile and 177 MPH on top.
It stickers for $75,200.
Other than its own sibling, the soft-topped Boxster, there’s just one other mid-engined sports car similar to the Cayman on the market — the Lotus Evora (base price $66,800). But the Lotus, though agile and quick, is partially (ahem!) a Toyota. Under its exotic-car skin, you’ll discover a 3.5 liter V-6 that’s pretty much the same V-6 you’d find in mom’s Camry. Being lighter than a Camry, the 3.5 V-6 delivers exotic-car performance in the Evora. But it’s still a Toyota V-6.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. . . .
The ’14 Cayman gets a new body (subtle changes), updated chassis (longer wheelbase, slightly widened track) and a dramatically updated interior that now rivals the 911’s . . . and across the board upgrades under the hood. Both engines are stronger — and the car itself is lighter.
And you know what that means… .
Erotic sights. This car should be sold under glass.
Erotic sounds. The race-car warble of a Porsche flat six bumping the redline at 7,800 RPM around 142 MPH at the top of fourth gear (don’t ask me how I know) is as close as most of us will ever get to vertical dive-bombing a Russian tank in a Ju-87 Stuka like Hans Ulrich Rudel. Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles…
Bar-none handling. The Code of the Curve — as Porsche puts it. If word gets out about what this car is capable of, they’ll make it as illegal as a catalytic converter “test pipe.”
A cabin worthy of the car — at last.
Surprisingly everyday viable — unlike the impossibly cramped and brutal-riding Lotus Evora. The Cayman has two trunks. Gets not-bad gas mileage. And it’s comfortable in slow-pokey traffic.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Accessing the engine. Call the man.
Avoiding The Man.
UNDER THE HOOD
Both Cayman engines are flat sixes — three cylinder on each side, “boxing” each other on a horizontal plane across a common crankshaft — as opposed to the more common upright “v” six and in-line six configurations.
The layout gets the weight of the engine down low — just what you want in a serious sports car. It is also inherently balanced — the result of each pair of opposing pistons being fired at exactly the same moment. This makes the engine exceptionally smooth. And because heavy counterbalancing is not needed, boxer engines are also light — and thus rev fast and freely.
A side bennie is that they sound like nothing else, an intangible but critical ingredient when it comes to sports car design.
Standard issue is 2.7 liters and 275 hp — vs. 2.9 and 265 previously. A six-speed manual transmission is standard — or go with Porsche’s optional Doppelkupplung (PDK) seven-speed dual clutch automated manual. It adds $3,200 to the car’s price — but adds considerably to the car’s performance. More on that in a moment.
The S ups the ante to 3.4 liters and 325 hp — vs. 320 previously. Same transmission choices: no-cost six-speed stick or seven-speed PDK (also $3,200 extra).
The GTS rocks up to 340 hp — just 10 hp shy of the 911 Carrera (which starts at $84,300).
Same transmission choices once again.
All Caymans are quick — and very fast. It’s merely a question of how quick (and fast) you’d like to go.
The base car is capable of pegging 60 in 5.1 seconds; the S in 4.4.
Interestingly, these times — the best times — are obtained with the PDK automated manual (in the most aggressive Sport Plus mode, which bangs the shifts off with the furious precision of Michael Schumacher on Red Bull).
It’s not a small difference, either.
The base Cayman with the six-speed manual gets to 60 in 5.4 seconds; the S with clutch worked by you does it in 4.7 seconds. The top-of-the-line GTS is also slightly less quick with the six-speed vs. PDK: 4.6 and 4.5 seconds, respectively.
This performance gap — in favor of the automated manual — is why manuals operated by you are falling out of favor in elite sports car circles. (The 911 Turbo and GT3 come only with the PDK.) They shift perfectly, every time — and they are also more fuel-efficient. The base car with PDK rates 22 city/32 highway — vs. 20 city/30 highway with the shift-for-yourself six. The S with PDK carries a 21 city/30 highway tag — vs. 20/28 with the manual six-speed.
