The first Cayman never lit a fire under Porsche enthusiasts, despite its natural affinity for a twisty road. There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which was the (987) Cayman had a higher price tag than the Boxster, which put a well-spec'ed Cayman into entry-level Carrera territory with the obvious conflicts that brought.
With the arrival of the second-gen (981 C7) Cayman, we had the chance to re-assess the mid-engined Coupe on both road and track. We'll put you out of your misery from the start by confirming it's one of best handling road cars we've ever driven.
The original Cayman wasn't exactly inept, but when you factor in a 40% stiffer bodyshell, the improvements were immediately palpable. And although it's physically larger than before, the new car's greater aluminum content and lightweight construction pared 53 lb from the body-in-white.
The stiffer shell meant the suspension doesn't need to be so firm, benefiting ride quality. And as with the current (981) Boxster, with which it shares underpinnings, the new Cayman has a longer wheelbase and wider track than before. It all results in greater stability, crisper turn-in and a better ride.
Fine-tuning the suspension on the new platform has allowed 20" wheels to be used with little negative impact on the ride quality. In fact, Walter Rohrl told us the 20" tires reduce its Nurburgring lap time by a couple of seconds, which incidentally is 7:55sec for a Cayman S PDK with Sport Chrono package, or 15sec slower than a similar Carrera S.
That said, in countries with really bad roads, we'd still recommend 19" if only to avoid expensive repairs.
For our appraisal Porsche provided the 2.915-mile Portimao Circuit in Portugal for a real challenge. Its fast curves and elevation change are reminiscent of Laguna Seca, except there's plenty of run-off if you overcook things.
On the tighter turns, the Cayman exhibited significantly better front-end turn-in than before. There was a tendency for the original to push into understeer if you carried too much speed into a bend. But now if you miss the apex under braking, turning the wheel more points the nose towards your intended line.
To find understeer, you really need to over-drive the Cayman, and even then the Torque Vectoring feature will help counter this and turn the car tighter.
Once you're committed to a bend, the Cayman shows unerring stability, holding its poise with a steady throttle while close to the limit. From there, the chassis will allow a gentle increase in power or slight lift-off with little fuss. Again, you have to be quite aggressive to trigger the PSM stability control.
The level of grip means you also have to try hard to induce power oversteer. The PSM system is so well calibrated that even selecting Sport Plus in a six-speed manual car, it was hard to break the tail loose. In the end, we switched everything off and found that power oversteer is nicely progressive thanks to the limited-slip differential, which delivers 22% locking under acceleration and 27% on the over-run; the diff is an option whether or not you specify the Sport Chrono Package.
A new feature for the manual transmission is the throttle blip facility first seen on the manual Carrera 4, which helps drivers without heel and toe ability to match revs on downshifts. However, most customers will inevitably choose the super-fast PDK dual-clutch transmission, which also improves the overall fuel economy and emissions. Incidentally, our test car had proper aluminium paddle shifters, but these were an option, with rocker buttons as the standard gear selection system.
The entry-level 2.7-liter Cayman has 275hp and 214 lb-ft of torque, giving it a 5.4sec slingshot to 62mph, and a 165mph top speed. Whereas the Cayman S PDK has a more suitable 3.4-liter flat-six engine with 325hp and 273 lb-ft that rockets the car to 62mph in 4.7sec and on to 176mph.
This impressive performance is matched by surprising practicality thanks to a trunk in the front and another at the rear. And if you plan to spend time in your Cayman, we'd strongly recommend the optional Burmester audio system, which ranks as by far and away the best line-fit car audio system we've yet heard.
As for its market positioning, if you're not a diehard 911 fanatic, the Cayman's strengths as a drivers' car with its Porsche DNA pretty much speak for themselves.
2014 Porsche Cayman S
Layout mid-engine, RWD
Engine 3.4-liter flat-six 24v, DOHC, four cams, VarioCam Plus variable inlet valve timing and lift, direct injection
Drivetrain seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission
Brakes four-piston calipers all round with 330mm f, 299mm r vented discs
Suspension MacPherson strut, lower wishbones, anti-roll bars
Wheels & Tires 19x8" f, 19x9.5" r wheels, 235/40 R19 f, 265/40 R19 r tires
Exterior rear spoiler activates at 62mph
Power 325hp at 7400rpm
Torque 272 lb-ft at 4500rpm
Top speed 174mph
Weight 2976 lb
Economy 21/30mpg city/highway
MSRP $63800 (plus destination charges)