For just about any driving enthusiast, the Porsche 911 is a go-to dream car. And because of its price, a dream is about all it will ever be for most people.
The closely related Boxster convertible was given a thorough updating for the 2013 model year and now it's the Cayman's turn. If you're not conversant with Porsche's mid-engine hatchback coupe, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. For everyone else, the changes in content and design are cause for much celebration.
Although the gorgeous fastback shape is familiar, the distance between the front and rear wheels of this two-seater has been extended by 2.4 inches and there's more rubber on the ground. That should add up to greater stability and ride comfort with improved cornering prowess and stopping power.
Additionally, the constantly variable Active Suspension option with "normal" and "sport" shock settings has been upgraded and can be combined with the available Torque Vectoring that directs extra power to the outside rear wheel when cornering.
The Cayman benefits from a net weight reduction of 60 pounds (66 pound for the Cayman S). The shell alone drops 100 pounds because of the increased use of aluminum that makes up 44 percent of the body. However, more glass area and larger wheels have put some of the weight back on.
Adjustments to the body design are subtle, but they give the car a cleaner, crisper appearance. As with the Boxster roadster, the coupe has a new nose, reshaped fenders and deeply sculpted door panels that incorporate larger side air intakes. This is a distinct styling departure from the 911 and helps identify Caymans.
Out back, the aluminum hatch is larger and the deck spoiler is taller and has a steeper angle. You'll likely never see it as it's automatically deployed once the car reaches 75 mph, which is a pretty easy speed given the powertrain choices.
The previous 2.9-liter six-cylinder engine, with its 265 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, has been replaced by a 2.7-liter engine that makes 275 horsepower and 213 pound-feet of torque. The 3.4-liter six-cylinder Cayman S powerplant has been nudged to 325 horses, with torque remaining about the same at 272 pound-feet.
Porsche's stats box indicates the Cayman will hit 60 mph from rest in 5.4 seconds with the six-speed manual gearbox, or 5.1 if the quicker-shifting Sport Chrono package for the optional seven-speed automated manual transmission (PDK) is selected. For the Cayman S, the times drop to 4.7 and 4.4 seconds, respectively. For perspective, that's right in the range of the Audi R8 supercar that has about 100 more horsepower.
Porsche has added a start/stop feature for the Cayman that shuts off the engine while stopped, then fires it up again once the brake pedal is released. This, along with a coasting feature that idles the engine when driving downhill, contributes to a best fuel-economy rating for the 2.7 of 22 mpg in the city and 32 highway. For the 3.4 with the PDK, the numbers are 21/31. The best numbers the 2013 Cayman can muster are 20/29.
For those of you who don't want the Sport Chrono package, pressing the Sport button on the console will still produce more rapid upshifts at higher revs, faster downshifts and the stop/start and coasting features will be bypassed.
A large part of the Cayman's makeup is how it treats drivers and passengers and the restyled interior is a total joy. The gauges and switchgear are logically positioned and the absence of steering-wheel clutter, such as redundant controls, will be much appreciated by serious drivers.
With deliveries beginning this spring, base Caymans will start at $53,550, while the Cayman S stickers for $64,750 (all including destination charges). That's a modest increase from the price of the 2013 models, but still a great deal for Porsche's talented duo that will provide similar driving pleasure and style to the 911.
What you should know: 2014 Porsche Cayman
Type: Two-door, rear-wheel-drive hatchback sport coupe
Engines (hp): 2.7-liter DOHC horizontally opposed six-cylinder (275);
3.4-liter DOHC horizontally opposed six-cylinder (325)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual (opt.)
Market position: The Cayman's mid-engine design makes it unique among its direct competitors, including the higher-priced 911. Cayman is a relatively affordable entry-level sports machines that's both luxurious and thrilling.
Points: Cayman's new design is a marked improvement; Base and "S" powertrains offer plenty of thrust; Socially responsible fuel-economy improvements; Reasonable base prices can quickly spiral into 911 territory by piling on pricey accessories; Is this the best-looking Porsche?
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 22/32 (2.7, PDK)
Base price (incl. destination) $53,550
Audi TTS coupe
Base price: $48,200
The best model, the AWD TT-RS, will actually clobber a Cayman S.
Nissan 370Z Nismo
Base price: $43,800
Tightly wound track-ready model sells for less than half the price of a GT-R.
Base price: $26,300
A great entry-level sport coupe for those who like shaping raw talent.