It is, for all intents and purposes, a Boxster with a roof welded on it--albeit a Boxster claimed to be twice as torsionally stiff as before and whose engine resides behind an interior bulkhead, making it seem even closer to the driver. Those differences alone shouldn't matter much. Based purely on the sum of its parts, the Porsche Cayman should be little more than a quieter, calmer, comfier version of Stuttgart's iconic roadster.
It is not. And that's why we love it.
The Porsche Cayman is more than the sum of its Boxster parts, just as a Steinway is more than an assembly of wood and strings and a Formula Ford is more than a pile of steel tubes with a Pinto four-cylinder. Make no mistake: the Boxster is a fine car. But as brilliant, as intuitive, and as natural as it feels, it's still missing a tiny bit of soul. The Boxster is one of the most balanced and forgiving sports cars on the planet--more so, even, than Porsche's own celebrated 911--and yet, there are times when it feels like a cold, distant tool.
Somehow, the Cayman feels different. The gruff wail of that stonking, mid-mounted flat six; the swoop of the C-pillar; the roof that keeps out the weather and keeps in all the sound; the shape of those curved, rising haunches. Taken separately, those details aren't magical--but when you're hustling down some deserted section of country road, everything comes together and the Cayman begins to blow your mind. It's fantastically controllable. It's amazingly flattering. It's as rewarding to drive as the Boxster, and yet, in some intangible, tip-of-the-knife fashion, it's better.
The Cayman may not be supercar fast--even the S model pulls off only a 5.1-second run to 60 mph--but in true old-school Porsche style, it does more with less. Both of the available sixes (2.7 liters and 245 hp in the Cayman, 3.4 liters and 295 hp in the Cayman S) are 7000-rpm screamers that work--and sound--best when you're caning them relentlessly. The higher rigidity of the Cayman's chassis allowed Porsche's suspension engineers to focus almost diabolically on stability and absolute grip in their damper tuning, with little of the usual loss in ride quality. The result is a no-bones-about-it sports car that fills the hole left in the Porsche lineup as the 911 strives to be all things to all people.
Of course, the Cayman isn't perfect. A base Cayman costs almost four grand more than a base Boxster, yet it feels little different in day-to-day driving. Which leads us to one inevitable conclusion: where the Cayman is concerned, thousands of people will never, ever see the point. Poor them.