2014 Porsche Cayman S road test: Even better than a 911?

2014 Porsche Cayman S

2014 Porsche Cayman S

A recent week with the exciting, third-generation 2014 Porsche Cayman S brought forth a nagging question from the dusty recesses of my mind, a question which might have branded me as a know-nothing heretic only a short time ago. Do you really need or want  the more expensive and more often coveted Porsche 911?

To the bosses in Germany, the answer no doubt is a resounding “Yes, ” and they have the sales figures to prove it. To the serious race teams who have taken the 911 and its variants to countless victories in races and rallies around the world, the answer is, “Of course.” To the status seekers — sports-car-loving doctors, lawyers,  trust-fund babies and others financially well endowed — the answer goes something like this. “We can afford the best, so that’s what we buy.”

Far be it for me to challenge the wisdom of those people, so let’s narrow the discussion a bit. Is the Porsche 911 the best choice for a person who will be driving daily, mostly on public roads and seldom, if ever, on a racetrack?

Considered in that context, I think the argument can be made that the Cayman coupe and its fraternal twin, the Porsche Boxster roadster, are the better and, for most amateurs, probably the best choices.

The 911 began life more than 50 years ago and was an evolution of the Porsche 356 that traced its roots back to the Volkswagen Beetle. With a rear-engine,  short wheelbase, a light front end and tricky rear suspension, the 911 could be a handful to drive for an enthusiastic, but unskilled driver.

The Carrera Red leather interior adds an elegant dimension to the Cayman S.

The Carrera Red leather interior adds an elegant dimension to the Cayman S.

Over the years, engineers and advanced electronics have challenged the laws of physics and turned the 911 from a skittish, sometimes scary coupe or convertible into an easy driver with tremendous athletic prowess. To a buyer, the scariest thing about the Porsche 911 experience is now likely to be a price that can spiral well into six figures.

On the other hand, the Porsche Cayman began life in 2006 as a coupe alternative to the Boxster, which was born a decade earlier. These two-seaters were engineered from the start for perfect balance with their horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engines placed amidships. The power is transmitted through the rear wheels, the steering is perfectly weighted and superbly responsive, and the huge brakes are always ready to scrub off the kind of excessive speed that gets the heart pounding.

It just doesn’t get much better than that. But, before we get into the details of the Cayman S, which also carries a pulse-quickening price, allow me an additional observation.

The thing that has always amazed me every time I have gotten behind the wheel of a Porsche sports car over the past three decades is how deeply the soul-satisfying Porsche DNA is baked into each and every Porsche sports car — Cayman, Boxster or 911.

Despite the basic differences in their construction, and all of the improvements one would expect from a car as it passes from generation to generation, the feel from behind the wheel is immediately familiar. The seating, the positioning of the steering wheel, the way the hand falls naturally to the manual gear shift lever, the precise shifter travel, the unique sound from a flat-six engine — you simply know immediately that you are in a Porsche and nothing else really comes close.

Now, on to the specific subject at hand. Think of the 2014 Porsche Cayman S as a base Cayman on steroids.  There are numerous differences between the two coupes, but only one that truly sets them apart.

That’s right, the engine.

The Cayman S has a 3.4-liter, flat-six engine that generates 325 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque. Porsche testers say it will scream from a stop to 60 mph between 4.4 and 4.7 seconds, depending on which transmission it is teamed up with.

The lesser Cayman has a 2.7-liter flat-six engine that develops 275 horsepower and 213 pound-feet of torque and will race from a stop to 60 mph between 5.1 and 5.4 seconds depending on the transmission.