The Cayman S is a latter-day "Little Bastard"

Porsche would have you believe the Cayman S is more than a Boxster with a hard top and higher sticker price (MSRP: $58,900).

And they’d be right.

Although the Porsche Boxster is one of the finest-handling sports cars money can buy, the Cayman is better. When it comes to slicing through the twisties, this mid-engined tin top is the sine qua non of the driver’s car. It’s such a towering achievement, it casts a shadow even over big brother 911.

BEAUTY * * *

The rear glass and sloping haunches of the Cayman S make it the sexiest model the German sports car company has produced since the 550 Spyder. Of course, that’s not saying much. Ferrari does sexy; Porsche does scalpels. While this four-wheeled surgical instrument is classically handsome, the family nose is a passion killer.

PERFORMANCE * * * *

Run the 3.4-liter flat six up past 3,000 rpm and you’ve got instant access to a gut punch of shove. Throw the roadster into a bend and experience corner-carving deification. You’ll gradually acclimate to the Cayman’s unflappable chassis and breath mint-ejecting brakes. And when you do, you’ll want more. Yes, it’s true that the Cayman S is underpowered. Shame on Porsche for holding back.

COMFORT * * * * *

Thanks to the Boxster, the Cayman S is both a superb around-town driver and a maniacal speed merchant. The cabin lacks any hint of bling, the Chicklet-sized buttons are annoying and the toys (heated seats, stereo upgrade, satellite navigation) cost big bucks. But the Cayman’s fundamentals make it fun to be mental and cool to kick back.

STATUS * * * * *

While supposedly one notch down the totem pole from the iconic 911, the Cayman is the better driver’s car. (Notable exception: The 911 Turbo.) The Cayman’s curves trump the suppository-shaped 911′s dignity. One caveat: You must go crazy on color (speed yellow, lapis blue, cobalt blue). Style points depend on looking like you’re ready to race.

PC * * * * *

Small, “fun” cars tend to get a pass from the environmentally conscious set and, in this case, it’s deserved. Produced by a country with a powerful Green Party, all Cayman materials are fully recyclable, while quadruple catalytic converters clean the exhaust to LEV II standards. Mileage for a non-thrashed Cayman S: 20 mpg city, 28 highway.

TOTAL * * * 1/2

The Porsche Cayman S is an odd duck: A Boxster hardtop that doesn’t look like a Boxster — except inside, where it’s identical. A fully optioned Cayman S costs as much as an entry-level 911 Carrera, so if you don’t love the Cayman, your money is safer in another model. But what’s not to love? The Cayman S is a latter-day “Little Bastard,” one that’s just 100 horses away from pistonhead perfection.

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