×

Even with its replacement imminent, Porsche's entry-level hardtop is still a hoot to drive.

One of our all-time favorite movies was the 1971 epic LeMans starring Steve McQueen as Porsche pilot Michael Delaney. From that time forward, we have revered the Porsche 917 as the ultimate car of all time.

Still do.

Well, that model is not available anymore, so we instead will settle for the 2012 Porsche Cayman.

As if.

Now considered an entry-level variant of the brand for which "there is no substitute," we wanted to find out if the Cayman is a worthy successor, even on the eve of its departure as the world awaits its replacement.

What is it?

It's tough to find a mainstream Porsche that doesn't skirt near or just under $100,000. That's not saying it's impossible, but with dealer add-ons and market adjustments (read: more dealer add-ons), it sometimes becomes an exercise in futility. While the Porsche 911, Carrera GTS, Convertible, GT2, and their other variants are aspirational to most people, the marque builds the Boxster and Cayman as the Porsche for the rest of us.

Our example is a two-seat sport coupe powered by Porsche's famed 2.9-liter horizontally opposed boxer-style six-cylinder engine. A strong performer, it produces 265-horsepower at 7,200 rpm and 221 lb-ft of twist at the crankshaft, between 4,400-6,000 rpm. It is mid-ship mounted for perfect balance.

Seeing as our test model was the base Cayman, meant that it came with a standard McPherson-strut suspension with front and rear anti-roll bars. No Porsche suspension is really "standard," but for an even larger leap, you can order the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management, which alters settings on the fly.

A great looking car in any shade, our Cayman was equipped with an optional wheel set painted in a body-colored Carrara (not Carrera) White paint.

Slick and German on one hand, it was ultra white and sterile on the other.

For those who believe too much is never enough (how we love to say that), there are the Cayman S, limited-edition Cayman S Black Edition and the top-of-the-line Cayman R models, which are available in various states of tune all the way up to 330 horsepower and a 175 mph top end.

What's it up against?

Competitors in this segment are hard to line up in a direct head-to-head face off. That's because some of them are hardtop convertibles, which can do double duty as a coupe or go topless with a flick of a switch. Two top-doffing competitors are the BMW Z4 hardtop Convertible ($48,650), or Mercedes-Benz's SLK hardtop convertible ($42,500). The Audi TT RS coupe ($57,200) and the Nissan 370Z Coupe ($32,280) are two others in the fixed-roof category.

How does it look?

Harkening back to the 904 coupes from the early Sixties, the Cayman at first glance, has much of the DNA of the formally named Carrera GTS. That car, circa 1965, was relatively plain in its makeup. Our base-level Cayman is, in the grand scheme of things, plain in its presentation, as well.

A large, three-port series of intakes in the front fascia suck in cold air to cool the innards of the Cayman's Boxer engine. From the side view, the vision is clear that it's the profile of a Boxster with a fixed roof. Monochromatic with available Boxster body-colored wheels, it is a study in minimalism that is only contrasted by the crest on the hood and the retractable spoiler on the rear deck.

And on the inside?

The basest of Basic Porsche Cayman vehicles, our model featured a basic (there's that word again) interior that was dressed up with a body-colored console to offset the abundance of grey leather. A leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel offered a tactile feeling of precision. Tradition carries over, too, with the left hand mounted ignition switch where a McQueen wanna-be would be able to turn the starter over before he was even in the seat and had the seatbelts cinched tight.

The pair of buckets seats was typical in their minimalistic profile that we have enjoyed in various Porsches through the years. Following along that same minimalistic theme, these were not 14-way ventilated buckets with massage functions. Instead what we had were fore and aft movements, height adjustment and seat rake controls. Oh, we almost forgot the addition of the heating function that's an available option ($525) on the Cayman.

The optional Sound Package Plus ($700) audio system featured AM/FM/CD/Aux controls with seven speakers and a five-inch monochrome display. And that was it. No navigation, no SiriusXM and no Bluetooth Streaming Audio. It did come equipped with a "universal audio interface" meaning it had a 1/8-inch audio plug input to connect an iPod or other device to the headphone "out" jack and then into the car's audio input.

Finally, owning a Cayman means you get two storage bins to haul the goods. The front cargo hold is good for 5.3 cubic feet, while the rear hatch can accommodate 9.2 cubic feet, which is roughly the size of a standard roll-aboard suitcase.

But does it go?

Mechanically, there are few better drivers than the Cayman. Well-sorted and balanced, it rewards good driving like a puppy that is easy to please its master.

A low center of gravity aids in the balance and is partly assisted by the dry-sump oiling system that dispenses with the concept of a full oil pan. Stiffly suspended, it offers virtually no body roll but ease at exiting a turn, being ready to mash the go-pedal once the nose is pointed in the vicinity of its decided course. Steering feel is among the best we have experienced.

The power from its 2.9-liter little monster is a fine example of the Teutonic mastery of extracting big things from small packages. Minding the fact that 265-horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque are on the low end of the power spectrum, should not take anything away from this mill. This engine continued to pull all the way through the powerband, even while in sixth gear.

Thanks to its fixed roof, the Cayman slightly lighter than its Boxster sibling, tipping the scales at 2,932 lbs. Top speed clocks in at a not-tested 165 mph, while 0-60 mph happens in 5.5-seconds. The EPA says to look for 19 city/27 highway with a 22 mpg average. At the end of the week, we were clipping off at a 20.2 average. We think our right foot needs to go on a diet.

For those needing even more power, there are the 3.4-liter variants that come with the Cayman S and R models. Braking on our "base" tester was stellar with four-pot calipers clamping the 12.5-inch front, and 11.8-inch rear rotors.

The six-speed gearbox was outrageously sorted, allowing for direct and precise shifts through the range. Better yet, the two-stage resonance induction system, like a recording studio, produced an intoxicating mix of audio magic that actually had us wondering what the big deal about the radio was in the first place.

Why you would buy it:

You've always wanted to be the King of Cool, Steve McQueen, and this is as close as you'll ever get to him now.

Why you wouldn't:

You want your hot rod to carry more than two people.

Leftlane's bottom line

For a long while, Porsche has been known as one of most profitable car companies in the business. With some experts stating there is a profit of around $28,000 on the nose of every product, it's easy to see why they are able to make such a claim.

While the Cayman is not priced for everyone, it is, as tested, still the most democratic of vehicles from the venerable German marque. That it is quite a capable performer makes us want one all the more.

2012 Porsche Cayman base price, $51,900. As tested, $60,935.

Convenience Package, $2,230; Heated seats, $525; 18-inch wheels, $1,235; Sound Package Plus, $700; Painted Spoiler Lips, $485; Body-color wheel paint, $1,490; Painted instruments, $690; Body-color center console, $730; Destination, $950.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.