The new Porsche Cayman S edges even closer to the venerable Porsche 911. The first Porsche Cayman model blew me away when I drove it during a media preview through twisting mountain roads in northern Italy in late 2005.
Now the lighter, faster third-generation Cayman is here as a redesigned 2014 model with features including sleeker styling, a longer wheelbase, classier interior and power gains.
The new mid-engine, rear-drive Cayman looks significantly different than the Boxster and the last-generation Cayman. Precise lines and sculpted edges complement the lowered, lengthened profile. There’s a 2.4-inch longer wheelbase (97.4 inches) for greater high-speed stability and a wider track at both axles for stability and cornering agility. There’s also larger diameter wheels and tires for better grip. The Cayman is 172.4 inches long, but its styling makes it look longer.
It’s a small point, but the twin exhaust outlets at the center of the rear end are reminiscent of those found on early Porsche sports/racing cars.
While fast, the refined Cayman’s handling and powerful enhanced brakes help make it fun to drive at any speed, partly because it has an innovative lightweight body design with mixed aluminum-steel construction and 40 percent more static torsional rigidity. The Cayman weighs from 2,888 to 2,976 pounds, depending on engine and transmission.
The new electromechanical power steering is responsive but loses some of the feedback of the previous Cayman’s hydraulic system.
While generally quite good, with a gifted chassis, this is still a short-wheebase car. I thus could feel some nasty bumps over rough roads, although my test had the new generation, optional Porsche Active Suspension Management active damping system, controlled by a console button.
The Cayman sits between Porsche’s entry mid-engine Boxer sports car and the automaker’s iconic, but costly, rear-engine 911 model. It comes as the $52,600 base Cayman and the more powerful $63,800 Cayman S, which I tested.
The new Cayman is up to 60 pounds lighter, depending on specific model and equipment—and if it has Porsche’s PDK sequential automatic transmission with two automated clutches and seven gears for faster acceleration and better fuel economy.
My test Cayman had the standard precise six-speed manual gearbox that works with a firm, long-throw clutch. All Cayman’s have a standard “Sport” console button. When engaged, it causes more immediate, aggressive engine response. My test Cayman S had an optional Sport Chrono package with a “Sport Plus” mode, which is mainly for race track use. The ride was best when set in “Normal” mode.
Desirable Porsche options are pricey, so the bottom-line price of my test Cayman S was $89,915, including a $950 freight charge. Options included natural leather power sport seats, a front/rear park assist system and an infotainment package with a specially developed Burmester sound system. There was even a “smoking package.”
Optional for the first time in the Cayman are items including Adaptive Cruise control. It controls vehicle distance and speed in traffic. Standard safety items include a variety of air bags.
Of course, one doesn’t really need extras such as, say, the $6,730 infotainment package and upscale sound system. And you don’t really need the higher-priced Cayman S model, as the base model is fine.
The base model has a sophisticated 2.7-liter opposed-piston six-cylinder with 275 horsepower, while the S version is powered by an equally sophisticated 3.4-liter “six” with 325 horsepower and more torque. Porsche says the 2.7-liter Cayman does 0-60 m.p.h. in 5.1-5.4 seconds, depending on the transmission, while the Cayman S hits 60 in 4.4-4.7 seconds. The automaker says the base Cayman can hit 165 m.ph., while the S model can do 175 m.p.h.
Both engines have good torque throughout their operating range. The 2.7 gains 10 horsepower, while the S has an additional five horsepower over respective last-generation models. I found fourth gear best for very fast passing, although even sixth gear, although a cruising gear, allowed moderately good 65-75 m.p.h passing.
Estimated fuel economy of the 325-horsepower Cayman S is 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on highways with the manual transmission and 21 and 30 with the PDK. Economy figures with the 275-horsepower engine are 21 and 30 with the manual and 22 and 32 with the PDK. Both engines call for premium fuel, and fuel tank capacity is 16.9 gallons.
A fuel-saving start/stop feature shuts down the engine when the car is waiting at, say, a long stoplight, but it starts immediately when it’s time to accelerate.
It helps to be limber because the low-slung Cayman calls for a “drop-in-climb-out” method. The cabin feels a little snug but isn’t cramped. It’s quiet in there, although there was above-average wind noise at highway speeds on a normally windy day.
The cockpit has few decent storage areas, but the interior is upscale and brighter than in many German cars—especially with the optional bi-color leather packages. Seats are very supportive. While small, controls can be easily used. And my test car’s thick, adjustable sport steering wheel was easily gripped. The large dashboard analog gauges were largely washed out by sunlight, but a bright digital speed readout in one of them could be easily seen.
A larger hatch provides better access to the rear trunk. Cargo capacity has been slightly increased, but the hatch opening is high. The front cargo compartment has decent room and a low opening.
For all its virtues, I’d bypass the Cayman and be more comfortable driving a Porsche Panamera sedan from Chicago to Las Vegas. But you can’t beat the Cayman for sheer driving kicks, and that’s what good sports cars are supposed to be all about.
Pros: Sleeker. Fast. Superb handling. Generally comfortable.
Cons: “Drop-in-climb-out” interior. High rear cargo opening. Mediocre city fuel economy. Costly options.
Bottom Line: Super combination of beauty, speed, refinement and roadability.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.