It’s hard to believe Germans have viewed the Porsche Cayman as the poor man’s Porsche since the model was introduced in 2005.
Regarded as one of the great-handling sports cars and half the price of the 911 (at least in Australia), it’s also surprising the compact coupe is the company’s lowest-volume car in a majority of international markets.
It does lack some crucial details, of course, for buyers looking for the 911’s iconic silhouette, race-bred status or its speed.
Another deal-breaker for some is the fact the Porsche Cayman misses out on those two bonus kiddie seats at the back, but that’s not to say the strictly two-seat Cayman doesn’t get its own level of weekend-away practicality.
Built on the new, lightweight architecture that underpins the latest Boxster and 911 models, the second-generation Porsche Cayman not only sheds up to 30kg, but it’s also larger than its predecessor.
As a result, there’s more space inside for both passengers and luggage, with some surprisingly clever storage solutions for what is otherwise a relatively tight fit for two people.
Under the bonnet you’ll find a deep storage space able to swallow several soft bags, while the rear hatch provides an even larger load area – though, not nearly as cavernous. Add the two lidded storage bins either side of the mid-mounted engine bay and the entire storage area collectively yields up to 425-litres of carrying capacity.
The interior itself is smart and business-like, rather than plush luxury. But it’s also a tasteful blend of high-quality materials and some beautifully tactile switchgear and brushed metal accents.
The Cayman, like its Boxster brother, also gains the rising-bridge console design that’s now deployed right across the Porsche range.
The number of buttons will depend on how much you’ve spent on options – and there are quite a few of those to consider: Sport Chrono package, active damping and sports exhaust are among several available on the Cayman.
One of the more reasonably priced goodies is the Sport design steering wheel ($950) – superb to hold, and beautiful to look at with its gleaming aluminium spokes and paddleshifters.
And the new Cayman, priced from $107,100, gets plenty of standard kit including power everything with one-touch up-down windows, a CDR audio system with seven-inch touchscreen that controls the in-car entertainment and a host of other familiar comforts.
On the driver’s side there’s the three classic round instruments of the Cayman model series, with a large central rev counter flanked by speedometer and a new 4.6-inch multifunction screen that doubles as a map display for the satellite navigation.
It’s all nice and intuitive too, except for the smallish heater controls that are submerged under the main screen, making access difficult at times.
However, the driving ergonomics are faultless. In fact, the latest sports seats are so perfectly shaped and bolstered they will feel like bespoke builds made for yours truly – yes, they are truly that good.
Outside, Cayman’s design evolution also continues for the better. The old model suffered from something of an identity crisis: one part 911, one part Boxster and one part rogue gene.
The new design though, is stunning – and better balanced visually.
Of course the two Porsche coupes are fundamentally quite different, with the 911 being a rear-engine and the Cayman a mid-engine configuration shared with the entry-level Boxster convertible.
The base model Porsche Cayman uses a naturally aspirated 2.7-litre flat-six engine generating 202kW of power and 290Nm of torque.
That’s more power than the previous model, despite losing 200cc in displacement. The latest version gets direct injection and is good enough to propel it from 0-100 in 5.7sec, or 5.4sec with the optional Sport Plus and PDK transmission (as tested).
But for those wanting something extra from their Porsche, there’s the more powerful and more expensive 3.4-litre Boxster S ($138,600). Armed with a 239kW/370Nm, zero to 100km/h is dispatched in 4.7sec in the same spec.
Certainly, the standard Cayman isn’t the quickest thing in its class. There are cheaper German coupes on the market, such as the $78,600 BMW 135i Sport that needs just 5.2sec to complete the same run.
But it’s no Porsche Cayman, and nor does it sound like one.
The flat-six fires with a metallic, visceral sound, much like the old-school air-cooled 911, but even more satisfying.
It’s simple mechanics really.
The Cayman’s mid-engine platform puts the high-revving six directly behind your head, whereas the 911’s engine is planted behind the rear axle and is further muted by additional bodywork and those back seats.
It soon settles down into a silky, high-tempo whine, until you slip the twin-clutch PDK into drive and pull away.
There’s none of that slow-moving jitter that still plagues Volkswagen’s DSG transmissions in stop/start conditions, just a smooth transition from crawl to canter in the Porsche.
The quick-shifting seven-speed PDK is also superbly refined, swapping gear ratios up and down the range, as effortlessly as only the best single-clutch automatics can manage.
The shifts points are well timed to reflect your driving style, and even when left in the lazy automatic mode, the Cayman delivers perfectly timed throttle blips during quick-pace braking.
But for those more spirited moments, the Cayman delivers its most satisfying performance in manual mode and using the paddleshifters. The paddles themselves are nicely weighted and the cog swapping is instantaneous.
The 2.7-litre engine will happily spin out to 7400rpm, and there’s also just enough torque to pull the 1350kg car quickly through the lower revs, too.
Pressing the standard spec Sport button modifies the throttle response and moves the shift points further up the rev range.
The Sport Plus mode (a feature with the PDK) modifies engine response further, but compromises the linearity of the power delivery and gearshifts. We found the standard setting to be more than enjoyable for most conditions.
While you probably won’t buy a Cayman for its outright pace, when it comes to handling and ride it’s difficult to think of a sports car that is so perfectly balanced.
With its mid-engine configuration delivering near-perfect weight distribution, the nose turns into corners faster than anything with a front-positioned engine.
There’s loads of grip and the car remains well composed even when the surface changes from smooth asphalt to bumpy patchwork roads.
It’s just so predictable, and with all the responses so wonderfully linear and forgiving, the Cayman will inspire all the confidence you could need to keep pushing on.
It doesn’t seem to matter how hard you thrash the Cayman, there’s no oversteer, no understeer, not even the slightest wriggle at limit.
More remarkable still is the damping and ride quality afforded.
In almost all conditions and on any surface, the ride is stiff but supple. And that’s shod with the optional 19-inch wheels and the dynamic engine mounts (part of the Sports Chrono package), which effectively reduces the level of suspension compliance.
The steering is very, very good. That’s despite the latest Cayman swapping the previous hydraulic power steering system for an electromechanical unit.
It’s quick, precise and there’s decent feedback through the steering wheel that lets the driver know precisely what the front wheels are doing.
The brakes are also utterly brilliant. Not just their stopping power, but the pedal weighting and linearity simply adds to the Cayman’s ability to throttle-up in the bends.
All this and the Cayman remains surprisingly fuel-efficient, too. Porsche claims you’ll get 10.6L/100km (combined) and after several hundred kilometres pushing hard during our test of the car we averaged 12.8L/100km.
Sure, there are faster sports cars out there and there are certainly cheaper sports cars that you could favour unwisely.
But the Cayman offers a more complex bang for its buck. This is a masterwork of performance and handling with a breathtaking responsiveness that will simply make you strive to be a better driver.