Tuesday
Feb252014

Test Drive: 2014 Porsche Cayman S

The Cayman sports car has been a huge hit for Porsche and has established itself alongside the 911 as one of the best sports cars in the world. With a pedigree that goes back to legendary cars like the 550 Spyder, the mid-engine Cayman has become a favorite model of the track-day crowd, but most of them will cover a lot more miles in everyday driving than in laps on a track. The Cayman S may be at its best on twisty roads or at the track, but a week spent driving one revealed how well-rounded and versatile this car really is.

First, let’s take a look at the numbers. The Cayman S is powered by a zesty 3.4-liter flat six that produces 325hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Vented and drilled rotors are clamped by 4-piston monobloc calipers on all four corners, and a lightweight spring-strut suspension setup with front and rear stabilizers takes care of the handling duties. Performance is brisk, with 60mph coming up in just a tick over 4.5 seconds. The base price is $63,800 (standard Cayman is $52,600), but the price can go up considerably if you start adding some options. Our test car was fitted with a long list of options that brought the total price to $91,620, which is more than seven grand above the price of a base model 911. Some of those options (like the $6,520 Infotainment Package with Burmester surround sound), are best left off if your ultimate goal is pure performance, but others (like the PDK transmission and Porsche Torque Vectoring) are much more enticing.

I was always a fan of the first generation Cayman’s looks, but the new car has a much cleaner design and looks great from every angle; though the large camera lens mounted above the front splitter looks a little odd, like a third eye keeping watch for anything the driver may miss. The cockpit design is a noticeable improvement over the previous car, with a richer feel and more cohesive layout that’s influenced by the Panamera. At 6’5”, I often have issues with adequate space in sports cars and the Cayman is no exception. There’s plenty of headroom, but even with the seat back the whole way my legs were bent more than I like, which forced me to raise the steering wheel higher than was ideal. The seats themselves are firm and supportive but also comfortable, and I like that Porsche kept the steering wheel simple by not putting a bunch of buttons or switches on it. If I were buying a Cayman S, I would skip the optional leather on my test car (Agate/Amber leather package), which included colored leather on the hood over the main gauges that reflected too much off the inside of the windshield. Speaking of the windshield, it’s a great view through it with the curves of the front fenders arching down toward the front of the car.

My first two days with the Cayman S included miles on the interstate, a long drive up my favorite stretch of twisty road in northwest New Jersey and time spent driving on the track at Monticello Motor Club (www.monticellomotorclub.com). The Cayman S excelled in all three situations. It’s comfortable and quiet enough for highway travel; with suspension tuning that does a good job of damping out bumps and expansion joints. On the twisty rural roads that I’ve tested scores of cars on over the last ten years, the Cayman S was in its element, with sharp turn-in, great balance and high levels of grip. The Cayman S was at its best on this road in Sport driving mode with the PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Managemen) Sport suspension setting on, though it was still nearly just as entertaining in its normal settings.

Any road car is compromised for track driving, but the Cayman S was also one of the most capable road cars I’ve driven on the track. It was very well-balanced and predictable at Monticello Motor Club, with strong brakes that didn’t show any signs of fade after many laps and decent feedback from the steering wheel, along with that great Porsche sound at high revs. This car urges you to drive harder and faster with every lap, and it delivers a very satisfying driving experience that is unusual for a road car with no performance modifications. It’s one of the few road cars I’ve driven at the track that doesn’t feel like it really needs a stiffer suspension or bigger brakes, but I did find myself wishing it had a little more power. It was also surprising how incredibly competent the Cayman S was with the PDK transmission set in full the full automatic setting while in Sport+ driving mode.

Speaking of the PDK dual clutch transmission, the debate among Porsche enthusiasts over PDK vs. manual is just as heated as the debates that go on over which Porsche is the better sports car, the Cayman or the 911. While I enjoy driving with a manual transmission, the PDK tranny is very impressive at the track, as it executes shifts with incredible speed. The benefits of PDK are especially evident for amateur drivers, as the shifts are not only faster but will be much smoother as well, which helps to keep the car better balanced. “PDK gives you incremental gains on upshifts, but on the downshifts it gives significant gains,” says Continental Challenge driver champ Nick Longhi. “Braking and downshifting using heel and toe is fun but PDK eliminates the question of completing a proper downshift on the approach to corners, so you can focus 100% on going faster. Amateur drivers usually lose the most time compared to pros in that phase where you roll off the brake, balance the car and roll speed through the first and middle of the corner and then pick the throttle up coming off the corner. That phase is a night and day difference with PDF versus a manual.”

After the highlight of being at the track, the Cayman S was resigned to the typical duties of a daily driver during the rest of my time with it, making trips to the grocery store, running errands and even taking a drive into New York City in rush hour traffic. The car handled everything that was thrown at it with aplomb, earning my vote as one of the best all-around sports cars available today. It’s so involving and rewarding to drive that it actually seems like a pretty good value for the price and even with options that bring it up to the price of the 911 it still comes across as being worth every penny.

 More info: www.porsche.com

MSRP

$63,800

Engine

3.4-liter flat-six

Transmission

6-speed manual with dual-mass flywheel

7-speed PDK dual clutch optional

Power

325hp @ 7,400rpm

Torque

273 lb-ft @ 4,500-5,800rpm

0-60mph

4.7 seconds (4.6 seconds with PDK)

Top Speed

175mph (174 mph with PDK)

Brakes

4-piston aluminum fixed monobloc calipers front/rear

12.99-inch vented and cross-drilled discs front

11.77-inch vented and cross drilled discs rear

Fuel economy

20 city / 28 highway (21/30 with PDK)

Curb weight

2,910 lbs. (2,976 with PDK)

Drag coefficient (Cw)

.31

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