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The two-seat Porsche coupé has a lot to live up to. Is this latest generation still one of the best affordable sports cars you can buy?

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Any new Porsche model is bound to be met with considerable attention and not a little enthusiasm, but few are likely to be greeted with the anticipatory fervour that the Porsche 718 Cayman generates.

The first generation quickly became a benchmark – not just for its compelling, forgiving and beautifully resolved mid-engined handling, but also for the obvious completeness of the product around it, and its comparative affordability.

The original Cayman was introduced as a covered-over Boxster

Introduced in 2005 as the covered-over version of the Porsche 718 Boxster, the original Cayman came with either a 3.4 or 2.7-litre straight six. A facelift in 2009 replaced the 2.7 with a 2.9, and the more powerful Cayman R was introduced to universal acclaim in 2011.

When launched,  the question that it gently prompted – why would you buy a Porsche 911? – turned into a detailed and convincing thesis by the end of the car’s life cycle. Porsche recognised most clearly of all, thus ensuring, figuratively at least, that the Cayman couldn’t outgun its notional better.

That trend continues with the second generation. Despite sharing the 3.4-litre flat six engine, the new Porsche Cayman S model’s output is almost 25bhp behind the entry-level 911’s.

The basic Porsche Cayman is further back still, with 271bhp, but it’s also substantially cheaper than the baseline 911.

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Can the new Cayman continue the previous generation's trend of being easy to use, engaging and reassuring? Will it be the bargain of another decade, or victim of our unreasonably high expectations? Let's find out.

DESIGN & STYLING

Porsche Cayman rear spoiler

In light of Porsche’s conservative approach to design evolution, the new Porsche 718 Cayman’s remodelling looks extensive.

Attention is commonly drawn to the new front end, which shows the influence of the Porsche 918 Spyder hypercar, but it’s the higher haunches, bigger arches and swept-back roofline that make this Cayman more distinctive than its predecessor.

PDK and Sport Chrono pack models have launch control

The dimensional sprawl isn't quite as obvious. This is a bigger brand of Cayman, most notably in a wheelbase that has expanded by 60mm, but shorter overhangs have contained the overall growth to just 33mm. The width expands not a jot, despite a 40mm expansion of the front track and a 12mm increase at the rear.

The car is 11mm lower, too, and on now-standard 18-inch wheels (19s for the S) it appears squatter, meaner and heftier than before.

In reality, the new Cayman is a cutting-edge concoction of aluminium and hot-formed, high-strength steel and should be 30kg lighter than its predecessor, model for model. Crucially, it’s stiffer than the previous generation of Porsche Cayman, too, to the remarkable tune of 40 per cent.

Mounted just ahead of the rear axle is a direct-injection flat six producing 271bhp from 2.7 litres in the base car and 321bhp from 3.4 litres in the Cayman S. Both feature variable valve timing and Porsche's VarioCam valve lift technology on the intake side, and the larger motor receives a resonance flap for improved cylinder fill.

Both engines now produce their peak power at 7400rpm, and although the S gets 59lb ft more torque from the same 4500rpm, the 2.7-litre unit’s specific output now exceeds 100bhp per litre. 

Operating efficiency is improved by better thermal management, electrical system recuperation and automatic stop-start, contributing to a 15 percent boost in fuel economy for both models. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, while Porsche’s seven-speed PDK automatic is likely to be a popular option. 

INTERIOR

Porsche Cayman interior

Porsche’s interior architecture may have become rather familiar over the past 18 months (the Porsche 718 Cayman’s is carried over from the year-old, third-generation Boxster), but that detracts not one iota from its lasting appeal.

Practically everything one could ask of a dedicated sports car – ergonomic excellence, clarity of purpose, stylish athleticism – is present in spades, and buttressed by a standard of build quality normally found far north of the Cayman’s asking price.

The overall impression is smart but intently purposeful

The car’s greater size has improved the sense of space. Somehow you can breathe more freely in the new Cayman, sit further back from the controls and feel less confined, but the overall compact feel of the car around you remains undiminished. The seats are comfortable, and the backrests adjust electrically. 

The driver’s attention is focused forwards, with the central, oversized revcounter visually prioritised as the instrument most worthy of your attention. To the right of that is the 4.6in VGA screen that masquerades as a dial, which displays trip functions or, better still, sat-nav directions if the optional Porsche Communication Management system has been added.

Look left and the standard 7in touchscreen dominates. It’s now mounted higher up, leaving space for small but haptically pleasing buttons beneath for heater functions and menu shortcut, but none of this detracts from the business at hand. The elevated centre console puts the gearstick at elbow height, next to buttons for dynamic functions.

There is a marginal but welcome increase in the two-seater’s luggage capacity. The 150-litre box in the nose remains the same, but Porsche claims 275 litres in the rear. That seems like a lot until you spot the brushed aluminium partition bar behind the headrests.

Filling up the Cayman to its roofline is the only way to meet Porsche’s 425-litre overall luggage capacity claim.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Porsche Cayman front quarter

The regular Porsche 718 Cayman comes with a 2.7-litre engine, but opt for the Cayman S and you'll find a 3.4-litre unit nestled in the back.

Whether or not the larger engine is preferable is a matter of personal preference and your intended use of the car. It's less effort to make faster progress in the S, thanks to its additional torque, but it's perhaps a little less enjoyable to work hard.

