The Germans are at it again. From the same country that brought us the “four-door coupe” and engine soundtracks played through the speakers of the audio system comes another wishful fantasy: that the 2014 Porsche Cayman S is not a Boxster coupe. The Germans have declared the Cayman S to be a stand-alone car, one distanced from the roadster that shares its engines, transmissions, and architecture by virtue of being stiffer, more powerful, and sportier. Never mind that these attributes go part and parcel with adding a steel roof and three grand to the price.
But of course the Cayman S is a Boxster coupe. Frankly, we couldn’t come up with higher praise. Whether the roof folds or not, Porsche’s mid-engined, smaller sports car is a perennial favorite and a mainstay on our annual 10Best list. Riotous flat-six engines, balanced handling, and vivid steering punch your ticket to driving nirvana. With this third-generation car, Porsche promises a higher plane of enlightenment by way of lower weight, more power, and new chassis technologies.
Plus, just look at it. All grown-up and filled out in all the right places, the Cayman S finally appears ready to step out from the 911’s shadow. This latest croc has a wider track with a longer wheelbase and stretched greenhouse, and it possesses a newfound presence, thanks to details such as larger air ducts behind the doors, brawnier rear haunches, and an elegant spoiler that tapers into the taillights.
It might be a bosom-est buddy with the Boxster, but the new Cayman S again shares a large amount of its architecture with the new 911, too, which pays off in its intensive use of aluminum. The lightweight alloy makes up 44 percent of the Cayman S’s body-in-white, specifically, the front and rear body, the floorpan, the doors, and the front and rear trunklids. Porsche says this more than offsets the added mass of new equipment and larger wheels and that the net weight loss for a Cayman S S is a claimed 66 pounds.
The base Cayman S’s flat-six has slimmed down from 2.9 liters to 2.7, and output climbs by 10 horsepower to 275. Despite more muscle and less fat, the Cayman S is still a car with more chassis than guts, like a quicker and stickier version of the Mazda Miata MX-5 or Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ. It’s a formula that rewards fluid drivers who maintain momentum and minimize the amount of time they spend off-throttle.
This car feels tailor-made for roads like the one running between Alcalar and Casais, Portugal. (Good thing it was on our drive route.) You can cover the eight miles without ever moving your hands from nine and three o’clock, and you only see dead center for as long as it takes to saw from left to right and back again. We’ve driven these very roads before in a 550-hp Jaguar XKR-S, but the lighter and better-balanced Cayman S makes for an entirely new experience. It instills confidence and begs for a quicker pace, communicating with you more clearly than your significant other ever will.
Regardless of whatever engine or suspension setting you might choose from the variously available adjustable systems, Porsche has only one steering calibration for the Cayman S. It’s perfect. True, the new electric setup isn’t as tactile overall as the old hydraulic system was, but the swap has filtered out white noise—the conversation is now more to the point. Snug sport seats keep the passengers in step with the fast-dancing chassis. The shifter puts solid weight and a satisfying engagement behind every throw. Its only flaw is a reverse gate without a true lockout. When hurrying the three-two downshift, it’s too easy to land in reverse.