SENIOR MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: This week's sign the automotive apocalypse is nigh: I've changed my opinion on the 2014 Porsche Cayman.
How often do you read those sheepish words from an automotive writer? Probably not as frequently as you should. But I'll own it here.
Frankly, I was afraid this is what would happen to me because it was comically predictable. See if this sounds familiar:
--Carmaker introduces new version of popular and highly praised model.
--Carmaker has enviable “problem” of cult-like loyalist following, which includes members of automotive media.
--To some degree the automotive media -- and to perhaps a larger degree, a particular population within the loyalist following -- $#!^$ all over new model because it feels different than predecessor, and because it has “grown up.”
That's how I felt about Porsche's 981 Cayman as well as the 991 911 at launch. Too refined, too large, less impressive styling … and oh holy hell, electronically assisted steering! You dare put the Porsche emblem on these hoods?! The apocalypse truly is upon us!
Well, er, not so fast. Perhaps the seven months that have passed since I last drove a 981 Cayman are to blame; in fact, I'm certain they are. Months removed from the knee-jerk, guttural response to this new Porsche feel, the little changes Stuttgart wrought here now feel more welcome than unwanted, more logical than blasphemous.
Take the steering, for example. No, it doesn't telegraph the tiniest of pebbles straight to your fingertips through the wheel as the original Caymans did -- but with a few months hindsight, I'm no longer sure how much it matters to me. Surely I still love the 987's lovely telepathic wheel-feel, but the change in the 981 certainly wouldn't stop me from buying one, could I afford it.
And I'll tell you what: the insanely improved ride quality is a godsend, though my feeling on this is no doubt enhanced by the winter cold, snow and ice that have resulted in large chunks of Michigan's roads being ripped away from their underlying soil.
The new interior is a significant step up and doesn't have a downside. Seating position is top-notch, as always, and the weight to the steering, pedals and shifter are all Porsche-classic.
I do still believe that the base Cayman suffers noticeably from a lack of power and especially a low amount of torque; until the tach hits 4,000 rpm you always wait … wait … wait … for any great sense of forward progress no matter how hard you push the throttle. And I don't think I will ever find the 981's exterior styling as appealing as the 987's, but it too has grown on me. Mostly, the more conservative rear-end treatment is what disappoints me compared to the old car. But these are very minor gripes.
Look, it's difficult not to feel this way if you spend enough time piloting one of these exceptional sports cars, thanks to exceptional chassis balance and tactile feedback. In six or seven years or so, when Porsche introduces its next all-new lineup, I suspect we'll all bemoan it and start pining for the days of this 981.
That's just how it goes, and I should've known there was little chance of avoiding this phenomenon. You think I'll change my mind again when I pull the 987 out of the garage this spring? Part of me hopes so, just to make myself feel a little better. But both cars are exceptional, in similar but now a few obvious ways. I'll enjoy each for what it is, and for what it is not.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: It's always refreshing and instructional to get in a Porsche sports car after not driving one for a longish period. Reminds me how it should be done.
I submit no other car in the land has the tactile feel, the light footedness, the mechanical sounds (I mean that as a good thing) as a Porsche Cayman/Boxster or 911. I know, Porsche slappies say (read in a whiny tone) “ewww, they're too big now, they don't have the purity of an old Porsche, they're soft and floppy…”
To that I say BS. I submit this car has plenty of power (for me at least), still has near-telepathic steering, and the on road ride, while it might be a bit softer, is welcome as far as I'm concerned. In this winter weather, on these torn-up roads, I welcomed and was surprised by this car's suppleness, especially when overall the car still steers like a go-kart and goes like the devil.
Bringing me to another beef I hear from the anoraks: The base Cayman (or Boxster or 911) lacks power. Maybe to them, but not me. I have no issues with this engine. Above 3,000 rpm things are happening quickly and the sound is great. This morning, with the slightest snow dusting, I was easy on the throttle, and the car cruised to the office beautifully. If there's a better chassis on the market, show it to me.
Love the interior, build quality looks great and the seats are terrific. I contort myself getting in and out, but it's not the car's fault that I need to lose more than a few pounds.
This car wasn't crazily optioned like some Porsche press cars rolling through here, and when I first looked at the price it was actually lower than I thought it'd be. Remember that Boxster S we had in wearing a sticker north of $100K? This car makes that laughable to me. I personally wouldn't bother with the S were it my money, but that's personal opinion.
And just to drive Morrison crazy, I'd get the PDK and out-shift him…
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: What a great piece of engineering, this 2014 Porsche Cayman. Besides being just a tiny bit short on power, it handles, sounds and looks like the elemental sports cars Porsche always puts out.
Dropping into the seat, it feels like this is the position driving was invented for. There are good viewing angles out of the front, and you feel like you're sitting exactly halfway in between the front bumper and back bumper, making it easy to place the wheels. The hand falls right to the shifter and the feet fall right on the pedals. My only beef with the pedal box is that the brake is so high up and the accelerator is so low. It makes heel-toe downshifting much harder, especially in the fancy Ayrton Senna driving loafers I just got.
I wish I had the car on a better night, without snow, so I could really get a sense for it. But on the dry patches this car grips like a crazed lemur. They grip a lot, right? The engine sitting mid-ship obviously helps; you can nearly floor it around a corner without getting loose. Of course, if you do get loose, that heavy tail will take you who-knows where, but that never happened during my drive.
The Cayman looks great. The wide bodywork looks low and mean, from every angle. I like the big air intakes in the front, the headlights, and the rear three-quarters view, all of it. It was the first time in months someone, two people actually, said “nice car.” We don't hear that too much in the winter.
