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The new Cayman ‘is much sportier’ than its Boxster stable-mate, Porsche executives insist. (Dan Proudfoot for the Globe and Mail)
The new Cayman ‘is much sportier’ than its Boxster stable-mate, Porsche executives insist. (Dan Proudfoot for the Globe and Mail)

First Drive

The 2014 Porsche Cayman stands alone Add to ...

The perception that the Porsche Cayman is a Porsche Boxster with a roof on it is both commonplace and understandable.

And from Porsche’s point of view, difficult to erase.

Both cars are two-seaters. Their engines sit ahead of the rear axles (not in the tail as with the 911). Key specifications such as wheelbase and track are identical. They’re manufactured in the same facility at Osnabruk, Germany.

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Observe the colour intensifying in Hans-Jurgen Wohler’s face as he addresses the matter: “The Cayman is not a Boxster with a roof. It is much sportier,” states Porsche’s director of the Boxster/Cayman product line. “We have given it more horsepower and more torque. Its torsional rigidity is more than double the Boxster’s – this allows us to tune it to be so much sportier.”

If it’s Wohler’s task to make this case before journalists attending the Cayman presentation here, it’s Porsche’s challenge to convince sports car buyers when the new Cayman arrives at dealerships this spring.

The first Cayman, introduced in 2006 following Boxster’s 1999 debut, foundered. Sales have been dismal even following a 2009 re-do.

This new Cayman needs to command a clear position within the Porsche sports car lineup. It should. Although Porsche executives would never say as much, the new Cayman has a sportier drive than the 911, the flagship model around which the company is built, at a fraction of the price.

The Cayman base price is $59,990 against the 911’s $96,200.

But the $72,990 Cayman S is the model Porsche showcased in this press preview. And the particular ‘S’ I drive is fitted with significant performance options lifting its price to $103,430. (There were said to be a couple of ordinary Caymans available for journalists to sample, but I never came upon one among the Cayman S masses.)

After Wohler’s remarks, we are released to follow Walter Rohrl, a world rally champion more than 30 years ago and now a Porsche test driver extraordinaire, around the Circuit Internacional Algarve for four laps.

Ahem, I am all over Rohrl’s bumper entering this circuit’s tight turns. Ahem, this is actually because he needs to slow his pace to allow another two journalists, likely neophytes to track driving, to catch up to us. Let it be said, though, riding Rohrl’s bumper pumps the adrenaline (and just might skew the judgment of an impressionable old journalist).

Afterward, we take the long way home with countless curves along the way to a hotel on the Atlantic coast. The steering wheel reassures you that neither the nose of the car nor the tail is even close to misbehaving. The balance afforded by the mid-engine configuration and the great torsional rigidity of the new body let the suspension do its thing. Stay tuned for the options that play a part in this.

The Cayman S serves up more grip than most drivers can ever fully exploit. As you’re exiting any given turn, it dawns on you that you could have gone so much faster without any fuss. But it doesn’t matter, because a great sports car delivers great exhilaration within the speed limit.

Some journalists at Wohler’s presentation ask pointed questions about the new electromechanically-assisted steering not delivering the degree of road feel much admired in older Porsches. Journalists generally have seized on this as a bad thing.

Nobody is heard discussing the topic after the day’s driving. Evidence was, steering wheel feedback precisely communicates the relationship between the front wheels and the road, while bumps and harshness are filtered out. And when corners are coming at you by the dozens and even hundreds, this form of assistance is not a bad thing.

One problem. More than $17,000 of our car’s options are of the go-faster sort. Would a “base” Cayman S impress so mightily? Besides the PDK automatic ($3,660) with its superb paddle shifters and the obvious benefit of fast movement through seven gears, the torque vectoring with mechanical differential lock ($1,510) is said to improve cornering, with the vectoring enhancing entry and the locking the exit.

Active suspension management ($2,050) lowers ride height and, with four new sensors, controls weight transfer with firmer damping. Sport Chrono Plus ($2,110) this year introduces dynamic transmission mounts to minimize squat in hard acceleration during cornering. Ceramic composite brakes ($8,450) do not fade in repeated 150 to 80 km/h slowing before tight turns.

This is one really serious fun car. Far more extroverted than the first Cayman with larger air intakes and an extended fast back, what’s changed within counts more. A longer wheelbase and a wider front track, as introduced in the 911 and Boxster, contribute stability, ride, cornering.

Most sheet metal is now aluminum, replacing steel for a pivotal reduction in curb weight. At the same time, higher-strength steel in cross members is the key to its torsional rigidity exceeding that of a Boxster or 911.

A Boxster with a roof on it? A different creature altogether.

Boxster and Cayman are as different as pleasure and passion, one perfect for top-down touring along the Algarve coast, the latter the one for mountain roads of the interior and the track.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

TECH SPECS

2014 Porsche Cayman/Cayman S

Type: Two-door coupe

Base price: Cayman $59,990, Cayman S $72,990; as tested, $103,430 (not including some European options not offered in Canada)

Engine: 2.7-litre, direct injection six-cylinder boxer/3.4-litre in S

Horsepower/torque: 275 hp/214 lb-ft for 2.7-litre; 325 hp/273 lb-ft for S

Transmission: Six-speed manual; as driven, optional seven-speed automatic capable of manual shifting

Drive: Rear-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): NA; premium required

Alternatives: BMW Z4, Chevrolet Corvette, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Nissan Z

Globe rating for the 2014 Porsche Cayman

Our ratings guide
9.5

Ride

Surprisingly good traversing even rough pavement in Sport Mode, but even better when you select Normal Mode.

8.5

Looks

With the new roof-line plunging back to the larger rear spoiler, the second-gen Cayman presents a more dynamic silhouette.

8

Interior

Handsome, not handy. With two people aboard, briefcases need to be towed in the luggage compartments fore or aft.

8.5

Safety

Collision avoidance, excellent. Collision survival, not yet tested by U.S. government and insurance authorities.

7

Green

Improvement in European test procedures is comforting, yet this car will gulp back the premium when driven as intended.

8.5

Overall

(out of 10 / Not an average)

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