Some cars — namely the really good ones — have it all together right from the start: the moment you fire the engine, select 1st gear and set off down the road.
The new, second-generation 2014 Porsche Cayman S is one of those cars.
But you don't have to wait until you've unlocked the driver's door, slid your backside across the heavily contoured seat and turned the key to discover just what a compelling car it is.
Even before we had drawn the frameless door open and climbed in, we already had an inkling that the new two-seat coupe had what it would take to build on the haughty reputation of its predecessor, still one of the finest driver's cars going some 6.5 years after it was added to the Porsche lineup.
This Porsche Cayman Looks the Part
Up close in the metal, the 2014 Porsche Cayman S is stunning. The overall design is significantly more mature than on the first-generation Cayman, with superbly executed elements such as the crease line running through the door and the automatically deploying rear spoiler — all set to be mirrored on the upcoming 918 Spyder due out in September. Its confident and self-assured stance make this Cayman look exactly like a sports car should.
As with the latest Boxster, the new Porsche Cayman receives slightly altered proportions that serve to give it a more cab-forward silhouette. Length is up by 1.4 inches to 172.4 inches, width remains the same at 70.9 inches and height drops by 0.4 inch to 51 inches.
The new Porsche also rides on a chassis boasting a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase at 97.4 inches and the tracks have been pushed out by 1.6 inches to 50.1 inches at the front and 0.7 inch to 60.6 inches at the rear to provide it with a significantly larger footprint. The wheelhouses are also bigger to swallow the standard 19-inch wheels with 235/40 tires in front and 265/40 tires in back.
Porsche has also revised the construction of the Cayman in a bid aimed at offsetting the increase in dimensions with a reduction in weight. As with the new Boxster, the body is no longer made exclusively out of steel. Instead, it uses a combination of aluminum, magnesium and steel, which drops the overall weight of the car to 2,976 pounds, a 55-pound reduction versus the previous Cayman S.
The Flat-6s Remain
As with the first-generation Porsche Cayman, buyers have an initial choice of two naturally aspirated horizontally opposed water-cooled six-cylinder engines. The $52,600 Cayman base model receives a newly developed 2.7-liter unit complete with direct fuel injection that boosts power output to 275 horsepower at 7,400 rpm, a 10 hp bump up from the previous 2.9-liter base engine. Torque, however, drops by 7 pound-feet for a total of 214 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm.
The model driven here is the $63,800 Cayman S, which gets a revised 3.4-liter version of Porsche's classic boxer engine. Various tweaks to the induction system result in output numbers of 325 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm.
Both engines come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, although Porsche expects the optional seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters will prove the more popular choice over time: and with good reason. The latest software update has improved the quality and speed of its shifts to a point where it is now one of the best units of its type in any car. Purists will still hanker for the manual, if only out of habit, but the dual-clutch gearbox is now clearly the better choice, both in everyday and track-oriented driving.
A Livelier Feel
The 3.4-liter engine really does deliver the best of both worlds, providing for docile part-throttle traits in an everyday city driving environment and captivating liveliness when the conditions allow, particularly above 4,000 rpm where the camshaft profile is noticeably altered and it really begins to deliver.
Significantly, the points at where peak power and torque are delivered have risen by 700 rpm and 1,300 rpm respectively, endowing the revised engine with a slightly peakier delivery than in the old Cayman S. Its character hasn't changed in any great way, but there is now even more reason to explore the upper end. The best attribute, the one that sticks in your memory well after you've climbed out, remains the sound it makes at wide-open throttle. Changes to the induction and exhaust system have enhanced what was already a stirring soundtrack, providing the Cayman S with the aural attributes to back up its exceptional dynamic characteristics.
It is not supercar quick in a straight line, but the performance you get for the money with the 2014 Porsche Cayman S is rather compelling. Porsche claims zero to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds in combination with the dual-clutch gearbox and Sport Chrono package, which brings a launch control feature. This is 0.4 second faster than the old model and just 0.1 second shy of a similarly specified 911 Carrera, which runs the same engine but in a slightly higher state of tune. Top speed extends to 175 mph, achieved at the 7,600 rpm redline in 6th gear owing to the widely overdriven 0.62:1 ratio used in the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
A More Modern Chassis
With its engine mounted low down wholly within the wheelbase and the majority of its weight concentrated over the rear wheels, the Cayman has never lacked for traction. However, Porsche has seen ways to improve it. The new model receives a revised version of its predecessor's stability control function and, for the first time, an optional torque-vectoring system. It's capable of juggling the amount of drive being sent to each of the rear wheels as part of a rear locking differential that offers 27 percent lockup under load and 22 percent lockup under deceleration.
As with much of the new Cayman save for its driveline, the chassis has been heavily updated. It continues to use a suspension with struts both front and rear, although they have been redesigned, making them more compact, stiffer and better able to maintain a constant camber for more precise handling. The subframes to which the suspension is attached are also new, offering greater dispersion of shock throughout the body structure, which is claimed to boast an impressive 40 percent increase in overall rigidity.
Other changes include an improved optional active suspension management system. With four vertical sensors, it provides faster and more intuitive changes in damping control. The driver can choose between Normal and Sport, which provide moderate and higher damping forces, respectively. A bigger change is the adoption of electromechanical steering in place of the wonderfully communicative hydraulic-mechanical setup used on the old Cayman.
Bigger Size Doesn't Compromise Handling
The lingering concern was that in adopting a larger chassis — and with it larger wheels, tires and brakes — the Cayman may lose some of its valued intimacy. However, this proves unfounded. The new model is, if nothing else, more encouraging to drive, both in an everyday sense and close to its dynamic limit. There is a completeness to its handling repertoire that makes the new car special. In isolation it feels more engaging than the 911 Carrera, at least in Cayman S form.
The steering, for a start, is wonderfully weighted, if slightly lacking in ultimate feedback. But it is the chassis that really shines, as its actions are superbly responsive. There's proper compliance and it is never harsh, even on badly pitted pavement when the dampers are switched to Sport mode. You can feel the detail of the engineering that has gone into it with every turn of the steering wheel. The brakes, with optional 13.8-inch carbon-ceramic rotors grabbed by a new six-piston caliper up front and four-piston caliper at the rear on our test car, are beyond criticism, providing stunning stopping power at any speed.
This Cayman hasn't lost any of its ability to entertain, either. Switch off the stability control system and it will oblige, with progressive drifts there for the taking in the right conditions. It takes a fair bit of provocation to get the rear end to really step out, though. Could it handle more power? Of course, the chassis feels to have loads in reserve. Just don't expect the Cayman to encroach too much upon the 911 for outright firepower any time soon. Porsche policy has always been to keep the two firmly separated.
A Good Problem To Have
One thing is for certain. Porsche needn't worry too much about the Cayman S facing much in the way of direct two-door competition. The Audi TT RS coupe has the juice to rival it in a straight line but it lacks its handling finesse. The same could be said of the Nissan 370Z. The Jaguar F-Type is just around the corner but it remains to be seen just how well it will stack up.
That leaves the 911 Carrera as perhaps the keenest adversary. But given the advances shown by the new 2014 Porsche Cayman S, even it is looking a little off the pace. Then consider that the 911 costs $20,500 more and the Cayman once again looks like the car in Porsche's lineup for the most hard-core of enthusiasts.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.