You could call the Porsche Cayman a Boxster Coupe or a baby 911... Either way, it's a highly rewarding dynamic experience.
If the Porsche Boxster was about saving the company when it launched in 1996, its belated twin, the Porsche Cayman, which arrived in 2005 was about further model expansion.
It was also about reiterating the German brand’s sporting intent after the controversial release of the Porsche Cayenne 4WD just a couple of years earlier.
And if Porsche were to appear on Masterchef, the Cayman certainly sounds like the perfect recipe for a sports car – taking the mid-engined balance of the Porsche Boxster and mixing it with the body rigidity of the brand’s true coupe icon, the Porsche 911.
The latest-generation of the Porsche Boxster lands on our shores in June, but we’ve reacquainted ourselves with the Cayman before itself gets the ‘all-new’ treatment at the start of 2013.
We’re in the ‘base’ model that costs $115,100 before on-road charges are added and is powered by a 2.9-litre six-cylinder that was upgraded from a 2.7-litre as part of a comprehensive model update – at least under the skin - in 2009.
The price tag means the Cayman continues to confound automotive logic by being a coupe that costs more than its convertible relative, which typically cost more to engineer.
Putting that fair debate to one side for now, you can step up to more powerful (3.4-litre) versions of the Cayman, but only if you have $147,5000 for the 235kW Porsche Cayman S or $165,000 for the 243kW Porsche Cayman R.
The Cayman gets incrementally more powerful and better as you climb through the range if you can afford the sizeable financial gaps, but you won’t feel too shortchanged in the regular Cayman.
The slight negatives first are that the 195kW 2.9-litre six sounds quite docile at low speeds, while it doesn’t have an abundance of torque down low.
Some proof of that is an 80-120km/h rolling response that takes 7.6 seconds in fifth gear. The rival, $103,300 Audi TT S and $99,900 BMW 1-Series M Coupe would both beat it for mid-range response.
But start to stretch the Cayman from the lower gears and the sensory experience Porsches are renowned for begins.
As revs climb progressively, occupants are treated to a scintillating blend of induction and exhaust noise before the sound morphs into a higher-pitched yowl at the business end of the tachometer. It doesn’t hurt that the engine sits right behind the driver’s seat.
The six-speed manual version of the Porsche Cayman, as we tested, reaches 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds according to Porsche, which traditionally underplays the performance of its cars. That can be reduced to 5.7sec by opting for the $5300 PDK dual-clutch auto, or to 5.5sec by paying extra again for Porsche’s Sports Chrono package.
Many drivers will find the Cayman plenty quick enough. It’s certainly satisfyingly fast.
Precision is a word a Porsche continually reminds you of.
The throttle pedal gives you exactly the amount of acceleration you request, and it’s there in the steering as it responds to the most delicate of driver inputs and provides reams of data back to them from the road surface (some of which has been lost with Porsche’s move to an electric steering rack for the latest models).
The steering wheel is also perfectly weighted, just like the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals, and the six-speed manual.
Hurtle into a series of bends on a bumpy stretch of bitumen and the Cayman demonstrates both its supreme handling balance and otherworldly body control.
The suspension is completely dismissive of major surface irregularities, keeping the Cayman composed into corners, and helping to deliver spellbinding traction out of them when some sports cars would be struggling to get their power to the ground.
On coarser roads, though, expect tyre roar to be competing with the engine and exhaust at filling the cabin with noise.
The dynamic excellence of the Porsche Cayman is complete with a ride that is easier to live with than you might imagine.
Despite the extremely stiff chassis, and large 19-inch alloy wheels, there’s only some mild thump over lateral joins but otherwise the Cayman’s suspension is never harsh and has a surprising degree of suppleness (like the old Boxster).
As Porsches inevitably join the vehicle trend for increasing usage of electronics, the Cayman is almost sports retro with its manual parking brake (the new 911 and Boxster have switched to electronic versions) and button-less steering wheel. (Purists rejoice!)
The cabin is certainly focused on functionality. Nothing is overly complicated.
There’s a centre stack for the excellent touchscreen multimedia system and heating/ventilation, and there are just three dials in the instrument cluster ahead of the driver – with the central tacho flanked by the speedo on the left and fuel/oil gauges on the right.
Even taller folks should find adequate headroom in the Cayman as they nestle into the sportily low driving seat, though the cabin is a noticeably more cocooning experience than the 911. Vision out rear certainly isn’t great.
Storage is also limited inside, with no convenient place for a mobile phone. There are no door pockets, so smaller items will find homes only in the glovebox or tiny console bin tray. Two cupholders, in Porsche tradition, do push out from the passenger side of the dash.
Bigger items are a different matter, with the Porsche Cayman presenting as a relatively practical car as far as sports cars and compact coupes go.
Thanks to the placement of the engine, there’s some cargo space in the rear that’s accessed by raising the Cayman’s hatch (above, middle). And like the 911, the ‘bonnet’ lifts up to reveal a deeper compartment (above, bottom) that will hold a couple of holdalls or so.
You could even call the specification of our Porsche Cayman the Purists’ Edition as the only option fitted was an exterior design pack that we rather liked and costs an additional $8690.
Perfectly offsetting the white paintwork were black alloy wheels from the Porsche Boxster Spyder, black side mirrors, black exhaust pipes, black air intakes and outlets, and black ‘Porsche Cayman S’ badging on the rear lid.
The only thing that isn’t black and white is the answer to the question of whether the Porsche Cayman is a handsome coupe. The quirky integration of the fixed roof on a body clearly related to the old Boxster certainly means it’s not as natural looking a coupe like its bigger brother, the 911.
But, regardless, the Porsche Cayman is surely destined to be a modern classic.