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The Germans are at it again. From the same country that brought us the “four-door coupe” and engine soundtracks played through the speakers of the audio system comes another wishful fantasy: that the 2014 Porsche Cayman is not a Boxster coupe. The Germans have declared the Cayman to be a stand-alone car, one distanced from the roadster that shares its engines, transmissions, and architecture by virtue of being stiffer, more powerful, and sportier. Never mind that these attributes go part and parcel with adding a steel roof and three grand to the price.
But of course the Cayman is a Boxster coupe. Frankly, we couldn’t come up with higher praise. Whether the roof folds or not, Porsche’s mid-engined, smaller sports car is a perennial favorite and a mainstay on our annual 10Best list. Riotous flat-six engines, balanced handling, and vivid steering punch your ticket to driving nirvana. With this third-generation car, Porsche promises a higher plane of enlightenment by way of lower weight, more power, and new chassis technologies.
My, What Haunches You Have
Plus, just look at it. All grown-up and filled out in all the right places, the Cayman finally appears ready to step out from the 911’s shadow. This latest croc has a wider track with a longer wheelbase and stretched greenhouse, and it possesses a newfound presence, thanks to details such as larger air ducts behind the doors, brawnier rear haunches, and an elegant spoiler that tapers into the taillights.
It might be a bosom-est buddy with the Boxster, but the new Cayman again shares a large amount of its architecture with the new 911, too, which pays off in its intensive use of aluminum. The lightweight alloy makes up 44 percent of the Cayman’s body-in-white, specifically, the front and rear body, the floorpan, the doors, and the front and rear trunklids. Porsche says this more than offsets the added mass of new equipment and larger wheels and that the net weight loss for a Cayman S is a claimed 66 pounds.
The base Cayman’s flat-six has slimmed down from 2.9 liters to 2.7, and output climbs by 10 horsepower to 275. Despite more muscle and less fat, the Cayman is still a car with more chassis than guts, like a quicker and stickier version of the Mazda Miata MX-5 or Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ. It’s a formula that rewards fluid drivers who maintain momentum and minimize the amount of time they spend off-throttle.
This car feels tailor-made for roads like the one running between Alcalar and Casais, Portugal. (Good thing it was on our drive route.) You can cover the eight miles without ever moving your hands from nine and three o’clock, and you only see dead center for as long as it takes to saw from left to right and back again. We’ve driven these very roads before in a 550-hp Jaguar XKR-S, but the lighter and better-balanced Cayman makes for an entirely new experience. It instills confidence and begs for a quicker pace, communicating with you more clearly than your significant other ever will.
Land of Talk
Regardless of whatever engine or suspension setting you might choose from the variously available adjustable systems, Porsche has only one steering calibration for the Cayman. It’s perfect. True, the new electric setup isn’t as tactile overall as the old hydraulic system was, but the swap has filtered out white noise—the conversation is now more to the point. Snug sport seats keep the passengers in step with the fast-dancing chassis. The shifter puts solid weight and a satisfying engagement behind every throw. Its only flaw is a reverse gate without a true lockout. When hurrying the three-two downshift, it’s too easy to land in reverse.
After a morning with the base car, we managed to steal off with a fresh pair of Caymans—both S models, one with a manual gearbox and the other equipped with the PDK—in the afternoon and made a beeline for that unforgettable road. Four hours after we first passed through, the same tawny mutt was resting in the same spot at the side of the road. This time, though, he jumped to his feet quite a bit quicker, perhaps recognizing that the cars were approaching with much more speed. The S model’s larger 3.4-liter makes a convincing case for the extra 50 horsepower and 59 lb-ft of torque. In the base car, you’ll miss the torque at the low end, but it’s the surge between 4500 rpm and peak power at 7400 rpm that you’ll relish in the S. The extra thrust is also a useful tool when it comes to rotating the car with the throttle. The other major differentiator between base Cayman and S, a firmer suspension, is largely lost on the road. Both cars ride plenty stiff on their optional 20-inch wheels.
The seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission continues its crusade against the manual gearbox with its remarkable shift quality and speed. As proof of how good it is, we struggled to discern that the downshifts in manual mode are now even quicker. For efficiency purposes, Porsche has added a coasting function that decouples the engine and transmission when the driver gently lifts off the throttle, causing the engine revs to fall to idle speed. Whereas most modern cars shut off fuel delivery on deceleration, Porsche claims its coasting method further reduces fuel consumption and emissions while keeping the catalytic converter at its ideal operating temperature. You might notice the tach needle go limp during coasting, but there are more obvious indicators as well. An idling engine is much quieter than an engine pumping air at 2500 rpm, and there is a slight pause before power returns once the driver returns to the throttle.
The Sport button, formerly included with the Sport Chrono package, is now standard, as it’s the shortcut to deactivating the coasting and the engine stop-start programs. It also relaxes the stability control, quickens shifts, and sharpens throttle tip-in. Sport Plus, still part of the $1850 Sport Chrono package, takes each of those computerized parameters one step further and, on PDK-equipped cars, adds launch control. Torque vectoring, which brakes the inside rear wheel to help the car rotate in corners, is new to the Cayman. An option that first requires the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management, it certainly makes itself known in high-g cornering. But the Cayman is neutral and responsive enough that it’s hardly critical.
Endless Build Combos, One Must-Have
There’s the usual long-list of performance add-ons like carbon-ceramic brakes, various wheels, adaptive dampers, and the new addition of adaptive cruise control with collision warning (available only on PDK models). Of the tens of thousands of dollars in optional equipment—it includes various aesthetic enhancements, several concerning only the myriad Porsche crests in and on the car—the sport exhaust tops our must-have list. At $2825, the price is dear, but it imbues the Cayman with a rolling snare-drum-like sound on accelerator liftoff that makes deceleration as thrilling as full-throttle blasts.
This is what the Porsche Cayman does best. Mechanical attributes morph into emotion-stirring sights, sounds, and sensations. Ogling the sheetmetal makes the back of your knees sweat. The flat-six engine howls, and your flesh tingles. Superb chassis balance manifests as the scent of hard-worked rubber. The steering is a trusted handshake. The Cayman affects us in a way that few cars do—excepting, of course, the completely unrelated Boxster.