The 2.7-liter H6 makes a decent amount of power off the line, but doesn't really get going until the higher revs. It pulls hard after about four grand. The sound is just fantastic. Nothing else on the market sounds like a Porsche, either at low revs or high. The S model with about 50 more hp and torque would be a screamer. I want to try that out, badly.
It's tough to debate the price of Porsches, they're nearly in a niche of their own. The Nissan 370Z matches up well in power and space, but costs about half as much. The Audi S5 coupe starts at $52,000 and offers a back seat. Neither will offer the visceral satisfaction that the Cayman, but a handful of extra thousands of dollars might do the trick.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: There is no question that the Cayman is the modern Porsche at its very best. I've called it Porsche's good car before, with is totally unfair to Porsche because none of their cars are objectively less than good. But, I do believe it's the best car Porsche is making right now. I'd even go so far as to say that if there was no C7 Corvette, I'd say it's the best sports car you can buy (hypothetically) for under $100,000. And, while the Corvette is a stronger performer and obviously a better value, and while its interior and exterior design and execution are on par with anything from Porsche, I do have to say that there's something about the Porsche's chassis that inspires a touch more confidence immediately, it seemslike it's going to be easier to drive. Where in the Corvette, you're instantly aware that you're in control of something immensely powerful, the Cayman feels more like a good Miata -- it is more inviting. That doesn't make it better, but I'd imagine that it'll allow many drivers to prefer the Cayman enough to justify what could either be a little or a lot of extra money.
For as much as Porsche's sports cars have grown up and into their big price tags, they still sound great when Porsche allows you to hear them. Even at idle, the flat-sixes sound raspy and metallic, like there's something wrong -- they sound exotic and dangerous and mechanical. This Cayman is no exception. Just start it and place your head next to the intake and listen.
To my eye, it's among the two or three best-looking modern sports cars. It handles brilliantly and it's well put together. It still comes with a real transmission. There are two (tiny) trunks. The interior is business-like and road-trip comfortable. The controls are easy to use, bordering on intuitive.
I am very confident in saying that I prefer this Cayman to the last one in every sense except for the steering, which I'm obviously not sold on. I ran a front tire along a half-inch tall ridge of concrete on the freeway and couldn't feel it. It was eerie. That said, I think Porsche should swap the old hydraulic steering rack into a couple of press cars and see if people still complain about “the feel.”
Is it fair to call the chassis perfect? It's not unfair, that's for sure. I love this car.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I'm not sure if it says more about the car or where I'm at in my life right now, but I felt distinctly better about myself after driving this Cayman. Even the morning commute was perfect: The winter clouds parted, as did, somehow, the traffic. Potholes virtually disappeared. I forgot to turn on the radio.
There's something about this car that refreshes. The packaging is certainly nice -- like the comically expensive Boxster S we tested last summer, the interior feels well-crafted from top-shelf materials. The seats are supportive, and when adjusted correctly, keep you upright and alert without making you sore. There are lots of switches and buttons on the center console; you won't really spend much time looking at them once you start driving, though.
With nearly every performance car available today, you can almost count on the fact that computers are working overtime to keep things pointed more or less in the intended direction of travel (this car has Porsche torque vectoring equipped, for example). Can't have clients wrapping themselves around trees -- bad for repeat business, you know. So you never know how much of your experience is semi-synthetic.
If it's a good car, as this Cayman is, it never even occurs to you to think about whether or not there are nannies breathing down your neck. You feel connected to the transmission through a very crisp, mechanical shifter and a well-weighted clutch pedal. You feel connected to the engine whenever you punch the accelerator -- no, there's no large-displacement rocket-boost feel, but it's not long before the flat-six gloriously wailing away right behind you starts to pull. Or would that be push? (Either way, stop worrying about hurting it and keep it revved up and you'll never want for power.) And you feel connected to the road thanks to a suspension that is improbably good at soaking up road imperfections without placing you in a floaty bubble.
Is the steering less responsive, more synthetic than previous cars? You'll have to trust the other editors' opinions on that one -- can't say I've spent much time in older Caymans.
You know that old saying about how it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow? It's true enough in its own way, but you'll notice that it's often repeated by people who can't afford fast cars.
This Cayman is not cheap at $70,000, but it does a better job delivering a pure-ish sports car experience -- the kind of connection to the road you might feel in a Subaru BRZ or a Mazda MX-5 Miata. And it's so composed while it does so that you might not even notice that you are, indeed, driving a fast car fast and having a lot of fun doing so.
2014 Porsche Cayman
Base Price: $53,550
As-Tested Price: $70,300
Drivetrain: 2.7-liter H6; RWD, six-speed manual
Output: 275 hp @ 7,400 rpm, 213 lb-ft @ 4,500-6,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,888 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 20/30/24 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 18.1 mpg
Options: Infotainment package with Bose including Porsche communication management, navigation module, SiriusXM satellite radio receiver, HD radio receiver, Bose surround sound system ($4,480); 14-way power sport seats ($2,230), PASM ($1,790); premium package including automatically dimming mirrors, two-zone automatic climate control, seat heating, 14-way power sport seats with driver memory, bi-xenon headlights with Porsche dynamic lighting system ($1,780); 19-inch Cayman S wheels ($1,560); Porsche torque vectoring ($1,320); front and rear ParkAssist ($860); Agate/Amber leather package ($640), rear wiper ($360); telephone module ($265); SportDesign steering wheel ($250); online services ($210); color sport crest wheel caps ($185)
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