BE it in the middle of nowhere, on a mountain pass or a twisty racetrack – with a willing pilot, a driver’s car comes into its own. It is not so much what the driver does that matters; it’s about bearing witness to what such a car is meant to do best – enhance the thrill of driving. Porsche’s Cayman S is such a vehicle.
Few manufacturers have produced unimpeachable vectors to driving nirvana. For some, the production of an utterly capable yet user-friendly sportscar that looks and feels the part is impossible, usually because of brand image and engineering limitations, or the safe, cynical pursuit of sales volumes. For others, that dogged pursuit has given rise to uncompromising back-to-basics products, replete with front-engined, rear-wheel-driven layouts and manual gearboxes.
Porsche is on another mission altogether. Having already attained a reputation for building the ultimate driving machines, Zuffenhausen portends to shift the bar higher still and out of the chasing pack’s reach. To that end, the 911 no longer solely embodies that credo. Yes, dear enthusiasts, the Cayman can be mentioned in the same breath. Such is the beguiling breadth of this midshipman’s ability.
But just how has Porsche raised the game of its entry-level hardtop? Well, most of what the eye sees on this car is new, as the Cayman and this S variant was designed from the ground up, bar the engine. Both models have retained their motors, but these have been slightly refreshed by the engineers.
Whereas most of the Cayman’s competitors have adopted smaller turbocharged powerplants, the S model’s normally aspirated 3,4-litre flat-six offers a defiant one-fingered salute to its rivals. This means lower outputs, but the motor’s 239 kW and 370 N.m of torque tell but half the story. The rest is written in the way the seven-speed dual-clutch PDK and the rear wheels transmit those figures to terra firma.
It’s still quick in a straight line. Forget about manual mode and just leave the gear selector in drive. Next, push the sport plus button and dial up the revs against the brake. Launch-control mode is denominated by an illuminated panel on the sports steering wheel. At 6 500 r/min, release the brake and marvel as the horizon rushes towards the windscreen after the chirrup of rubber on tarmac. It’s absolutely effortless.
The direct-injection six-cylinder isn’t the most graceful powerplant at low revs. It barks to life and settles into an off-beat, overtly mechanical idle. Moving in traffic, the 3,4-lite sounds unrefined, but coax the tachometer’s needle to the centre of the dial and the engine note hardens. Further up in the rev band, with Variocam in full play, the boxer howls towards the 7 600 r/min red line. Such a range of evocative timbres at various engine speeds is almost extinct in the world of lower fuel-consumption targets and higher environmental awareness.
The big surprise is how comfortably the Cayman S rides. Our test unit was fitted with optional 20-inch alloys, and as such, came equipped with low-profile 265/35 section rubber at the rear. Despite the thin strips of sidewall, the car displays impeccable road manners on all surfaces. Even on rougher stretches of tarmac, the suspension is suitably damped and capable of ironing out asphalt imperfections that other vehicles, equipped with similar profile tyres, just can’t.
The talents of the PDK ’box add to the Cayman S’s breadth of everyday usability. It allows for pottering round town in the manner of any comfortable family saloon when left to its own devices and is smart enough to adjust to driving behaviour within a matter of seconds. Sport mode sharpens responses just enough to render sport plus almost too harsh on anything other than a racetrack.
The Cayman S is up for most everyday tasks, too. There’s enough room in the front trunk to allow for two cabin-sized pieces of luggage, with the section behind the engine just large enough for two backpacks or a few shopping bags. And the interior is now finished in a manner that manages to replicate 911 levels of quality, making it very comfortable for commuting.
The electric steering is pleasantly weighty and accurate in its responses, yet feels slightly artificial. Nevertheless, at the touch of a button the Porsche transforms from road-goer to racer. It returns to docility relatively quickly, too, thanks to the extremely efficient (and really expensive at R103 920) ceramic brakes that were fitted on the test unit. The Cayman S’s propensity for low-speed oversteer when given generous helpings of throttle is immediately evident, but at higher velocities the car displays such balance and poise that to get it to misbehave would require ludicrous levels of stupidity, or enviable reserves of driving talent. Purists will always argue for a traditional six-speed manual, but when the S is tasked to perform to the limits of its ability, there’s no denying the value of having both hands on the wheel with a lightning quick shift only a tug of a paddle away.
Porsche has bucked the forced-induction trend with an engine that still excites for all the right reasons. It’s a sad thought for some, but with the future of the six-speed manual gearbox in the balance (see page 52), a new Cayman S with a floor shift could become a future classic. Porsche continues to create well-rounded products that tick the right boxes for the brand’s aficionados and this particular contender begs the question: is an outlay of more than a million warranted if a rapid, multi-talented everyday coupé is essentially what most sportscar buyers require? If not, where does that leave entry-level 911s?
The mid-engined Porsche continues its reign in the sub-million-sportscar realm with the Cayman S PDK.