March 7 (Bloomberg) -- Unlike, say, a 911 Turbo S, a Porsche Cayman S is not a vanity purchase. Tell somebody you’re considering buying one, and they might ask, “Oh, the SUV?”
No, that would be the similar sounding Cayenne. The Cayman is the two-seat, mid-engine sports car first released in 2005 as a fixed-roof brother to the convertible Boxster.
This year brings the release of the third generation, which might have occasioned the Cayman to change, to grow up even. After all, it has never captured the prestige of the venerable 911, the practicality of the Cayenne or the obvious joys of the topless Boxster.
In other words, the Cayman is Porsche’s odd duck. Its devotees are not particularly interested in fancy options or looking suave about town. Instead Cayman owners will drive 300 miles out of their way to find 10 miles of genuinely challenging road.
Place a true-believer in a brand-new S model and let him fire it down the winding route. He will return a happy man.
The most common complaint about the Cayman is that it’s underpowered. This version is a bit zestier. The base model gains 10 more horsepower and the S model five. The braking systems are improved, wheels larger and the wheelbase longer.
The base price starts at $53,550, though at that price it will have oceans of plastic in the interior and the lesser, 2.7-liter, flat-six engine with 275 horsepower. Open your wallet for the S model, which starts at $64,750, and you get the motor with 3.4 liters and 325 hp.
The test model was loaded with all of the performance upgrades, special paint and full leather, coming to a rather incredible $95,000. Many options are unnecessary, others key to getting the most out of the driving experience. The Sports Chrono package ($1,850) makes the car faster, and the sports exhaust ($2,825) a lot more fun.
Fire up the engine and hit the sports exhaust button, which opens up a flap in the silencing system, allowing more sound to escape. Suddenly, the 3.4-liter flat-six sounds like no other car on the market.
Hustle down the road, momentarily take your foot off the gas and the exhaust overrun indulgently rat-a-tats behind you, a Little Drummer Boy suddenly banging away like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. This engine is so vocal, it’s positively loquacious.
The exterior has been modestly reworked. The cant of the windshield and shape of roof line are bolder, making the Cayman more Porsche-like. The rear end gets a prominent horizontal line which cuts across the tail lamps, an oddity.
It’s a bit of a letdown compared to the Boxster, which got a nose-to-tail remodeling last year and is an absolute beauty. I wish they’d made the Cayman’s redesign more radical.
But if you love to drive, you can live with the just-okay looks. This isn’t a car to impress the Joneses. It’s a car to escape them -- and the rest of your workaday troubles.
Find a lonesome, winding road, and get the car into third gear, its sweet spot. (Best of luck choosing between the six-speed manual, which is involving and glorious, or the seven-speed automatic, which always knows which gear you want and is also glorious. The PDK automatic costs $3,200 more.)
The steering is spot on, the car is light and ideally balanced, and that engine just keeps on making great sounds. With the automatic version, you can keep your left foot poised over the brake, tapping it when you need to get a little weight on the front end to help it carve corners.
The Cayman responds wonderfully to nuanced driving, as attuned to the driver as an orchestra to a revered conductor. The attendant electronic systems, including traction and stability controls and active suspension, all look for clues to your intent. They want to make you happy, without getting in your way.
If you insist on creature comforts, you might allow yourself the sumptuous Carrera red leather ($1,510), or interior carbon-fiber accents ($1,515). Options like the radar-controlled adaptive cruise control are overkill, as is the $6,730 Burmester surround-sound stereo. They make sense in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class executive sedan, not here.
Lastly, the Cayman gets the descending center console, first found on the Panamera sedan. It looks good, though the endless array of buttons can be distracting.
Better to concentrate on the feel of the steering wheel and the crackle of the motor.
Forget about impressing people. Get out there on your own. The new Cayman demands it. There is glory to being the odd duck.
The 2014 Porsche Cayman S at a Glance
Engine: 3.4-liter flat six with 325 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds with PDK.
Gas mileage per gallon: 21 city, 30 highway (with PDK).
Price as tested: $95,000.
Best feature: Impeccable manners on that back road.
Worst feature: Could look a little hotter.
Target buyer: The driver’s driver.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include London Weekend by Farah Nayeri and Mark Beech; Warwick Thompson on London theater; Robert Heller on rock music and Rich Jaroslovsky on technology.
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at email@example.com.