The moment I dropped the hammer on the Porsche Cayman S, an entirely unexpected emotion welled-up inside: fear. I was holding the wheel of the world’s best sports car on a perfectly-groomed country road and I couldn’t fully commit to a corner. I wasn’t afraid of crashing— the Cayman is far too accomplished and forgiving and electronically mindful for that. I was afraid of the unknown. What if some dumb ass pulled out of a hidden drive without looking? What if a child’s bike suddenly appeared just beyond the apex of a turn? My sightlines were good, but my nerves were shot. I suppose that’s what happens when you spend too much seat time in a Honda Odyssey.
As I struggled to reclaim my high-speed equilibrium, I wondered how I’d ever decided that the Porsche Cayman S was underpowered. If the mid-engined marvel was so acceleratively challenged, why was I dabbing at the stoppers almost as often as the go pedal? If I had extra power underfoot, what the Hell would I do with it? I’d either have to drive faster— a scarcely credible concept at the time— or find another road with big-ass sweepers. The Cayman is a sports car, not a GT. All my attempts to mind meld with the Cayman’s mojo foundered on the rocks of personal paranoia.
And then, slowly, my brain formed the neurological pathways needed to parse the information the Cayman S was delivering to my hands, feet, body, eyes, ears and nose (I love the smell of smoking brakes in the morning). Although I couldn’t string together two coherent corners, I began to see that it wasn’t impossible. Although I couldn’t get her out of third gear, I stopped trying. As my faith in the Cayman’s stoppers grew, as the little tin top swept away my go-faster cobwebs and locked me into the now, all of those bad feelings disappeared. I was getting faster and safer. Confidence was high.
If you’ve never sampled a Cayman S (or a Boxster or Boxster S), here’s what happens. For the first dozen miles or so, you think it's far too easy to drive for a “real” sports car. Porsche's boffins have weighted all the major controls for delicacy and precision, rather than heft. The helm answers with mindless ease. The clutch action is lighter than a pedal-operated trash can (and plays like a slide trombone). The brakes shed speed without apparent effort. Once you get acclimatized, the Cayman S loses its chick car shtick… and starts to resemble an adrenalin-crazed hunting dog bouncing on its paws, waiting for that blissful moment when it can finally realize its genetic imperative.
And so it does. The harder you thrash the Cayman S, the more sense it makes. The car suddenly gets fitter, better, stronger, happier. You forget the Cayman’s incredible lightness of being, and concentrate on its incredible fleetness of foot. (There are four-term congressmen who can’t change direction as fast than this car.) You don’t need any special skills to make the Cayman dance. You can accelerate, point, turn. Brake, turn, accelerate. Turn, accelerate, accelerate. Cha cha cha. Unlike a Corvette C6 or BMW Z4M, the Cayman is the perfect partner; always ready to subsume its personality to flatter yours. In that sense, it's also the perfect teacher. With its reptilian grip, unflappable suspension, seat belt imprinting brakes and benign limits, you don’t have to get it right to A) live B) have fun and live. Just like the Boxster and Boxster S, the Cayman S makes you a better driver without ever punishing you for being a bad one.
So where’s the downside to this mid-engine merengue? Power. Yes, I know; I began by confessing a misbegotten urge for additional oomph. Well I was right the first time. There is no question whatsoever that the Cayman’s engine bogs down at low revs— especially compared to the seamless thrust delivered from 3000rpm to the all-too-easily discovered rev limiter. First gear is a bit of a bun fight, and the bottom end of third and fourth forces you to either ease into or fully commit to speed– rather than just lunging at it whenever you like (as you can in Variocamland). Another 100 horses spread peanut butter thick across the rev range would certainly prove helpful in this regard, Wendelin.
The second complaint is the car’s lack of soul. The Cayman is a thoroughly German sports car. In other words, it’s all about the driving, not the car. Yes, you become one with the motorized scalpel that transforms you into a corner carving God. But there’s nothing about the Cayman that tugs at your heart strings. The new shape makes a valiant attempt; but it ends up being handsome rather than svelte. The new engine sound is magnificent— in a brutally efficient sort of way. The interior’s controls are ergonomically sound, but undersized and deployed without a hint of the spizzarkle that makes a Ferrari ghetto fabulous. In short, the Porsche Cayman S is nothing less– and strangely nothing more– than the ultimate driving machine.
[Porsche provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.]