If a car spawns a coupe and a convertible, there are typically two truths. The coupe comes first. The convertible second. The coupe is inexpensive. The convertible is expensive. The Cayman is the opposite. And it's an even better car.
(Full Disclosure: Porsche wanted me to drive the Cayman S so bad that they dropped it off at an airport hotel in Munich after I was done driving the Audi RS7. I then spent the next 48 hours in the car gallavanting about Europe with photog GF Williams. #roughlife #Thicke)
For all intents and purposes, the Cayman S and the Boxster S are the exact same car. They share curb weights, gearboxes, fuel economy numbers, interiors, and the same basic engine (though the Cayman does make 10 more horsepower and revs higher). When viewed from the front, non-car fans probably won't be able to tell the two apart.
So it seems your choice is between having wind in your hair or not. Except it isn't.
The Cayman is faster. It's stiffer. It turns harder. It feels even better than the already great Boxster. And in profile it looks oh so much better.
But the Cayman, like Boxster, is shackled because it isn't allowed to be better than the 911. It's 3.4 liter flat six pushes out 325 horsepower, which is 25 down on the base 911 with a similar engine. For a long time Porsche refused to offer a limited slip differential on the Cayman because it would be too close in performance to the 911.
In a straight line, the Cayman can't match the power of the 911. But in the corners, this new one is giving the 911 a run for its job at the top of the regular Porsche ranks. And that has to make some people in Stuttgart nervous.
Like the older Boxsters, I thought the last Cayman was kind of blah. I didn't like the lights or the rear. A lot of it felt tacked on. Not so with this car.
Adding a fixed roof to the Boxster only improves what was already a very attractive car. The redesigned front air inlets and foglights make the front less friendly than the Boxster and more menacing.
The old Cayman was like that girl you knew in school. She didn't care about her appearance, all she did was put her nose in the books so she could get great grades. But you knew that she'd look great if she tried. The new Cayman is that girl. She looks great.
It's basic Porsche in here, again. The design is broadly the same across the entire lineup, with the same nav/center stack, similar gauge clusters, and buttons below the shifter. It's a great place to be.
The buttons do feel kind of cheap though. If you're paying thousands of dollars for your Porsche — and thousands more in options — you don't want buttons that click with the authority of the 20 year old clock radio that you keep in your bathroom to listen to in the shower.
The 10 extra horsepower in the Cayman is more marketing speak than real horsepower, I think. I couldn't tell a difference in acceleration between the Cayman and the Boxster. And on the mountain passes where I drove the car, I was longing for more torque. And just more power in general.
On corner exit it falls flat on its face. I found myself shouting at the car to get going quite a few times. I wanted to rocket out of a corner, not have a delay as it built up steam. That's because the Cayman makes peak power about 800 RPM higher than the Boxster, so it take longer to get in the sweet spot.
You just need to change down in the PDK to get it back in the rev range, and once you do that, it absolutely screams. Get above 3,500 and everything gets better. It isn't tough to keep the Cayman in the rev range either, especially because PDK is so fast there's not really a reason to not downshift to keep it in the happy zone.
This is the first time I've ever driven a Porsche with carbon ceramic brakes. They're a really expensive option and I've always felt like they're probably not worth it to the average motorist. They won't know the difference, all they'll get are bigger brakes and an empty wallet.
That doesn't mean that Porsche's PCCB system isn't wonderful. It is. Solid, great pedal feel. Easy to modulate. They're very confidence inspiring. They also don't squeak like mad around town, which I think is probably now a myth that we can throw out the window.
So are these brakes better than the steelies in the Boxster? Yes. A lot better. Are they worth it if you're just John Q. Average Sunday driver? I don't think so. If all you do is drive mountain passes like a madman, then yes, it's a good buy that'll keep you from falling off a cliff. But if you go to the shops and maybe drive a few fun roads, you definitely don't need them.
Leave the car out of sport mode, and it's lovely. Hard, but not overly so. It's responsive and lithe, like I imagine a ballerina would be if they made them into cars. Which they don't do. With the roof, the Cayman does feel a little stiffer than the Boxster.
I don't have numbers to back up the torsional rigidity difference, nor am I going to bore you with percentages that basically mean nothing, but I can tell you the patented Travis Okulski Seat-O-The-Pants-O-Meter feels that the Cayman is a stiffer car than the Boxster. It makes you feel more connected to the road, which I like. A lot.
It's really, really good. The limits of the Cayman are far higher than you need for street driving. Steering is well weight and direct, and it just darts where you want it to go. It's like a fly, without the part that makes you want to kill it.
It's gloriously planted in every part of the corner at speeds that would still be considered safe. And again, the fixed roof makes the car feel more together. The Boxster isn't what you'd call a relaxed cornering machine, but the Cayman steps it up another notch. That's where it differentiates itself.
It also had the torque vectoring that the Boxster offered, and in Sport Plus at higher speeds, it actually is noticeable. Turn in becomes even crisper and the willingness of the rear-end to rotate is fantastic. At first it's a bit strange to get used to, especially in tighter turns, but once you understand it, you'll wonder why every car doesn't have it.
Torque vectoring in a Grand Caravan. Make it happen.
The Boxster is more about cruising with some spirited driving. The Cayman is the louder, more hardcore brother that begs you to hustle it all of the time.
I'm going to sound like a broken record since all I do is praise PDK, but how can you not? Shifts are super quick. In Sport Plus, they bang home with the immediacy of a sequential racing gearbox. It's visceral and alive. And it's involving, which you don't get unless you're driving it.
And it can be relaxed around town or in traffic. It is still my favorite gearbox. GF Williams and I constantly described it as "hilarious." I think that's apt.
This Cayman had the sport exhaust. Holy hell does it sound good. Loud pops and bangs act like snare drum shots on top of an amazing orchestra. It's like the cannon shots in the 1812 Overture.
The sounds were enough to make every tunnel an opportunity to see just how many times we could shift, go full throttle, and then back it down. It got to a point where it was almost annoying how often we'd do it.
Not to us, mind you. To the people around us.
Oh, it also has a stereo. It sounded nice when you played nice music.
Like every Porsche, there are just enough toys. Not too many, not too few. This one had PDK, nav, cruise, PCCB, PASM, PCM, other P-related acronyms, iPod connectivity, and sport exhaust, among others.
I don't know how much this car cost exactly (it was Euro spec and no full options list or price was provided), but I have a pretty good idea based on Porsche's option list. So this had all the sport pack options, the carbon ceramic brakes, 20 inch wheels, and then little detail options like the yellow seat belts. That would push it incredibly close to 911 territory.
I've spoken to Porsche before about pricing, and they realize that not many people order cars with this whole suite of options, but they like to do it to show what's possible in a car. I respect that, but it does hurt when we look at the bottom line.
Still, the Cayman is truly an excellent car, nearly on par with a 911. True, when you buy a Porsche, you want to get a 911 because anything else is an imitation. But what's frustrating is that the Cayman could be the better car. We all know this. Porsche knows it too. And it isn't going to happen.
Engine: 3.4L H6
Power: 325 HP at 7,400 RPM/ 273 LB-FT at 4,500 RPM
Transmission: Seven-Speed Dual Clutch
0-60 Time: 4.6 seconds (4.6 with PDK in Sport Plus)
Top Speed: 174 mph
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 2,976 LBS
Seating: 2 people
MPG: 21 City/30 Highway/24 Combined
MSRP: $63,800 (I'm guessing this one was about $85,000)
Photo Credits: GF Williams