Let’s face it, if you are interested in buying a Porsche sports car and if you have the cash, then on the surface buying a Porsche 911 is a no-brainer. But should it be?
Since its inception 70 years ago, Porsche has been known as a sports car company. Starting with the legendary 356 in 1948 and continuing with the introduction of the 911 in 1965, Porsche has made sports cars with engines in the rear–meaning that the engine is placed behind the transmission and the rear wheels. The 356 and the 911 were and are amazing cars. Though Porsche tried to kill it several times, the 911 continues to evolve and is one of the most iconic cars in the world.
Ironically, Porsche is no longer a sports car company. Sports cars only accounted for 25% of the units sold in the United States during 2017. Three fourths of the units sold by Porsche were comprised of SUVs and passenger cars. Yet when the Porsche marque is mentioned the primary image that comes to mind is that of the 911. The 911 has been produced for 50 years, and has maintained most of its DNA for that period of time, making it unique in the automotive landscape.
Interestingly, a little over a third of the sports cars sold by Porsches during 2017 were not 911s. Sales of the Boxster and Cayman, both mid-engine sports cars that are well respected in the automotive press but get very little respect in the eyes of the public, and, to a much lesser extent, in the eyes of 911 owners, accounted for the rest. The Boxster has been maligned for years as being a “woman’s” car, and an episode of Two and a Half Men featured Charlie ridiculing Alan for buying a “Chick” car after Alan bought a Boxster. The Cayman has also been dissed, earning the label, “Poor Man’s Porsche.”
While I have never owned a Boxster, I think it is a tremendous car and more than manly enough for me. I have purchased two Caymans, including my current one, the 2015 Cayman GTS featured in the pictures, despite the fact that I can afford a 911. I have driven new 911s and 911Ss. They are phenomenal cars. Irritatingly for me, they have grown so big over the years that they have lost their sports car feel. I should know, as I have owned two 911s, including a 1974 Targa and my current 1989 Carrera Targa.
The Boxster and Cayman should not be maligned. Nor should they be dismissed out of hand. From a performance perspective, mid-engine cars make the best sport cars. In a mid-engine car, the engine sits in front of the rear axle and in front of the transmission. Mid-engine cars are incredibly well balanced, achieving just about a 50/50 weight distribution on the front and rear axles, resulting in a car that handles exceptionally well. In order to achieve equivalent handling characteristics with a rear-engine car, the rear axle has to be widened significantly, which provides enhanced grip for the rear wheels, but changes the stance and aesthetic of the car dramatically.
Porsche knows this. Two of its most recent supercars, the $500K Carrera GT and the $900K 918 Spyder, both featured mid-engine design. And the 2017 Porsche race car, the 911RSR, has been redesigned as a mid-engine monster, a first for the venerable 911.
Of course, Porsche continues to create 911 sports cars that I drool over, including the 911 GT3, 911 GT3 RS, 911 GT2 RS, and 911R, but these are specialty cars that are produced in low volumes and sell at incredible prices. If one of those cars has captured your fancy, then stop reading now and get one, as no Boxster or Cayman, including the track-oriented Cayman GT4, can come close to satisfying your needs. But if you are considering a 911 or 911S and want a car that feels more like a sports car, then keep on reading.
My Cayman is an absolute joy to drive, whether it is on the streets, freeways, backroads, twisties in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles, or the track. It performs like the perfect all mountain ski. It just works everywhere. The car is nimble and responsive in an agile way with which the 911 just cannot compete. It is also quick, featuring a 340 horsepower, flat-six naturally aspirated engine that propels it to 60 miles per hour in just over 4 seconds, not fast enough to involuntarily plaster a grin on your face, but fast enough to make you choose to grin from ear to ear. And then there is its spectacular exhaust note, arguably making it one of the best sounding Porsches short of the GT3. If you already know about the Cayman and Boxster, you will realize that beginning with the 2017 model year, they have been renamed the 718 Cayman and 718 Boxster. The new models feature turbocharged four-cylinder engines which generate incredible horsepower and torque, but just do not sound the same as their predecessors. They are, though, a kick in the seat to drive.
Of course, my GTS is not as fast as a 911. Porsche has consistently infused the 911 with more horsepower than it has bestowed upon the Cayman, but the Cayman is lighter and buying a Porsche is not only about raw acceleration, and it never has been. If you want raw acceleration, get a Tesla, as nothing can beat it off the line.
Though not related to drivability or performance, I think that the Cayman is a better looking car than the 911. In my neighborhood it is definitely more unique, as I live in a 911 rich environment, making the Cayman more alluring for me to own. I also find it hilarious when people stare at my car and wonder why it looks like a deformed 911.
So if you want a Porsche sports car, think about why you want it. If it is for prestige and image, then the choice is obvious. Get a 911. But if you want a driver’s car, then be man enough to consider either a Boxster or Cayman. You won’t regret it.
*Main / Featured Image: CaliPhotography