A recent stint behind the wheel both on some of BC’s most spectacular driving roads and the track during the Porsche Performance Tour has made me realize - once again - how much you have to hand it to the Porsche Cayman. More specifically, amidst all this hype surrounding the recently-released Cayman GT4, it’s important to remember just how good - and what good value - the Cayman S is, in particular.
The Cayman had a bit of a rough start; its decapitated Boxster cousin had been mopping the floors with the competition ever since its inception in 1996, and had been one of two pillars - along with the Cayenne SUV - that had helped bring Porsche from the brink of Chapter 11, right back into the black. The Cayman, with the added strength of a hardtop, would indeed have to be very, very good.
Then there was the 911 flagship; no mid-engine pretender was ever going to earn the power figures that the top rear-engine brass made, because that would quickly become a colossal conflict of interest as the Cayman’s mid-engine platform is, inherently, the better-balanced and more exploitable one.
So, you can see that it was kind of doomed to reside in the shadows right from the get-go.
Fast-forward to 2015; one facelift and one generation later, the Cayman continues to soldier on and my, oh my, is it ever good.
First of all, there’s the styling. What had originally been a little awkward-looking study both in shape and detailing, has now be pinched, lifted and tightened to look like a properly imposing ride. It’s a little longer than it used to be, but has a lower roofline, giving it an imposing stance and properly conveying the performance potential located within.
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In detail, smart touches like the way the subtle rear wing bisects the taillamps, or the way the headlights sit a little more upright make for a package that looks compact, yet muscular. It does a better job of hiding its mid-engine configuration, which was a bone of contention in older models.
“S” designation adds other bonuses; bigger (19-inch) wheels as standard (20s are optional), and those oh-so-scrumptious dual tailpipe openings. To add even further “anger” to the stance, our car featured the $1,410 Sport Chassis that lowers the car a further 20 millimetres, to the point where the tire sidewalls look like they’re ready to scrape the insides of the wheelwells. They don’t.
This is a purposeful-looking car, there’s no doubt about it. Especially when painted in Martini red, white and blue, as the instructor car was during the Tour.
The deep bucket seats inside are the first step in what has to be one of the best seating positions in the segment. Then, once in (a surprisingly easy task, thanks to large door openings), everything just falls so sweetly into eager hands; the wheel, shift lever and centre stack are all there, easily reachable even when you’re pushing on your favorite b-road. Yes, the spindly cupholders that pop out from just above the glove box are still a little weird (maybe they’re added as an afterthought because the Germans knew we North Americans need our Starbucks always close at hand), but even that fact points to the car being about so much more than that. I can just hear the designers now: “Look how silly they look! You don’t want these distracting you from the fine road ahead, do you?”
Because it’s here that the Cayman S shows just how addictive it can be.
I wouldn’t say that it’s hugely powerful, but the 325 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque works so well with the chassis that the thrills provided are more than you’ll get from cars with more power.
It’s just one of those cars that can make pretty much anyone feel like a rally ace and Porsche factory driver extraordinaire Walter Röhrl. The balance of the mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive chassis is good to start with, but add the Sport Chrono Package $2,710), and things get kicked up a notch.
That adds the Sport Plus driving mode, which sharpens throttle inputs and gearchanges, though this latter only matters if you’ve specced the $3,360 PDK dual-clutch transmission. If not, then it’s all up to the driver’s arm and left foot when it comes to faster changes, with Sport Chrono adding a shift indicator to the tach. Our car did have PDK, but Sport Chrono takes that up yet another notch my providing dynamic transmission mounts, which give the car an even more bonded-together feel. It may be an overused metaphor, but it really does feel like the S is carved from a single block of steel.
Steering is now of the electric-assist variety, and as much as a good ol’ hydraulic set-up would still be my choice for as well-honed a performance car like this, I guess I have to come to terms that this is how it is going forward, with Porsche and with others. Yes you lose some of the feel you get with hydro assist, but the weighting of the Cayman S’ rack is still just this side of perfect (it’s a little heavy at low speeds) and when your chassis is as responsive as this, well, you tend to forgive the fact that maybe you can’t feel the dividing lines as well as you once did.
When you’re swooping from apex to apex, though, you tend to forget about all that because you’ll likely be enamoured with just how exploitable the Cayman is. It doesn’t get overly out of shape - even in the more aggressive driving modes (there are 3: Standard, Sport, and Sport Plus) - if you’re a little too greedy with your throttle inputs, and more than likely, if you have a clear view of where you want to place the car next, it will go there without any delay or complaint.
This, of course, is helped by our car’s optional Porsche Torque Vectoring system, which automatically applies braking to the inside wheel on a turn to better help swivel the rear end ‘round. This is especially felt when on the track, as tight hairpins are dispatched with ferocity. The Sport Chassis also provides stiffer springs and dampers, and modified front and rear anti-roll bars, adding to the fantastic handling package. However, the firmer ride may not be to everyone’s tastes, especially if you’re considering using the car on a more regular basis.
Of course, a relaxing of the traction control in Sport or Sport Plus is necessary if you want to do lairy slides, but I just didn’t really feel the need to , whether on-track or on twisted tarmac. When you’ve got this fine a scalpel for a car, big smoky skids almost seem like anathema, don’t they?
I would say yes; not to mention the tire wear those cause, which will water down just how good a deal you’re getting.
Base MSRP of the S is $73,100; of course, this being Porsche, the price of options will quickly jack that price up. However, if you’re after a pure, unadulterated driving experience, then I’d say forgo the PDK, grab the Sport Chrono package and be on your merry way for under 80 grand.
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Or, go the other way and snag the fantastic Bose premium audio system that our car had (part of the $4,560 infotainment package), skip the Sport Chrono and you have a sports car that can coddle a little, too.
Either way, rest assured that you’ll be at the helm of one of the best sports car experiences available today.
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km roadside assistance