On the other hand, the manual cars are slightly faster than the PDK-equipped versions: 165 MPH all-out for the base car with six-speed . . . vs. 164 for the PDK-equipped Cayman.
The six-speed S pegs 175; with the PDK, 174.
Notice, by the way, that the PDK-equipped Cayman GTS (4.5 seconds to 60) is not the quickest Cayman. At least not according to Porsche’s own official performance stats. That honor goes to the PDK-equipped Cayman S (4.4 seconds in Sport Plus mode).
Naturlich, both engines (which run 12.5:1 compression ratios) must have premium fuel.
ON THE ROAD
Having the engine behind your head — but not behind the rear axle — is where it’s at if what you’re after is handling as neutral as Switzerland. No front-engined/rear-drive car oversteer. Or rear-engined oversteer, for that matter. It’s true Porsche has dialed the ass-heavy/nose-light handling issues out of the 911 via various engineering countermeasures. But the point here is the Cayman requires no such countermeasures.
It is laid out the way a high-performance sports car ought to be laid out.
Porsche seems to know this — and concedes the point, implicitly at least, by not offering a turbo Cayman. That way, the 911 can still outrun the Cayman.
But — ach! — if you order the S, you can outrun the 911, as well as out-handle it. Put the $30-something grand you just saved toward gas, lawyers — or track time.
I ride sport bikes. They make you feel like an ubermensch. Or at least, not bound by the normal rules. A rattlesnake flick of the wrist, a shift of your body weight to the left, zig and zag — and just like that, you’re gone. The cell phone-addled traffic drones fading rapidly in the rearview. Nothing can touch — much less catch — you.
The Cayman made me feel this way, too.
And not only because it moves and responds to your inputs like a sport bike. It is personal like a sport bike. Just the two seats, don’t forget. It also sits lower — and is wider tracked in back — than its bigger brother the 911: 50.9 inches vs. 51.3 inches and 60.5 inches vs. 59.8 for the 911 Carrera. There is also this big difference. The Cayman’s wheelbase is 97.4 inches vs. 96.5 for the 911. Yet the Cayman is 4.4 inches shorter overall: 172.4 inches vs. 176.8 inches. This yin-yang set-up of an inherently less twitchy longer wheelbase layout — with the engine and transaxle settled just where they ought to be — achieves the apotheosis of what a sports car should be.
And unlike the also mid-engined and also super-fun Lotus Evora, it’s also civilized. There’s room for your legs and head.
And, it’s quiet — something else the Lotus isn’t.
Until, of course, you rouse the boxer six. Otherwise, it murmers contentedly in the background.
Wake it up — and so will you.
The ride, meanwhile — even in the adjustable suspension’s most rabid mode — will not leave your back and cheeks looking like you received a wood shampoo from Officer Not So Friendly. In fact, the Cayman is as pleasant an A-to-B tool when you need it to be as a Camry.
Except, of course, it’s a Porsche.
AT THE CURB
There are a few cars I would put in my living room — if I had Jay Leno’s bank account: The Lamborghini Miura. A ’63 Corvette split-window coupe. The Ferrari 365 GTB Daytona.
And this Cayman.
To appreciate it, you must walk around it. Slowly. Take it all in, from various angles. The rear quarter view is my personal favorite. One gains ever-growing appreciation for the subtle genius of the flow, the way one part of the car leads to the next. Also for the function — as there’s nothing purposelessly showy about anything. This is both instrument and art. A four-wheeled Stradivarius, if you like.
And I liked it very much indeed.
Besides which it is fairly practical — despite what you may have read. That mid-engined layout? It makes possible a hatchback — and two “trunks.” One up front — and one in back. Combined, there is 15 cubic feet of storage capacity. About the same as you’d have in a Camry sedan (15.4 cubic feet) and almost three times as much as the 911 (5.1 cubic feet). The up-front trunk is a deep-welled thing that’s perfect for containing packages that might otherwise get jostled. The hatchback in back can handle a duffle bag — or golf bags.
