Porsche Cayman S
The baby GT

The Cayman is an interesting study compared with the Exige. While older Porsches (like the first 911s) were also lightweight, raw and minimalist, the modern Cayman is something else entirely. That's not to say it isn't a capable canyon carver, because it is. But of the three, it feels the most insular, the most luxurious and the least hardwired to the road.

Ride quality is good over all surfaces, more so than either the Exige or the M, both of which can beat the hell out of you on bad pavement. Because of this, you might expect it to be slower through the corners, but--thanks to Porsche's sophisticated PASM stability management--even the tightest hairpins can be tackled with sporting precision. Its mid-engine configuration allows it a slight rear weight bias, but it remains neutral, even at high speeds. Steering input and feedback are good, but control feels somewhat compromised by the wheel. Compared to the M's meaty, sculpted tiller or the Lotus' small-diameter, perforated leather-skinned number, it looks like it could have come out of a Peterbilt. Still, once you really start pushing, the car slices through corners with great alacrity, its ability to carve seemingly limited only by the willingness to trust.

Acceleration is more languid and less dramatic than in the other two cars, adequate but not real snappy--in spite of decent torque. The brakes are possibly the most disappointing aspect, with fairly long, mushy pedal travel and feel, and not a whole lot of bite at the end of the stroke. The shifter, however, is likely the most accurate and easily used, so precise and feathery light, shifts are executed with a flick of the wrist.

Overall, given the compliant ride quality, comfortable seats and a good amount of storage space (items may be stowed either under the rear hatch or under the front hood) the Porsche could make the best all-around road-tripper. Seen this way, the Cayman S offers the best of two worlds: an ability to carve when the need arises and a propensity for long-distance touring.

Possibly the most curious thing about the Cayman S (and the most aggravating to Porsche-philes), is its positioning within the company's model line. It's billed as the entry-level model, the ramp up to the 911, but by all accounts the mid-engine layout makes for superior handling characteristics. The only thing holding the Cayman S back seems to be engine displacement: 3.4 liters pushing 295 hp against the base Carrera's 3.6 pushing 325. Many believe that a comparably powered Cayman would spank its bigger brother up and down any given canyon road. Could the Cayman represent the precursor to the 911's eventual mid-engined successor?

2008 Porsche Cayman S
Longitudinal mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
3.4-liter flat six, dohc, 24-valve
Six-speed manual
Peak Power: 295 hp @ 6250 rpm
Peak Torque: 251 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.1 sec.
Top Speed: 171 mph
Base MSRP: $59,100
Price as Tested: $65,780

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