Correction: This article incorrectly indentifies the engine configuration for the vehicle. Like many Porsche models, the Cayman S contains a flat-six engine with two banks of cylinders.
"Quaffable but far from transcendent" was one of the reviews bestowed by persnickety vino snob Miles in Sideways, the movie that continues to inspire oenophiles everywhere to descend upon Santa Barbara County to not drink Merlot. I'm a sucker for dated pop culture trends, and the beautiful, rolling hills of California wine country seemed the perfect setting for sampling Porsche's new creation, the Cayman S.
A two-seater built on Porsche's Boxster platform, the Cayman is cleverly named. With its rounded frame and Xenon headlamps it looks a bit like a crocodile peeking its head above water before going for the kill--which in this case means zero to 60 in five seconds and up to 110 soon after that. Even just sitting in the supple, form-fitting leather seats and firing up the engine is thrilling because the V-6 sits right behind the driver and dishes out a guttural Germanic roar like the Deutschland crowds going nuts for the host team at the World Cup.
Though I couldn't attempt the car's top speed of 171 mph, I put the Cayman through its upper-rpm paces on a five-mile single-lane highway course, keeping precise time on the dashboard stopwatch, a feature of the $920 Sport Chrono package. It's easy to dart in and out of tight spots, partly because the Cayman weighs a scant 2,954 pounds and sits low, clearing the ground by a mere 4.8 inches. I doubt a clutch could take much more abuse than I gave this one while zipping past ostrich farms and vineyards of delicate pinot, but the Cayman dug in and delivered at every turn--including a few hairpins taken at speeds best described as ill-advised. In short, the Cayman is drivable and undeniably transcendent.
Sticker price $59,695 base price, $71,505 as tested
Vital stats 3.4-liter 295-hp V-6 engine; six-speed manual transmission; 250 pound-feet of torque at 6,000 rpm; 20/28 mpg
Good stuff An "AC max" function that cools the interior in roughly four seconds, a digital dashboard that displays how far you can drive before refueling, and lots of trunk space for a small sports car--9.2 cubic feet in back and 4.9 under the hood
Drawbacks The reverse gear is to the left of first on the shifter, which threw me off initially. I kept envisioning myself accidentally backing into a fellow driver on the 101. And having a companion in the passenger seat sometimes limited visibility.
Second opinion "The Cayman ascends from first to fifth gear with the ease of a bird soaring on a thermal," says Mark Halvorsen, staff editor at Truckin' magazine. "This beautiful car can only lead to a life of speeding tickets and gas receipts."