If you’re creative, you’ll be surprised by how much this car can carry.
And yes, there are cupholders. Two of them, too. They are secreted behind a panel just above the glove box. Pop ’em open if you need ’em. They adjust to accommodate everything from a venti Starbucks bold to a Big Gulp. Though, really, the last thing you ought to be doing in a Cayman is drinking.
The new interior is revolutionary, in contrast to the mostly evolutionary changes to the bodywork. Before, the Cayman’s cabin was certainly nice — but not on par with the 911’s.
It is now.
Beautifully fitted and finished — and available with Porsche’s almost limitless choice of palettes and trim accents with which to personalize your Cayman. Three seats are available: base (with 10 way power adjust), race-bolstered Sport seats and 14-way Adaptive Sport Seats that adjust to suit, as you drive. A pop-up decklid spoiler. A track-day telemetry recorder that logs your best lap time and other important data. A “chronograph” stop watch/clock to time your shenanigans.
All trims get a new main gauge cluster with 9,000 RPM centrally mounted analog tach (replacing last year’s 8,000 RPM tach), with 190 MPH speedo off to its left and a new LCD display in the pod to its right — replacing last year’s analog cluster for fuel/temp/oil pressure. The new LCD screen can be scrolled through various menus — including G forces (through all four axis, not just laterally) as well as GPS. There is a larger flat screen mounted at an incline on the much higher-end-looking (vs. the previous Cayman’s) center stack, which flows down to an integrated center console/arm rest — under which there is a minimalist storage cubby that will (just barely) accommodate your wallet, cell phone and maybe house keys.
Speaking of minimalist: One of the few Cayman cheap-outs is the standard-issue stereo. Which it is just barely. Four speakers, 25 watts. That’s it, baby. And that includes the S — which gets upgraded high-capacity brakes with contrast color powder-coated calipers, the 3.4 liter engine, bi-Xenon headlights and a number of other things — but not an upgraded stereo.
Three choices are available: The first step up is a nine-speaker head unit — which is bundled with satellite HD radio and also gets you an enhanced touchscreen LCD display. One notch up from this is a Bose 10 speaker system. For the ultimate, select the top-of-the-line Burmester 12-speaker surround system. It rocks.
But, screw the stereo. Seriously. In this car, who needs it?
The boxer six makes the right kind of music, plays your own special song. Drowning that out with noise from a stereo is like putting mayonnaise on french fries.
My test car — an S model with pretty much everything Porsche offers, including the $6,750 Infotainment package with the Burmester 12-speaker surround sound system, the $3,465 Adaptive Sport Seats, $2,815 Agate/Pebble Gray leather interior, $1,500 20-inch Carrera S wheels and a few other bells and whistles stickered out at $88,625.
But, consider. A base 911 — not as quick and arguably not quite the 100 proof sports car the Cayman is — starts at $84,300.
The 911 S stickers for $98,900 . . . and you’re just getting started.
Again, this isn’t all about dollars and cents — or even secondarily about the money. But the Cayman is so damned good it’s not like you’re settling. I respect the 911. You’d have to be an imbecile not to. In GT3 form, it can get to 60 in under three seconds. Lawd have mercy.
Because the 911 won’t.
That said, there is a purity of purpose embodied in the Cayman. The 911 has evolved into an exotic supercar — a schlachtschiff (Bismarck) vs. a panzerschiff (Admiral Graf Spee).
The Cayman is more like what the 911 was originally.
A sports car.
In that role, it is essentially faultless. Absolute straight-line acceleration is not the deciding metric. If it were, the 911 wins. Or maybe the new Stingray Corvette. But the Cayman gives you something they don’t — and can’t, no matter how much money you throw at them, no matter how savagely they rape the speed limit.
To understand what I mean, you’ll need to do more than read the words.
You’ll have to drive the car.
THE BOTTOM LINE
‘Nuff said. Now go get you one.