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One of the most complete sports cars ever created. Beautiful to drive, and bulletproof to live with

Good stuff

Sounds better than a turbo Cayman, gorgeous handling, GT ability, cabin built to last

Bad stuff

Pathetic standard equipment levels (and not all that much power) for your money

Overview

What is it?

The second-generation Porsche Cayman, aka the solid-top sister car to the Boxster. The ‘981’ gen car followed the first-gen ‘987’ (Porsche’s numerical logic is indecipherable) and was first revealed at the LA Auto Show in late 2012. UK sales kicked off in 2013, and carried on until 2018, when the Cayman was facelifted and rebooted (with flat-four turbo engines) into the 718 Cayman which (at the time of writing) you can still buy today. So in fact, the bodyshell and basic structure of this decade-old machine is still in business today. Still at the top of its class too.

WHAT CHANGED FOR THE 981? 

The whole car looked more assertive. The reason? New doors. See, the original Boxster was developed for maximum cost-effectiveness, because Porsche was a bit skint. So it shares its headlights, bonnet, front wings and doors with the 911. Porsche tried a bit harder with the sequel, giving the next-gen Boxster its own face, but it still used round, tumblehome 911 doors, so the stance of the hard-top Cayman was a bit gawky. For the 981, Porsche finally gave the Cayman and Boxster twins bespoke doors, with chunky air-intake cutouts. The front grew into a baby alligator grin and the taillights morphed into neat LED items. A longer wheelbase and wider tracks enhanced its road presence.

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Underneath, the 981 shed 30kg compared to its predecessors, due to greater use of aluminium. The 981 is also stiffer than the car it replaced. Adaptive cruise control and keyless entry appeared on the options list for the first time.

WHAT VERSIONS COULD I BUY? 

There were only two to begin with: the standard Cayman and its naturally aspirated 2.7-litre flat-six, which developed just over 100 horsepower per litre, to the delight of specific output nerds. It churns out 275hp, or 271bhp. The Cayman S soared up to 320bhp, thanks to a hefty jump in capacity to 3.4 litres.

In 2016, Porsche topped off the Cayman range with a GTS variant, and then the GT4. We’ll be concentrating on the regular models in this buying guide though. Because they are, after all, the very best car ever made.

HIGH PRAISE. ARE YOU BIASED?

Ah yes. Should explain at the outset here: most cars tested by TopGear.com are lent to us, either by brave manufacturers or very kind owners. This particular 2013 Cayman 2.7 is different, because it belongs to me. I spent my life savings on it in the summer of 2022. Money where yer mouth is, and all that.

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For the same money I could’ve bought an E92 BMW M3, with a thumping great 4.0-litre V8. Or a 6.2-litre Mercedes C63 AMG. The Cayman is by no means the fastest you can go for the money. In fact, it’s probably the measliest amount of horsepower you can score in a sports car for circa thirty grand. Plenty of hot hatches would devour it for brekkie.

So if you like raw speed, stop reading here and tap these blue words to go and lust after an Audi RS3 or Mercedes-AMG A45. They’ll leave a Cayman breathless. But I can vouch for the Cayman driver enjoying the journey more. Trust me.

HOW MUCH ARE USED SECOND-GEN CAYMANS THESE DAYS?

Values seem to have bottomed out in the late twenties: £27-£29k is where you’ll find the tidy 2.7s, with an S more like £32-35k. The GTS seems to have barely depreciated at all: one with mileage in the teens and desirable options like the Alcantara interior upholstery can still command a price north of £50,000.

ANYTHING I NEED TO WATCH OUT FOR? 

We’ll get into the pitfalls and loopholes of Cayman ownership in the Buying tab. But I’m not writing this from a padded cell, so rest assured you can own one of these things on a sensible budget without needing therapy.

What's the verdict?

It’s refined, comfortable, easy to operate, practical and a stellar drive. So I bought one

Obviously I would say this, but I’ve never really subscribed to His Royal Clarkson’s opinion that the only reason anyone buys a Cayman is because they can’t afford a 911. If you’re going used, then there’s oodles of 911s available for the same price as a decent mid-spec Cayman. Tidy 996s, plenty of 997s… and not just Tiptronic Targas either. Good ones. Ones you might want.

Instead, having a Cayman feels like a little club, occupied by people who want a brilliantly packaged, painless to own and downright joyous to drive sports car. You might think it’s a bit clinical. Too serious. And yes, there are more characterful, effervescent cars around for similar or less money. TVRs, Jags, AMGs. The Cayman’s strength is that it isn’t a drama queen. It could be a daily driver or a Sunday treat. A B-road hero or a GT car. It’s refined, comfortable, easy to operate, practical and a stellar drive. It’s also free of the annoying tech in more recent models, makes a better noise than a 718 turbo and, well, if it was fundamentally flawed in any way, then Porsche wouldn’t have pretty much the same car still on sale ten years down the road, would it?

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