If Porsche's new Boxster hardtop is a misspelled caiman, its 911 Carrera is a crocodile. While the two species share a common ancestor, put them in the same territory and one of them will end-up lunch. Maybe that's why Porsche rigged the fight; when you make a living selling Carreras, you don't want Caymans cannibalizing their cousins. Well guess what? Evolution will not, CAN not be denied. One blast around the block in a Cayman S and its future alpha status is inescapable. But let's drop this discussion of internecine conflict for a moment and consider the Cayman on its own merits…
Physically, it's no stunner. Yes, the Cayman's muscular fastback and sculpted haunches are exquisite: a deeply alluring shape that finally eliminates the Boxster's insipid push-me, pull-you design. But the Cayman's bootylicious butt draws new attention to the exceedingly bland Porsche family nose. Embedded fog lights may separate the model from its stablemates, but they do nothing to lift the miasma of mediocrity that has bedeviled the Boxster's face since birth. The Cayman's side air intakes are another distraction, lacking in both shape and scale. The German/Finnish roadster is also more color-sensitive than Martha Stewart; in anything other than black, the Cayman looks like a small and frivolous sports car souffle. Which it bloody well isn't.
It's funny how a roof adds gravitas to an interior. For one thing, the Boxster's Chicklet-sized buttons don't seem quite so tiny. For another, the containment instills a profound (if subconscious) feeling of safety, increasing the overall sense purpose. Although there's nothing particularly wrong with the Boxster's switchgear or its cabin's fit and finish, Porsche's decision not to alter anything in their 'not a Boxster hardtop' is indefensible. Where's the Cayman-specific shift knob, steering wheel or pedals? Porsche buyers' brains are wired for that kind of action.
And for driving fast. If you want to boldly go where police chase cameras yearn to record, the Cayman's an ideal whip. It's the laser-sighted Glock of sports cars: a perfectly balanced weapon offering infinite accuracy and virtually limitless stopping power. The ammunition provided is controversial– the 295hp 3.4-liter six nestling in the Cayman S' belly could just as easily be the Carrera S' 350hp 3.8-liter mill– but there's no doubt that Porsche's two-plus-nothing tin top has enough shove to hunt with the big dogs, and enough poise to leave them panting by the side of the road. Lest we forget, the Boxster S spanked the Enzo through Road and Track's slalom course. The Cayman S is both stiffer AND faster than a Boxster.
Out in the real world, the Cayman S drives with surefooted chuckability. At slow speeds, the car's fingertip steering, flyweight clutch and slow (though progressive) throttle fools you into thinking it's a bit dim-witted. As you pile on the revs, the Cayman's controls suddenly synergize: the steering gains heft, the six-speed snicks home like a spring-loaded knife and the engine switches into lunge mode. To get the best of the whipper-snapper's powerplant, you have to keep the revs above 4000rpm– which is a bit like saying you have to drink a glass of '59 Chateau LaTour to enjoy it. The noise blatting from the cojoined pipes is cargasmic: raw, animal, aggressive.
The first time you chuck the latter day lil' bastard into a corner its superiority to big brother 911 is immediately apparent. The Cayman's mid-engine layout and light weight make it far more precise going into a turn, more stable through the apex and more benign coming out (C4 and Turbo excepted). Thanks to Porsche's decision to put the 911 into the horsepower protection program, the Cayman can't match the Carrera's post-corner blastitude. But the Cayman's inherent balance lets you carry more speed into the corner. Ultimately, all the [bigger-engined] Carrera variants are faster than a Cayman S. Even so, they can't touch the Cayman S– or the Boxster S– for pedal-to-the-metal fun. What's more, with PSM (Porsche Stability Management) in Sport, Frau Nanny allows a whiff of drift. Wikkid.
Hey kid. Ever dance with the redline in the pale moonlight? Cayman drivers will. And it won't be enough. The truth is, the Cayman S lacks the low end grunt, the mad cackle motorvation it needs to complete its performance matrix and achieve the greatness it deserves. If Porsche put a bunch more whoa Nellie underfoot, the Cayman S would wipe the floor with all but the mightiest 911. In fact, the Cayman S is nothing less than a detuned supercar. What's the point of that? Protecting Carrera sales? Not to coin a phrase, that's a croc. This is the German sports car company that constantly harps-on about the importance of evolution. Ironically enough, Porsche will eventually realize you can't keep a good reptile down. The Cayman will force the 911 to adapt or die and, in the process, bite the hand that feeds.