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2014 Porsche Cayman S road test: Could this be the best Porsche for you?

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2014 Porche Cayman S

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Okay, sports car lovers, here’s a question to ponder. Would you really rather have a Porsche 911 than the less expensive Porsche Cayman S coupe?

The question occurred to me recently as I spent a thoroughly enjoyable week putting a Cayman S through its paces on a variety of roads, some of them exciting two-lane blacktops, others less enchanting urban and suburban thoroughfares.

To the executives in Germany, who must keep their sights focused on the bottom line, the answer no doubt is a resounding “Yes, ” and they have the sales figures to prove it. To the serious race teams who have taken the 911 and its variants to countless victories in races and rallies around the world, the answer is, “Of course.” To the status seekers --- sports-car-loving doctors, lawyers, trust-fund babies and others financially well endowed --- the answer goes something like this. “We can afford the best, so that’s what we buy.”

It’s not for me to challenge the wisdom of those people, so let’s narrow the discussion a bit. Is the Porsche 911 the best choice for a person who will be driving daily, mostly on public roads and seldom, if ever, on a racetrack?

Considered in that context, I think the argument can be made that the Cayman coupe and its fraternal twin, the Porsche Boxster roadster, are the better and, for most amateurs, probably the best choices.

The 911 began life more than 50 years ago and was an evolution of the Porsche 356 that traced its roots back to the Volkswagen Beetle. With a rear-engine, short wheelbase, a light front end and tricky rear suspension, the 911 could be a handful to drive for an enthusiastic, but unskilled driver.

Over the years, engineers and advanced electronics have challenged the laws of physics and turned the 911 from a skittish, sometimes scary coupe or convertible into an easy driver with tremendous athletic prowess. To a buyer, the scariest thing about the Porsche 911 experience is now likely to be a price that can spiral well into six figures.

On the other hand, the Porsche Cayman began life in 2006 as a coupe alternative to the Boxster, which was born a decade earlier. These two-seaters were engineered from the start for perfect balance with their horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engines placed amidships. The power is transmitted through the rear wheels, the steering is perfectly weighted and superbly responsive, and the huge brakes are always ready to scrub off the kind of excessive speed that gets the heart pounding.

It just doesn’t get much better than that. But, before we get into the details of the Cayman S, which also carries a pulse-quickening price, allow me an additional observation.

The thing that has always amazed me every time I have gotten behind the wheel of a Porsche sports car over the past three decades is how deeply the soul-satisfying Porsche DNA is baked into each and every Porsche sports car --- Cayman, Boxster or 911.

Despite the basic differences in their construction, and all of the improvements one would expect from a car as it passes from generation to generation, the feel from behind the wheel is immediately familiar. The seating, the positioning of the steering wheel, the way the hand falls naturally to the manual gear shift lever, the precise shifter travel, the unique sound from a flat-six engine --- you simply know immediately that you are in a Porsche and nothing else really comes close.

Now, on to the specific subject at hand. Think of the 2014 Porsche Cayman S as a base Cayman on steroids. There are numerous differences between the two coupes, but only one that truly sets them apart.

That’s right, the engine.

The Cayman S has a 3.4-liter, flat-six engine that generates 325 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque. Porsche testers say it will scream from a stop to 60 mph between 4.4 and 4.7 seconds, depending on which transmission it is teamed up with.

The lesser Cayman has a 2.7-liter flat-six engine that develops 275 horsepower and 213 pound-feet of torque and will race from a stop to 60 mph between 5.1 and 5.4 seconds depending on the transmission.

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The transmission in the test car is a six-speed manual and it clocked the slowest time. That’s because drivers simply can’t slam their way through the gears as fast as the optional seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic.

Frankly, I would gladly give up a couple tenths of a second for the enjoyment of a manual transmission. To me, it simply gives the driver a more intimate connection to the car, and isn’t that what sport-car driving is all about?

One thing immediately noticeable is the spacing of the six forward gear ratios, each one chosen for optimum performance and the most effective use of the torque curve. If the Cayman S will spend a fair amount of time traveling on congested roads, the driver will appreciate the torque because it makes constant shifting unnecessary.

If you are in the market for a Porsche --- any Porsche --- fuel efficiency won’t be a strong factor in the purchasing decision. But, for the record, it’s pretty good. I averaged 24 mpg of premium unleaded over a couple hundred miles spent too often in urban and suburban traffic. The EPA estimates an owner will average between 21 and 30 mpg.

The new Cayman S will not be mistaken for anything other than a Porsche, but with a new chassis the wheelbase has been stretched to 97.4 inches, the front track has been increased to 60.1 inches and the rear track has been increased to 61.5 inches.

In addition, the test car is about 60 pounds lighter than its predecessor, torsional rigidity is increased 40 percent, the larger front disc brakes are from the 911 Carrera and the wheels are larger. The Cayman S test car came with optional 20-inch Carrera S wheels for an extra $1,560.

Another performance-enhancing option on the Cayman S is the torque vectoring system ($1,320) which brakes the inside rear wheel on curves for greater turning stability.

All of this, and more, contribute to the new car’s enhanced agility and driving pleasure. But, Porsche has not engineered top-flight driving dynamics at the expense of passenger comfort. You can travel on the mind-numbing interstates for hours without excessive fatigue, thanks in great part to the comfortable and supportive seats.

Color is a subjective matter, but I was wowed by the beauty of the Aqua Blue Metallic paint that complemented the Carrera Red leather interior.

And, speaking of the interior, it’s interesting to note how Porsche has managed to combine the logical placement of the controls, switches and gauges with an infotainment system in such a relatively small space. It may take a small period of adjustment, but a driver will soon find that everything is easy to find, easy to see and easy to operate.

Among the luxury features on the test car were a 12-speaker, 800-watt Burmeister Sound System, keyless entry and ignition, navigation system, trip computer and ventilated power sport seats.

Not to be forgotten are the front (5.3 cubic feet) and rear (9.7 cubic feet) trunks, made possible by the Cayman’s mid-engine placement. That’s room enough for two people to travel almost anywhere.

Naturally, there is a price to be paid for such excellence and exclusivity. Base price of a Cayman S is $63,800. Loaded with 15 extra-cost items, the test-car price tag soared to $88,745. And, should you be inclined, you can keep adding on until the price exceeds $100,000. Ouch! Even so, you would be shelling out a whole lot more for a loaded 911.

The Cayman S represents a superb blend of driving fun and passenger comfort. When you factor in the new high-tech features, the improved driving dynamics and the more luxurious, 911-like interior, you can really make a strong argument for the Cayman over the 911. Oh, yes, and don’t forget the price.

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