The Porsche Cayman S may look like a poor man's 911, but think again. It's the ultimate go kart driving experience, without the 911 price tag.
As you walk around the car, there are hints of 911 and greater Porsches of past. The sleek profile offers a flat beltline that rises to a kink about the rear, signifying the living quarters of the 3.4-litre horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine.
Unlike the 911, the Cayman's engine sits further inward. It's planted between the back of the driver's seat and near the end of the wheelbase — the 911 range features similarly sized six-cylinder engines that sit at the back of the car.
The engine position means that instead of just one front storage area, Cayman owners are able to use both the front and rear to store their luggage. While it does mean owners lose two rear seats, the added advantage of stowing luggage is gained.
Kicking off from $106,200, the Porsche Cayman sits above the Boxster and below the 911 in the Porsche line up. The range consists of the Cayman, Cayman S, Cayman GTS and now the Cayman GT4. Our test car is the Cayman S, which starts at $139,000 for the six-speed manual or $143,990 for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic like ours.
If you open the Cayman S options list, you'll find a number of options to pick from. On last count, I spotted 121 different boxes that could be ticked. These range from $590 scuff plates to $17,990 carbon ceramic brakes.
While it may seem like a huge jump from the $106,200 entry-level Cayman, the Cayman S gets a bigger and throatier engine. It goes from a 2.7-litre six-cylinder engine to a 3.4-litre unit. It also gets more standard equipment and a sizeable leap in performance.
Fitted to the Cayman S is a 3.4-litre naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine that produces 239kW of power and 370Nm of torque. The standard car features a six-speed manual, while the vehicle tested was fitted with Porsche's lightning fast seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The inclusion of an automatic gearbox helps reduce fuel consumption to 8.0L/100km (down from 8.8L/100km with the manual) and reduce the time taken to sprint from standstill to 100km/h from 5.0s to 4.9s. That number drops even further when you tick the Sport Chrono Package option box, reducing to 4.7s.
Inside the cabin it's typical Porsche. The Cayman S uses a raised central turret that houses the vehicle's controls and any optional extras you tick. As you can see with our test car, it had virtually no options selected — sans the 20-inch Carrera S wheels and metallic paint.
While it's more cost effective, that leaves the car with a number of blank buttons — six of the ten buttons do nothing. It feels cheap and takes a bit of gloss off the Porsche ownership experience.
This aside, the cabin is nicely presented and features logical button placements. The Porsche Communication Management (PCM) infotainment unit is easy to use, very responsive and high resolution. While it's not as modern as some of the other vehicles in this segment (like Audi's Virtual Cockpit), it does the job.
The new Porsche 718 Boxster and 911 both get the latest version of PCM that includes Apple CarPlay and upgraded functionality with a new 7.0-inch touchscreen display. It's unclear at this stage when this will be made available to the Cayman range.
Storage within the cabin is great with several cubby holes and two cup holders. The front and rear boots offer a total storage capacity of 425 litres (150 litres at the front and 275 litres in the rear), which is pretty impressive for a car its size.
Don't even bother thinking of the Cayman as a second rate purchase to a 911. On the open road, the 3.4-litre six sings a blissful throaty metallic song while the incredibly quick-shifting gearbox barks and pops as it moves through the cogs.
The first set of corners we attack stretch wide and move uphill. With the right foot essentially buried into the firewall in second gear, the crisp turn in and incredibly direct steering pushes the Cayman S through without even a glimmer of fuss.
The Goodyear Eagle F1 treads measure 235mm at the front and 265mm at the rear, providing all the grip necessary to rein in the Cayman S's linear torque curve. They team perfectly with the cross-drilled rotors that measure 330mm at the front and 299mm at the rear, featuring four-piston calipers.
Braking feels consistent and strong throughout the pedal travel. Even after numerous hard stops and several tight hairpin approaches, the pedal felt just as strong as the car's first stop. This is helped in part by the car's light 1301kg kerb weight.
As we approach tighter stretches of road, the Cayman S's flat turn in and nil body roll work with the electrically-assisted steering rack to provide an utterly blissful driving experience. It can be likened to a go kart in the way it changes direction and provides near-perfect communication with the driver.
Despite the fact this car is missing the optional Sports Exhaust, the noise coming out of the twin exhaust pipes is the definition of automotive erotica. It's deep, thrumming and right next to your head, which makes it even more perfect.
One thing I grew to dislike was the steering wheel mounted shift buttons. Instead of using paddles or up/down convention like a normal car, the Cayman S uses two buttons that both change up a gear when pushed in and down a gear when pulled toward the driver. It can be confusing at times and is an unnecessary departure from the norm.
I'd talk about the stability control system, but it essentially never intervenes. The Cayman S offers more than enough mechanical grip to extract everything you need out of it without needing to push the car beyond its limits.
When you settle down and hit the highway, the Cayman S relaxes and turns into a fairly comfortable highway cruiser. The ride errs on the side of firm, but not to the point it's back breaking. Adaptive suspension (called Porsche Active Suspension Management) can be optioned for $2710 and would be recommended to enhance the drive experience.
Around town it also feels firm, but again doesn't sit on the Lotus Exige side of firm. Bumps are absorbed with a firmer impact that settles not long after. Ground clearance and approach/departure clearance is more than adequate to avoid scraping on drive exits and speed humps.
Parking is a breeze thanks to excellent visibility out the front, sides and rear. Unfortunately a reverse-view camera isn't standard, but both front and rear parking sensors are.
How do you sum up a car that is technically perfect? It's hard, because while it's no 911, it doesn't really need to be. It offers all the fun, without the price tag of its older sibling. Sure, the 911 and Cayman S are very different cars, but the end result is the same.
You will get a smile from ear to ear each time you drive this car, even with the myriad blank buttons littered throughout the cabin.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Porsche Cayman S images by Tom Fraser.