It's the worst-kept secret in the automotive world: Porsche doesn't want its midengine Cayman to post better performance numbers than the vaunted rear-engine 911. Correction, Porsche won't let the Cayman drop-kick its bigger, more illustrious brother. Ever.
So when we asked Dr. Martin Constien, team leader for engine development, the difference between the 2014 Porsche Cayman S's 3.4-liter 325-horsepower flat-6 and the base 911's identically sized but 25-hp-lustier mill, he said: "Basically, nothing. They're the same."
"So...why the different power numbers?"
"Because the Cayman cannot outperform the 911. It's our entry-level car," he said with German matter-of-factness. Like we were idiots for even asking such a stupid question.
But as we were snaking along a twisty two-lane in the truly spectacular 2014 Porsche Cayman S, we realized, in some ways, the Cayman is better than the 911. This, without Porsche even trying.
1. Less Pretentious
The Porsche 911 is a prestige car.
Let's be honest: The average 911 buyer is a suit-and-tie-wearing, power-brokering status type more concerned with a perfect business deal than with a perfect heel-and-toe downshift. Sure, there's a core group of enthusiasts who drive the 911 the way it was meant to be driven. But a high percentage of 911s will see more duty trundling in traffic than thrashing on a track.
Many Cayman buyers got a Cayman not because they wanted a Porsche. But because they wanted a Cayman. The Cayman says I bought a Porsche for performance. The 911 says I bought a Porsche for the women.
2. More Visceral
The 2014 Porsche Cayman sounds better than the 911. It's simple mechanics. The Cayman's midengine platform puts that wailing, high-revving flat-6 directly behind your head, whereas the 911's engine is aft of the rear axle, muffled by extra bodywork and useless rear seats.
While direct injection serves to make Porsche's boxer-6 sound even goofier and less alluring at idle than it ever did before, there's no denying this engine transforms into one of the most glorious-sounding mills in the world as it approaches its 7,600-rpm redline. The much-written-about, much-fantasized-about Porsche wail? Believe the hype; it's mesmerizing. And it's that much better when the engine is literally inches from your ears.
Order the optional sport exhaust if you want an even more ear-tingling, truly heavenly soundtrack.
3. Better Weight Distribution
Unlike in the 911, Porsche placed the Cayman's engine in the correct location. In the middle. Just like a Formula 1 car. With a 46/54 front/rear weight distribution, the Cayman is, at least in theory, a superior sports car platform.
Not that there aren't benefits to the 911's rear-biased 39/61 setup. Bulldozerlike straight-line traction, for one thing, which gives the 911 unreal wheelspin-free acceleration.
But the Cayman's midengine setup endows it with a low polar moment of inertia because the majority of the car's weight is closer to its center. In non-jargonspeak, it means the Cayman reacts more quickly to driver inputs, and it's more maneuverable and more nimble.
It's what driving fast is all about. Early Porsche 911s were known for scary lift-throttle oversteer. It wasn't uncommon for enthusiastic owners to find themselves backward in a ditch. Over the last six decades Porsche engineered away most of the 911's evil tendencies, while still retaining its ultra-late trail-braking ability, which helps it turn in with a powerfully effective bit of rear rotation.
But doing this requires quick hands and some driver skill. A little rotation is fine, but if the 911's tail comes around too quickly, physics say it's harder to catch.
And there's no arguing with physics, even if you're Porsche.
The Cayman, though, delivers confidence in spades. Go back to that low polar moment again. When something unexpected happens in the Cayman (say, you've braked too late and are still going too fast as the car begins to rotate), there's no engine in the back of the car trying to pull it around to the front.
Porsche tuned subtle understeer into the Cayman's chassis, too. So even when you're red misting you're less likely to have an end-swapping experience.
So here's the thing: Both the 911 and the Cayman are fantastic driving machines. But the Cayman's slightly more predictable, more linear and more forgiving responses make it the better choice for a spirited run on an unfamiliar back road.
At 2,888 pounds with the six-speed manual, the base Porsche Cayman is 154 pounds lighter than the base 911 with its seven-speed manual transmission. The 2,910-pound Cayman S comes in some 165 pounds lighter than the Carrera S.
There aren't gigantic differences, but "light makes right" isn't just a saying. It's true. You can feel the difference. This helps with the Cayman's tossability, whether on a track or road. That weight difference makes it a little bit easier to manhandle when it approaches, or exceeds, its limits.
It also means you'll spend less money on wear item like tires, brake pads and clutches.
6. More Potential
There's no doubt Porsche is restraining the Cayman. That's what happens when you give the baby Porsche the better platform.
If Porsche were to give the Cayman S the same power and grip as the 911, it would trump its big brother in every test of speed. The possibility of Porsche ever allowing this to happen? We've got a better chance at a date with Kate Upton.
The new Cayman's wheelbase is 2.4 inches longer than the outgoing model, which, surprisingly, means it's about an inch longer than the 911's. This is one reason for the Cayman's superb ride quality.
But it is still the smaller car of the two, by 4.4 inches in overall length. Lighter, shorter, better weight distribution: These all add up to make the Cayman an easier-to-drive sports car.
8. More Luggage Space
Maybe it's not sexy to talk about luggage space in a sports car. But it can be important, especially to those who use the car as a daily driver or for weekend getaways.
Porsche made the most of the Cayman's limited space. Its 5.3-cubic-foot front trunk is larger than the 911's 4.8-cubic-foot frunk. But the Cayman goes one better with the handy 9.7 cubes of space aft of the engine, for a total of 15 cubic feet.
To be fair, of course, the 911 owner does have the option of folding down the rear seatbacks to form an instant luggage shelf. But the Cayman's rear cargo area is accessible via a hatch, which makes placing large items behind the front seats far easier.
9. Better Fuel Economy
Less weight and less power usually add up to better fuel economy. That's true with the Cayman versus the 911, although the differences are small. The PDK-equipped base Cayman has an EPA rating of 22 city/32 highway mpg. The more powerful Cayman S gets 21 city/30 highway. The 911 Carrera fitted with the PDK gets 20 city/28 highway/23 combined, while the S version manages 20 city/27 highway/22 combined.
Will you base your Cayman vs. 911 purchase on fuel economy? Probably not. But it's just one more area where the Cayman trumps the 911.
Sure, this is an obvious win for the 2014 Porsche Cayman. But it's also damn compelling. And the price difference between the Cayman and 911 isn't just petty cash. It's significant. The 2014 Porsche Cayman starts at $53,550 (including $950 destination), while the Cayman S starts at $64,750. But the base 911 rings the cash register at $85,250 and the Carrera S a whopping $99,850. That's right: Nearly $100,000 for a 911.
Which begs the question: Is anything the Porsche 911 offers worth $20K-$35K more?
Only if you're in it for the women.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.