At first glance, the 2014 Cayman seems like the essence of Porsche: a simple, fast, gorgeous coupe that stays glued to the pavement.
Other familiar hallmarks include a flat-six engine behind the driver; a trunk in front, under a sloping hood; and that raspy growl that's been broadcast through the tailpipes of Porsches for half a century.
And yet the Cayman has become more the exception than the rule at the German automaker, which today makes most of its money on sport-utility vehicles and four-door sedans and finds itself chasing all sorts of technological frontiers -- diesel drivetrains, dual-clutch transmissions, even battery power.
Even the vaunted stick shift is out of favor. The most extreme versions of the iconic 911 -- the GT3 and the Turbo -- no longer even offer a manual transmission option.
And that's what makes the Cayman so refreshing: It's just a Porsche, true to the heritage, offered in a version with everything you need, nothing you don't, at a price attainable by mortals.
Sure, you can opt for the faster Cayman S with its 325 horsepower. You can throw in a lightning-quick dual-clutch automated manual transmission or $7,400 carbon ceramic brakes. A price tag north of $100,000 is possible.
But we tested the base model, distilled to the essentials: One mid-mounted engine, three pedals and 275 naturally aspirated horsepower. Now in its second generation, the Cayman starts at a reasonable (for a Porsche) $53,550.
During our testing, more than one person asked if it was a 911, a confusion owing to the Cayman's larger size and wide stance. Curvaceous wheel wells flank a low hood that hides a surprisingly useful front trunk. On the side, a larger air inlet is positioned just ahead of the rear wheels.
Meanwhile, the roofline flows gracefully from the cabin to the taillights. The lights themselves are bisected by a horizontal crease that connects to the automatically deployable rear spoiler.
The engine in the base model shrinks to 2.7 liters from 2.9 liters. But horsepower jumps by 10 to 275. Porsche says the car blasts from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. All this, with a fuel economy rating of 20 in the city and 30 on the highway.
The six-speed manual gearbox sends all that power to the rear wheels. Perfectly located in the center console, its throws are tight but fluid, aided by a well-balanced clutch. The Cayman even looks the other way when you stall, firing the engine back up automatically before your date notices the error.
The 2014 Cayman represents a leap forward, while retaining deep roots in Porsche's heritage.
2014 PORSCHE CAYMAN
Base price: $53,550
Price as tested: $70,160
Engine: 2.7-liter, six-cylinder boxer engine
Power: 275 horsepower, with 213 pound-feet of torque
Zero to 60 mph: 5.4 seconds
EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 30 highway
Length: 172.3 inches
Height: 51.3 inches
Width: 60.4 inches
Ground clearance: 5.1 inches
Passenger capacity: 2
Bottom line: A pure sports car that keeps Porsche honest