So, you’ve got a road problem. Not just any road, but the road. The one that comes to you in the middle of the night, haunting you, embracing you in its decreasing-radius corners and never letting go.
The first step to solving the problem is accepting that you need a Cayman. The second is coming up with the cash for one.
We have a road issue ourselves, and on the occasion of Porsche launching its third-generation Cayman, we tested a 2.7-liter base model in southern Portugal. The interior has been tarted up and the bodywork reworked (too subtly for us), but we cared only that the mid-engine two-seater remains a go-to weapon against uphill corkscrews and high-speed wiggles.
If you’re looking for purity and Porsche “affordability” (as if!), stay away from the online configurator. Play with the house’s money and an S model could brush $110,000. Stick to the base, forgo leather, nav, and flashy paint, and the cost is $53,550. Our base model belied its nature with add-ons: twenty-inch wheels, the Sport Chrono package, torque vectoring, active suspension. We’d have happily dumped all of them. It did retain the six-speed stick.
The mountain roads were narrower than Kate Moss’s hips, with no shoulders or runoff. Pebbles and dirt washed down onto the asphalt from clear-cut sections of forest, so traction could quickly go south. We needed a car that was light and light-footed (curb weight is 2888 pounds) and able to slow down instantly. What we didn’t need was 600 hp. Or even 325 hp, the rating on the Cayman S’s 3.4-liter flat six. Outsize power is a liability when you zing downhill to a right-hand kink only to find a big ol’ furry dog standing guard directly in the lane. As the locals know, Marmaduke is there morning and evening, chasing cars. He was pretty excited about the Porsche.
The Cayman’s pads and front calipers have been reworked (the S gets bigger front discs) and braking feels markedly better — welcome every time we came around Barking-Dog Corner. (He never caught us, though not for lack of trying.)
Displacement has dropped 0.2 liter, but power is up 10 horses. Maximum horsepower comes at 7400 rpm, 200 rpm higher than before. That paltry-sounding 275 hp is fine as long as you keep the revs high and sling through corners while finessing the throttle. Torque is only 213 lb-ft at 4500 rpm, and at lower revs second gear is often found wanting, particularly when you need to pass.
You could step into the S model (with 272 lb-ft of torque) to flush away power envy, and its increased oomph just might swamp your guts in a way that the specs don’t convey (60 mph comes in 4.7 seconds without Sport Chrono, 4.4 with, compared to the base car’s 5.4 and 5.1).
Happily, you can’t miss with either transmission. The PDK is clever enough that you can leave it in auto even on the track. Porsche also has added automatic blipping on the manual. Caveat: It works only in Sport Plus mode, which necessitates the Sport Chrono package. What’s the sense of this aid on a setting only the most experienced drivers will use? A rep calls it an extra incentive to order Sport Chrono. That’s so…Porsche.
Following the example of the 991-series 911, the Cayman loses its hydraulic steering and gets an EPS unit. The truth is that all electric systems sacrifice a measure of feel. (Porsche insists it loses only the “negative” kind of feedback, whatever that means.) Nonetheless, this is one of the best systems we’ve tested, giving a very exact sense of the limits. Every time we hit a patch of gravel or sand, we knew it.
Less forgivable is the Cayman’s occasional skittishness. The wheelbase has increased by 2.4 inches, the front and rear tracks are wider, and the chassis weighs 66 pounds less. But hit a ripple or undulation at full tilt, and the car gets twitchy. At speed, this is deeply unsettling.
The culprit may be the optional twenty-inch wheels — absurd overkill in which appearance overwhelms practicality. Stick with the standard eighteens. The last thing you want is to compromise your ideal road tool. Heck, even a Portuguese dog understands an obsession with cars and the perfect stretch of road.
ON SALE: Now
ENGINE: 2.7L flat-6, 275 hp, 213 lb-ft
FUEL MILEAGE: 21/30 mpg, 22/32 mpg (manual, PDK)