I promised myself that I wouldn’t get all misty-eyed and congested with superlatives when I drove the new Porsche Cayman, but I just can’t help it. It’s the best all-around daily driver sports car on the market. Period.
From my first drive of a mid-engine 914 sometime in the late 1970s, I knew Porsche was something special. It wasn’t just the James Dean “rebel” fantasy of a Porsche 550 Spyder on a wide-open California desert highway without a speed limit or a cop in sight, it was a brand – and the engineering behind it – that made you fall in love with driving each and every time you slipped behind the wheel.
To be sure, there are more expensive and exotic sports cars — ones that easily out-perform the humble Cayman. But none combine the depth of engineering, sports car performance, telepathic steering, style, quality and comfort into a relatively – dare I say practical? – package.
The Cayman is a low-volume sports coupe. In 2013, only 3,383 Caymans were sold in the U.S. – the lowest volume of any Porsche model line. Even though most automotive journalists think the mid-engine Cayman handles better than the rear-engine 911 Carrera, the now 51-year old 911 is and always will be the most iconic and desirable Porsche.
The base $53,595 Cayman is $31,700 (the price of a Mercedes CLA250) less than the base 911 Carrera; however, Carrera sales are more than triple that of the more affordable Cayman. Here’s another oddity: unlike all other manufacturers, Porsche charges $2,200 more for the fixed roof Cayman than its ragtop mechanical twin, the Boxster.
And Porsche has always been stingy with standard kit while gouging you for every option. My general rule of thumb is to add $20,000 – $25,000 to the base price of any Porsche for it to be properly optioned.
Call me jaded, but for fifty grand, I think you should at least get standard leather seats, auto-dimming mirrors, heated seats and automatic climate control. You know, stuff you can get on a $20,000 Kia. No such luck.
Every Cayman should have the $3,620 Premium Package Plus as standard equipment. It includes Auto-Dimming Mirrors, Rain-Sensing Wipers, Seat Heating and Ventilation, Two-Zone Automatic Climate Control, Keyless Entry and Start, Light Design Package, 14-way Partial Leather (add $500) Power Seats with Memory Package and Bi-Xenon Dynamic headlights. If you want a “full leather” interior (remember, there are only two front seats and anything aft is carpeted), it will cost you an extra $1,885. For that price, I’d better get an old German woman slaving away over a sewing machine hand-crafting my car’s interior.
The Porsche option list is as mind-boggling as it is endless. Only Porsche makes you pay $615 for a “multifunction” steering wheel – something that comes as standard on all but the cheapest econoboxes. You can easily drop more than $7,000 on carbon fiber or wood trim pieces. Personalized floor mats with leather trim set you back $455.
The Bose Infotainment package, which includes a spiffy 7” full-color touch-screen navigation system and satellite radio will set you back $4,690. But if that isn’t good enough, you can drop $7,300 on the Burmester high-end surround sound system. And for $7,400 you could also opt for Ceramic Composite brakes. A special Sports Exhaust system will set you back $2,825 and Porsche Active Suspension Management is $1,790. And on and on.
But enough of my complaining about standard kit and option rape. Let’s talk about how the car drives.
At first, you slip into the Porsche sports seat which fits like a fine Italian leather glove. Your hands fall to a perfectly proportioned leather-wrapped steering wheel. The optional 14-way electric seats coupled with a power tilt/telescoping steering column make finding a comfortable position easy even for my 6’1” lanky frame. Hell, I’m in love and I haven’t even started the car.
The all-new interior, lifted from the 911 Carrera, puts all the controls in easy reach with intuitive placements. There is a satisfying mix of high quality analog switchgear with touch-screen convenience. Soft-touch plastics, aluminum or leather cover every millimeter and fit and finish are top rate. The cabin is also blessed with additional sound dampening. You can carry on a conversation without being drowned out by either the engine or road noise.
As you twist the key – still left of the steering column – the base naturally aspirated 2.7L flat-six fires up with all its standard variable valve timing, direct injection and auto start/stop electronic wizardry. There is something very special and indescribably intangible about the sound of a Porsche flat-six throbbing in a sound-deadened carpeted box just a few inches from your heart. You hear and feel it, it just doesn’t overwhelm you.
The naturally aspirated 275 horses and 213 pound-feet of torque is enough to provide a truly satisfying and entertaining driving experience. After all, the engine only has to cart around your carcass and its own 2,954 pounds of high-strength German steel and aluminum. Pop the extra $11,200 for the Cayman S and you get the 325 horsepower 3.4L flat-six from the base Carrera.
The optional $3,200 PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) double clutch 7-speed transmission, jointly developed by Porsche and ZF, zaps through gears faster, smoother, in less time and with better logic than it would take for your brain to process send the proper signals to your left foot and right hand — if your car had three pedals. The 7th gear is more of an overdrive which contributes to the excellent 32 mpg highway rating for the Cayman. The car also “sails” at highway speeds by decoupling the transmission from the drive shafts. Touch either pedal or make any sudden move and the transmission instantly re-engages.
I’ve read some complaints about the new electric-assisted steering on the Cayman/Boxster. These whiners should shut up; it’s still one of the best steering experiences available today. With the engine positioned just behind the driver, in front of the rear wheels, the steering still has a wonderfully neutral feeling and the car instantly moves in any direction you point it without the usual physics tug of war with a heavy fore or aft-mounted engine.
Finally, I’d like to talk about styling. I think this second generation Cayman is far more attractive with bulging rear fenders and dramatic headlights. The deeply-sculpted side air scoops add drama. The swept fastback hatch makes the rear compartment easily accessible and between the front and rear compartments, you can still cram in enough soft luggage for a week in a warm climate. It’s downright practical by sports car standards. In fact, it can easily be a daily driver for a single person or a couple that travels light.
I drove a “lightly-optioned” ($17,665) Cayman with none of the performance enhancements like Porsche Active Suspension Management, Porsche Torque Vectoring or Sport Chrono Package. You don’t miss what you don’t have unless there is some glaring performance flaw. The Cayman has none. In its most basic form, it’s a joy to drive and you feel that it’s capable of handling just about anything you’d encounter on any road. It’s also deeply satisfying each time you sit behind the wheel and start the engine. That feeling alone is worth the price of admission.