The velvety, turbine-like flat six is a good reason to buy a Cayman

The 3.4-litre unit is claimed to be over half a second quicker to 62mph, and it feels more urgent out of the mid-range. But the smaller flat six is no pale shadow; it’s a stirring boxer engine in Porsche's grand tradition, and what it lacks in tractability, it makes up for in high-rev sparkle and road-biased usability.

On the mile straight at MIRA’s proving ground, full of fuel and two up, the 2.7-litre version broke the 60mph tape in 5.9sec – a few fractions outside Porsche’s claim. But the Cayman driver should be concerned with away-from-the-lights performance least of all.

This is a car built to captivate when it’s already in motion. The in-gear performance speaks to this theme – 60-80mph in 3.9sec out of third, 80-100mph in 5.6sec from fourth – as does 30-70mph in 5.1sec. 

Yet even numbers like these offer only a skeletal guide to the engine’s vibrant character. It doesn’t come fully on song until peak twist arrives at 4500rpm. The unit isn’t at all unco-operative beneath this point, either; in fact, it’s wonderfully smooth and biddable. 

But requesting proper speed is not solely a job for your right foot; it’s an immediate stab through the clutch’s fleshy travel with the left and a wrist-flick of a downshift away. 

This might be wearing if the six-speed manual’s gears didn’t engage so beautifully, or if the engine’s rising revs weren’t such an orchestral blend of gravelly inhalation and mechanical stress. By 6500rpm, memory of any inertia has vanished. The last 1000rpm is euphoric and over in a moment. Then you get to do it all again. 

Flat-out on the road, the extra performance – particularly in the mid-range – offered from the more potent 3.4-litre engine is often negated by the need to ease off for corners. Consequently it's easy to see the upside in the base model's significantly lower price tag. 

When it comes to picking the transmission, we'd recommend going for the manual. The seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic is devastatingly effective, and will no doubt prove more popular in S models, but the six-speed manual is an endlessly rewarding and gloriously mechanical way to interact with the Porsche. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Porsche Cayman hard cornering

Drive a Porsche 718 Cayman in entirely standard form – or as close to it as you can get – and the dynamic integrity of the car is clear.

Even without Porsche's PASM suspension, the basic Cayman’s sporting blend of compliance and body control feels expertly judged.

The Porsche Cayman takes to track driving very readily

The damper response reeks of fine-tuning. Initial give turns into the sort of reassuring support that you can lean on in total confidence, and there’s a gradual, seamless transition in between that allows for changeable road surfaces very adroitly indeed. The resulting compromise feels sophisticated. 

Guiding the Cayman from corner to corner is an immersive pleasure. There’s a little roll, but only at high effort levels, where it serves to remind you gently that you’re approaching the limits, exactly as a road car should. 

The car’s cornering balance is near-perfect: neutral but unerringly predictable on a balanced throttle, and biased ever so slightly towards understeer if you throttle up before you begin easing the lateral load out of the front tyres.

Caymans equipped with Porsche’s torque vectoring option are slightly more adjustable with power as the corner develops, while models with Porsche's adaptive dampers further bolster the Cayman's capabilities, delivering a level of compliancy and control that can be be benchmarked against Lotus and McLaren.

However, any new Cayman would seem to come with a sense of natural handling even more wonderful than the previous one had. It has a sense of easy precision, instinctive poise and flattering controllability equalled only by handful of sports cars in the world – and eclipsed by precisely none.

Whether you opt for the riotous 2.7-litre version, or the more muscular S model, you won't be disappointed.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Porsche Cayman

The basic price of both the Porsche 718 Cayman and the Cayman S makes it both a tempting proposition and a relatively affordable one. 

While the Cayman S’s price puts it in competition with cars like the Lotus Evora and Mercedes-AMG C63 coupé, the base Cayman continues to hover in the void between there and more affordable performance coupés such as the Nissan 370Z and Audi TT S.

PCM and Bose audio upgrades are good choices

It’s a niche that continues to serve the car well. Cayman owners won’t be able to complain about the class-leading levels of CO2 their cars emit, or the excellent residuals they command. 

Standard specification and the cost of options are much more likely to raise the blood pressure. Keeping adaptive dampers, torque vectoring, a limited-slip diff and dynamic transmission mounts on the options list smacks a little of taking advantage of your customer.

Porsche could offer more value for money with its equipment. On a premium sports car car, charging extra for metallic paint, a rear wiper and headlight washers looks like profiteering.

On the plus side, reliability should be good and Porsche dealerships have an excellent standard of customer care.

VERDICT

5 star Porsche Cayman

On the road, the new Porsche 718 Cayman is brilliant: smooth, responsive, fast, precise and always so absorbing.

As delicate as its predecessor? In the main, yes. And out on the track, it’s damned nearly as great; even better, we suspect, when equipped ‘just so’.

The Cayman is more complete package than ever

The new Cayman has also, impressively, bettered its predecessor's out-of-the-box usability and capacity for coaxing spell-bound participation out of any driver. 

These improvements have come about as a result  of a longer wheelbase and a wider front track, delivering improved stability and assurance.

It’s enough to expect Porsche's rivals to measure up to such stellar performance and handling, but only when you consider the Cayman’s static virtues – from its competitive list price and distinguishing residual value to its creditable economy, comfortable cabin and grand touring practicality for two – do you get the fullest sense of what this car represents.

It may not be the quickest sports car on your shopping list, but for those whose tastes are mature enough to care less about how fast they go than how they go fast, the Cayman – like the Toyota GT86 a couple of price brackets below – makes for an utterly dominant class champion.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.