0 to 60 mph: 5.1 seconds
Powertrains: 2.7-liter H-6, 275 hp, 213 lb-ft; 3.4-liter H-6, 325 hp, 272 lb-ft; 6-speed manual, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, RWD
What's New: It's hard to believe that the Cayman is just 8 years old, having been sold in the U.S. since 2006. This new version brings the midengine hardtop in line with the new lightweight architecture and electrical systems introduced on last year's 911 and Boxster models. It means the new Cayman has electronically assisted steering and a wide range of options including adaptive cruise control (which maintains the distance from the vehicle in front), a Bose or Burmester sound system, and a factory-installed keyless entry system.
The third generation of Porsche's baby coupe will be built at the VW Karmann plant in Osnabrück, Germany, following Volkswagen's purchase of Porsche. It gets an all-new chassis, which has grown to 172.4 inches in length, an increase of 1.3 inches over the outgoing model with a corresponding 2.4-inch wheelbase stretch. A wider front track—1.4 inches for the Cayman and 1.6 inches for the S—along with small increases to the rear track reinforces the Cayman's wheel-at-each-corner impression. The roof is lower and the aluminum-and-steel construction gives a 14 percent weight reduction, trimming about 66 pounds, depending on configuration.
Both flat-six quad-cam engines are largely unchanged. As before, both the Cayman and Cayman S have a 10 hp advantage over the corresponding Boxster model. The base engine is downsized but performance gets a small hike, with the downsized 2.7-liter capable of a 5.1-second 0 to 60 time with the PDK Sport Chrono package (which includes launch control), or 5.4 seconds with the manual transmission.
Tech Tidbit: About 44 percent of the new Cayman's body is aluminum, including the doors, tailgate, hood, and floors. The rest is a mix of high-strength and mild steels. Torsional stiffness of the body shell increases from the outgoing model's 30,110 to 40,500 Nm/deg. For comparison, the equivalent Boxster boasts just 17,000 Nm/deg.
Driving Character: The Cayman looks and drives a lot like the Boxster; that's always been the case, and that's a good thing. The longer wheelbase has allowed a bit more room in the cabin and the driving position is lower and more laid-back as a result. The cabin is beautifully put together, although there are unsightly stretch marks from where Porsche wraps the leather upholstery around precision-fit cutouts for racing belts in the seats. We'd also question whether an electronic handbrake is suitable for a sport coupe.
The driver gets a traditional three-dial instrument cluster with engine rpm in the large center dial and a digital speedo within, an analog speedometer to the left, and a multifunction digital display on the right. The center console has buttons for sport settings on the gearbox and the optional active damping, sport exhaust, and traction control. The Cayman is comfortable and classy, and while there's not a lot of storage room, the front and rear trunks have a combined capacity of 15 cubic feet—more than enough for a long weekend for two.
Fire up the flat six and the unmistakable guttural roar comes to life. The 2.7-liter is more rev-happy than the 3.4-liter in the Cayman S, which has a more measured but more powerful throttle response. As the revs climb, the exhausts beat sonorously together, merging as the needle approaches and passes 7000 rpm. Full-throttle acceleration, of course, is pretty darn fast, but the beauty of the Cayman is that you don't need to drive like a maniac to go fast or to enjoy its excellent responses.
The six-speed manual transmission, with perfectly spaced gear ratios, is pure joy. But most buyers (up to 75 percent) choose the clever dual-clutch, seven-speed PDK gearbox. It adds 66 pounds and costs an extra $3200, but it allows faster and more accurate shifts without a hint of slop or the trouble of using a clutch. But it's far too easy to leave the PDK gearbox in Drive. Changing gears in a manual-transmission Cayman is one of life's great treats.
So is turning a Cayman's steering wheel. The new electronically assisted helm is one of the best in the business, even if we're second-guessing whether the feedback is real or what the electronics think you want to feel. That said, the Cayman responds to the well-weighted steering inputs with a telepathic ease; the car will carve through a series of turns faster than you can say doppelkupplungsgetriebe. When it finally relinquishes grip, it does it in a balanced drift, though you need to be quick and accurate with the steering corrections if the tail does fly out.
The ride is firm but comfortable in standard trim. The adaptive damping hardens things up uncomfortably on bumpy roads, but gives better body control on the track. The optional Sport Chrono package includes adaptive transmission mounts, which make the connection between the drivetrain and the body shell more rigid. It's an effective system, but too crude and uncomfortable for use on the road.
Favorite Detail: Where the first Cayman had a my-first-Porsche appearance, this third incarnation is almost perfect, with balanced lines, a lower and flatter roof, and smaller body overhangs. While Porsche claims the Cayman is a distinct model, we think it looks like a mini 911 and is none the worse for it.
Driver's Grievance: Did this car really need a sport exhaust, especially one that costs $2825? In standard trim the exhaust note is sporting but nicely muted. Press the sport-exhaust button and the rasping note fills the cabin, which is fun for about 5 minutes. Save your money.
Bottom Line: Truly, the bottom line here is the bottom line. At a starting price of $53,550, the Cayman is something of a bargain, but if you want bells and whistles, you'd better know where to stop. Ceramic brakes are $7400, adaptive dampers $1790, torque vectoring $1320, the Sport Chrono package $1850, and sport exhaust $2825. Add in $4690 for the infotainment/Bose surround sound, $710 for metallic paint, and $3200 for the PDK gearbox, and you've blown almost $76,500 on a base-model 2.7-liter Cayman. In no sense is that a poor-man's Porsche.
But if you take the standard car, add a couple of thoughtful additions, and then throw it up the road with some big brave turns, you'll be the king of the hill in a car that will out-handle most cars that cost twice as much, all while putting a big smile on your face. The old Cayman was close to perfect. Somehow, the new car is whole lot better.