Regardless of your feelings about Porsches in general, there’s no question that the company knows how to make a profit. There’s no other manufacturer with such a complete range, catering for enthusiasts at every stage in their lives.
As a new dad, it’s a lot easier to appreciate the importance of vehicles like the Cayenne and especially the Macan. It’s also quite upsetting to experience something as brilliant as this Cayman S, knowing that owning such a thing is years away (even if we take money out of the equation).
For those whose kids have grown up or who have space in the garage, the Cayman is the “other Porsche” that still manages to have street cred. The Boxster has always been labelled as the soft Porsche, a description that hasn’t always been fair.
Reputations tend to stick, unfortunately, to the benefit of the Cayman and the detriment of the Boxster.
Let’s get one thing out the way immediately: in resplendent Guards Red, this 981 Cayman could be the prettiest Porsche of them all, including 911 models. The proportions are perfect, and the size of a Cayman is exciting rather than daunting.
On sight, it feels like a car that you want to get in and drive. That experience is carried through perfectly by the seats and the interior, both of which are excellent.
When climbing into an automatic Porsche, the most important thing to check is whether it has the stupid PDK buttons. If sauerkraut was a gearbox, it would be a PDK with buttons. In fact, that statement might be unfair to the fermented cabbage.
It’s difficult to understand why Porsche decided at some point that manual ‘boxes and paddles were both too practical for people. Presumably inspired by watching kids play Xbox or PlayStation, they decided that our thumbs should be doing the work instead.
It was a significant relief to see two beautiful paddles behind the steering wheel of this 2013 Cayman S. The PDK is the best gearbox we’ve driven on any car thus far, an experience which is amplified by the paddles and destroyed by the buttons.
The fact that there is a healthy market for retrofit paddles tells you everything. Moving on.
If the colour doesn’t send enough of a sporty message, the 20” wheels and gorgeous boot spoiler finish the job. The air-vents behind the doors are a useful reminder of where the engine lives in this car, which is what defines the driving experience.
In the 911, the position of the engine is its greatest flaw and its most endearing characteristic. Hanging way out the back behind the rear axle, it creates a challenging driving experience when pushing the car. More on that later.
In the Cayman, the mid-engined layout means the engine is in front of the rear axle rather than behind it. Here’s a fact that isn’t well-known and certainly not well-advertised by Porsche either: in the 911 RSR racecar that Porsche uses to win on track, the engine is also in front of the rear axle.
In other words, Porsche’s prize “911” racecar is basically a fancy Cayman. You won’t find that in any 911 brochures. If you own the Lego RSR, which all petrolheads should, you can confirm this for yourself.
To get the full Cayman experience, we drove to Redhill, high above Simon’s Town. The view from the top is pure Cape Town beauty, but the road to get there is the real highlight.
With hairpins, gradient changes and short bursts between corners, it’s one of the most exciting roads in the country. Unfortunately, it’s too short and too close to an urban area to really let loose. There are also no real safety barriers and plenty of trees.
In that respect, it’s a self-regulating road and is much harder to drive than Franschhoek Pass. This means the “look at me, babe” geniuses choose to crash at Franschhoek rather than on Redhill, which makes the Redhill experience safer for those who do know how to drive.
This Cayman S on that road is motoring heaven. It’s a far better experience on those twisties than a 911, thanks to a chassis that makes everything so easy. You don’t need to be a great driver to do great things in a Cayman and especially not in the S variant.
The 981 Cayman S benefits from the 3.4l six-cylinder Porsche masterpiece, a slightly detuned version of the engine in the 991 Carrera. It may have less power (232kW vs. 257kW), but the car benefits from having it in the right place.
A standard Cayman (195kW) isn’t bad by any means, although not having the extra power in the S will frustrate you and lead to eventual buyer remorse.
There are only two questions left to answer…
The first is: could the 981 Cayman S be a future classic?
The 981 Cayman GT4 is certainly a future classic and arguably one of the finest modern cars of them all. Porsche finally allowed the Cayman to outshine the 911, a matter of historical importance. In GTS or even S trim, considering the entry price is all relative, it’s reasonable to expect the car to hold value brilliantly.
The really important point is that the 718 Cayman that replaced the 981 has not been a favourite of petrolheads. By swapping the six-cylinder goodness for a turbocharged four pot, many enthusiasts groaned collectively.
We haven’t driven a 718 Cayman and can’t comment on the experience, but the recipe doesn’t sound promising. Subjectively, it’s also not as pretty as the 981.
Now we arrive at the most important question of them all: is the 981 Cayman S a better buy than a similarly-priced 911?
A quick scout through the classifieds shows that you need around R700,000 to buy a solid 981 Cayman S. At that price point, you’re buying a 997 Carrera S (265kW), probably around a 2007 model year.
The Cayman is far newer and that really shows in the interior, which has never been the 911’s best feature. The Cayman is also much more comfortable as a daily driver and on a twisty road, the Cayman driver will order coffee before the 911 driver gets to the end.
There’s also the benefit of engine refinement and reliability. The Cayman S has less power than the older Carrera S, but it also doesn’t come with numerous forum discussions on bore-scoring issues.
The 911 is significantly harder to drive and that’s without considering the manual gearbox vs. PDK. While the Cayman does all the work for you in the bends, the 911 simply doesn’t. If you drive a 911 poorly, you will get yourself into serious trouble.
That’s why petrolheads prefer the 911. Non-car people will never understand the argument of “I prefer the one that wants to hurt me” but true enthusiasts will immediately get it.
The real clincher though? The small back seats. For highly successful young parents, the 911 is an irresistibly practical way to live their best lives.
The kids go in the back, where the engine is supposed to be.