If you walk into a group meet of Porsche 911 purists and fanatics and say that you think the Cayman is better, be prepared to defend yourself. If you're lucky, you'll walk away with some harsh language. If you're unlucky, then you'll probably have a bump on your head from the shoe that flew at you from across the room.
Personally, I've always thought that the Cayman had the potential to upstage the 911. Yes, the driving feel of a 911 is uniquely incredible (even more so if you're driving a classic one) with that engine in the back trying to overtake the front when you try to accelerate hard out of a corner. But the Cayman is great in its own way, and that begins with ceasing to compare it to the "purity" of the 911.
Since its inception, the Cayman has been the brother to the Boxster; the latter has a retractable fabric roof, while the Cayman was purely a coupe. The Cayman we're driving is already the third generation of the name. In Porsche tradition, its internal type (or typ) code is 982, supplanting the 981. Despite that, Porsche chose to officially append the number 718 to the Cayman and Boxster names, harkening back to the original 718 race cars from the 50's that were piloted to class wins at Le Mans and an overall win in the Targa Florio.
Those familiar with Porsche's overall design would know that the company very rarely makes sweeping design changes from one generation to the next. If anything, the design updates are often evolutionary in nature, with Porsche making some tweaks here and there like the headlights, the bumper, the rear, and and some details. In fact, if you had the one example of each generation of the Cayman chronologically arranged nose to tail, chances are the image would look like the the evolution of man. Of course, the latest generation is easily the most stylish of the bunch, reflecting the progress that Porsche has made with the model.
Inside, the changes are far more striking. I like the new generation of Porsche's steering wheels, especially in this simpler format for the Cayman (non-S) that's devoid of audio controls or other extra buttons. The dash is cleanly designed; no flashy bits here and there, which I like. There's a big screen in the middle, serving as the display for the infotainment system. The system can actually play MP4 video files, though it's rather pointless unless you're parked. Below it are the buttons for the climate control system and the audio unit. There's no third pedal; this Cayman has the dual-clutch PDK gearbox.
On the stepsill are two switches; one opens the hood, the other opens the trunk. Under the hood is, well, nothing. There's a compartment that's good for small luggage like backpacks or perhaps even those small spinners that you can fit in the overhead compartment on aircraft. The rear is a bit bigger, though keep in mind that it gets warm back there because the engine is right under that cover. Case in point; if you brought home chocolates and put it there, chances are they'll be better served in a cup when you get home.
As far as I can remember, the Cayman (and the Boxster) have the distinction of being the only cars we've driven that we don't have engine shots of. The reason is that the cover is bolted onto the frame; and removing it isn't something we'd like to do on a car that we don't own. Nevertheless, Porsche assures us that there's a good horizontally-opposed engine under that cover, despite having just four cylinders.
Yes, that's correct. The Cayman's engine has been downsized. Whereas before the Cayman and Boxster family had naturally-aspirated flat-6 engines that had displacements from 2.7 up to 3.8 liters, this 718 can now only be had with a flat-4 engine: a 2.5 liter for the Cayman S and Boxster S, or a 2.0 liter for the non-S variants. But don't fret; Porsche turbocharged both of these flat-4 motors, resulting in 349 PS for the S versions (previous 3.4L: 325 PS) and 300 PS for this non-S (previous 2.7L: 275 PS).
On a daily commute to and from the office, the Cayman is sublime, though that depends on your road. If you encounter a lot of rough concrete, pockmarked tarmac and the like, you won't enjoy your drive; the Cayman seems stiffer than before. In my case, however, I happen to have a nice and wide mountain road to get to work, and that makes the drive (at least in that section) very enjoyable.
In traffic, the Cayman isn't too bad. Sports cars aren't made for our kind of traffic, and that's the understandable trade off when you drive one, but the Cayman manages it well. I do wish it had the PASM system that allows you to alter the damping to suit the need, but given the price point of this standard Cayman, you're not paying for it yet. The convenience of the dual clutch does make up for it, along with the surprisingly good fuel economy. During my time with the Cayman, it was doing 7.3 km/l (19 km/h average) and 8.6 km/l (23 km/h average) in the city; not bad. On the highway, Porsche claims it can get up to about 17 km/l, but really, I wasn't being very frugal with overtaking on the expressway.
Once you do enter an open road and get to give the car some more thrust, you'll really enjoy it. With sport mode activated for better throttle response and the gearbox holding onto the gears a little longer, you can really play with the Cayman as you get up to speed. The turbo engine will feel very different if you're familiar with the older Cayman (or any non-Turbo Porsche 911) with the normally aspirated flat-6; there's a bit of lag, though once the boost comes the smile on your face will just get bigger and bigger. This Cayman can hit 100 km/h from a standstill in about 5 seconds.
But the Cayman isn't a straight line machine... it's meant to be cornered with; that's why you're sacrificing comfort to drive one. When you enter a corner (preferably on a racetrack) slightly hotter or faster than intended, this Porsche doesn't try to wriggle away from you. It's manners at the limit are so controllable, so easily manageable that you'll feel a definite connection to the road. And it's an easy car to drive hard; the more you drive the Cayman, the more you'll learn how well it can handle any corner you throw it in. If you know how, you can easily kick the tail if you so wish; just make sure you're ready to catch it if you turn off the stability control, otherwise known as PSM.
I think the best attribute about the Cayman that gives it so much potential beyond the power, beyond the design, and beyond technology, is the way it manages weight and the feel that results from it. Having the engine slightly forward of the rear axle means that all of the heaviest parts of the car (including the occupants) are well within the wheelbase and track. Together with the optimized suspension, the very rigid frame, the strong brakes, the turbo engine, the responsive and superfast dual clutch gearbox, what you get is a performance machine that will reward the experienced driver on a winding piece of road.