2014 Porsche Cayman review
Porsche renews its best-driving sports car.
- Rewards the precise driver
- Mid-engine balance
- Track ready, but not intimidating
- Expensive, and then you add options
- Cowl height too high for a Porsche
- A few hard interior surfaces
Porsche builds three sports cars: the expensive and power-oriented flagship 911; the much more approachable, somewhat touring-oriented Boxster convertible; and, using the Boxster chassis, the hardtop Cayman. The mid-engine, stiff-chassis Cayman is the driver's car of the three, the Porsche most adapted to the desires of the dedicated, winding-road enthusiast. The third generation 2014 Porsche Cayman is all-new from the chassis up, and better in every respect than its predecessors.
Porsche offers the Cayman in two variants, base and S, the chief difference being the Cayman uses a new 2.7-liter 275-horsepower flat 6-cylinder engine and the Cayman S enjoys a 3.4-liter 325-horsepower version of the same basic horizontally opposed, direct-fuel-injected powerplant. Both come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission; the Cayman S uses the 911's larger brakes.
Instead of trim levels, the Cayman and Cayman S can be configured with a variety of stand-alone options for a nearly custom build. Examples of new options are radar-based adaptive cruise control, keyless entry (the key fob still goes into the ignition switch located on the left side of the dash in Porsche tradition), up to 20-inch wheels, torque vectoring, and most importantly, a choice of a conventional 6-speed manual transmission or the rapid-fire PDK "automatic" — a computer-controlled and shifted dual-clutch manual gearbox. It either shifts itself as a pure automatic or offers manual paddle shifters.
For the new Cayman, Porsche has teamed with Burmester for the premium sound package, and for hard-core drivers there's the Sport Chronos package with variable damping engine mounts for less driveline motion on the track.
There's little to distinguish the Cayman from the Cayman S externally, save for badging and the Cayman S's dual exhaust outlets. Both cars have all-new detailing, including four always-on identification lamps facing forward. With the slightly longer and wider chassis, the entire bodywork is new and aerodynamically sleeker, but still with the distinctive Cayman shape.
Under the hood
Extensive mechanical upgrades abound throughout the third-generation Cayman. More aluminum and high-strength steel in the chassis mean a net weight loss of 66 pounds and a 40 percent gain in rigidity, while the engines are approximately 15 percent more fuel efficient (about 30 mpg highway), yet more powerful. The wheelbase is slightly longer, the track is a touch wider and the tires slightly taller for an overall increase in stability and handling.
Technical upgrades include electric power steering; revised torque vectoring control; a completely upgraded standard suspension with stiffer, lighter components; an optional active shock suspension (recommended); computer-controlled electrical charging and engine coolant flow; hill-holding; and an electrically actuated parking brake, plus larger diameter front brakes with stiffer calipers. Ceramic brakes are optional.
The Cayman cockpit has the cozy feeling of a sports car, but also holds adequate room for all but pro basketball players. The feeling is forward, with good vision to the front and sides, but there's a slight bunker sensation to the rear because the engine compartment extends vertically towards the roof immediately behind the seats (which still can recline somewhat for comfort). Porsche lists the area above the engine and below the roof as luggage room, but only lightweight, soft items should go there in case of a sudden stop.
Detailing is upscale throughout, especially with the optional all-leather trim that covers the entire dash. The instrument cluster, dash front and center console are busy with details both for styling and because Porsche thankfully gives quick access to many features with buttons and knobs instead of electronic interfaces. In sports car fashion the center console divides the cockpit and places the shifter up high, next to the steering wheel where it belongs.
A power-telescoping steering column means nearly anyone can find a comfortable seating position. Leg and elbow room are just right; only tall, long-waisted folks might get close to the roof. Typical of sports car cockpits, long-legged drivers will find a hard edge from the door handle pressing against their left knee during hard cornering.
One of the best features of the mid-engine layout is having two trunks. The Cayman's rear trunk is accessible under the large rear hatch and is shallow and wide; the front trunk is nearly cubical and deep. There's certainly enough storage for weekending.
On the road
There are few places we'd rather be than behind the wheel of a Cayman. Short trip or long, relaxed or driven with verve, the Cayman is a willing partner with exciting power and excellent balance.
Chief of the Cayman's abilities is an equal facility to either cruise comfortably or charge at racetrack speeds — a talent facilitated by easy access from the center console to the optional Sport, Sport Plus and more aggressive shock modes. Toggling these switches make immediate, noticeable differences in the Cayman's personality. At road speeds this initially shows up in ride firmness. The Cayman's gait is short of firm in Normal mode, picks up to firm in Sport and is too firm on the street in Sport Plus, unless the road is dead smooth or you're driving very fast. Toggling between Normal and Sport as driving opportunities allow is an excellent solution to the commuting-or-touring conundrum.
In daily driving there is more road and mechanical noise than in a sedan, and the PDK gearbox can go about its business with a noticeable mechanical precision. The 2-pedal PDK makes easy work of stop-and-go traffic, however, and there's adequate torque at all speeds and no issues with rear visibility as in many sports cars. Alternately, the manual transmission is at least as enjoyable as the PDK.
The only place the Cayman can get much better is the open road, where it rapaciously gobbles up miles. It nearly flicks through corners, pivoting readily around its mid-engine mass, yet is always stable — even at high speeds.
Revving either the 2.7- or 3.4-liter engine results in a major rush and a superbly tuned crescendo of Porsche's distinctive half mechanical, half exhaust soundtrack. Acceleration is snappy; perfect for passing on secondary roads.
The few who will lap their Cayman on a road-racing track will find it completely composed and capable of running racing speeds as long as there is fuel in the tank. Tire wear is minimal and brake fade likely a non-issue (we've yet to lap the new Cayman on a brakes-intensive course). The finely balanced chassis rewards precision driving, and if understeer or oversteer is felt it's undoubtedly the driver's fault.
Right for you?
If you love driving sports cars, you'll find the Cayman a serious, willing partner. Its worst characteristic is its cost, meaning fewer enthusiasts can enjoy one; its second worst fault is that it isn't a 911 to status seekers.
The other obvious comparison is to Porsche's Boxster — a softer, more touring-oriented play on the same chassis. If meandering drives along secondary roads under fall foliage are the draw, the Boxster is the choice; if open tracking is the attraction, the Cayman is preferred.
Cayman pricing begins at $52,600, and the Cayman S begins at $63,800. From there options are many, desirable and pricey. A Cayman S not completely optioned (no ceramic brakes), but trimmed with the PDK transmission, torque vectoring, leather, Burmester sound and other niceties zooms into the $95,000 range, and full-boat examples easily exceed the century mark.
(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundreds of freelance articles.