If this is the entry-level Porsche, count me in | VailDaily.com

If this is the entry-level Porsche, count me in

Andy Stonehouse
Special to The Vail Trail

I was trying to determine if the Porsche Cayman was about the closest, street-legal thing I’ve found in real life to Tony Stark’s flying armored super-suit in “Iron Man.”

And while I’ve heard that the Lotus Elise comes just a tad closer to being a car that you essentially wear, allowing you to conduct feats of precision driving with all of the creature comforts of the aforementioned metal rocket suit, the Porsche is, in fact, a nice compromise.

Quite simply, the mid-engine automobile’s race-focused heritage will be just too intense, too uncomfortable ” too plain-old Porsche-y ” for those accustomed to Lexus or Buick levels of couch-styled motoring.

The two-seat-only Cayman has absolutely no squish or soft touch, whatsoever. It’s precise, hard-edged, brilliant to a fault and … totally fun to drive, if that’s your ultimate objective.

It’s not insanely fast, at least not in a Carrera Turbo kind of way, but the trade-off is handling prowess that’s virtually unmatched, with balanced precision that turns mountain corners into a Universal Orlando ride. The horizontally opposed six-cylinder loudly churns out a reasonable 245 horsepower (you essentially sit on top of the engine, hidden as it is under a metal cover), but the bonus is in the boogie, not the flat-out madness.

The pure, exhilarating roar of that motor is awesome, especially up in the 6,000 rpm range, and the containerized setup of the car (the Cayman is, more or less, a hard-top version of the Boxster, with a not-especially-commodious storage space under the rear hatchback) only adds to the noise. Matched with a delightfully smooth five-speed transmission and four of the world’s most efficient brakes, it’s sporty versatility embodied. Even more intense composite brakes and a driver-adjustable sport stability control system are pricier options.

I had to work pretty seriously during a late-afternoon jaunt through Denver’s urban mountain corridor to get the Cayman to slip loose of the tarmac, despite a zillion high-speed, denture-pulling corners.

And even then, it showed none of the legendary loosey-goosey rear-end swerve noted by generations of drivers of the slightly larger 911.

I gave it the old college try and revved it up to about 130 mph but felt that was about my threshold of comfort, despite word that the Cayman will do 160 on the track.

Equally impressive is the fact that non-performance-testing motoring will easily return fuel economy of up to 29 mpg on the highway ” not that different than a Smart car. Really.

The Cayman will also, admittedly, beat the living hell out of you if you’re not looking. The sharp, almost hard-tailed suspension makes Denver’s terribly pockmarked streets a teeth-rattling nightmare (I was tempted while making a 5 a.m. drive to the airport to simply park the car and take a cab as I thought I was going to make myself nauseous on Colorado Boulevard).

Even more, the ejector seat-styled saddles offer relatively severe, non-adjustable side bolstering that turn long journeys into a serious commitment. Six-foot, 200-pound-plus drivers may have to get into the car like they’re slipping into a sleeping bag.

But ” if you’re buying a Porsche besides the Cayenne SUV, you know this already; you’re buying a Cayman because it’s super-cool, it handles like stink, and it looks almost as good as a Carrera, but won’t quite break the bank.

I was fortunate enough to enjoy the considerably speedier Cayman S (295 HP from a 3.4 liter engine) a couple of years back and both offer quite the value proposition for those seeking Porscheness but not willing to pay the whole tab: Without too many bells and whistles, the base Cayman comes in just shy of $50K and the S can be scared up for about $59K, whereas the most entry-level of Carreras is at least $73,500.

In return, you get every ounce of Porsche goodness, cleanly laid out and wonderfully efficient. The few options my test vehicle had included upgraded 18-inch alloy wheels and sticky Z-rated tires, automatic climate control and floor mats; the stereo was perfectly adequate and the only major doodad of note was the four-function trip computer.

Don’t even think of hauling your gigantic Starbucks around while driving, despite the delicate, pop-out beverage holders on the dash; this is a car for driving, not for sloppy multitasking. I didn’t even bother to turn on the radio, preferring instead to concentrate on that six-cylinder symphony.

The overall look is a slightly transposed and curtailed blend of 911 style, the principal differences being a larger series of vertical, serrated air vents in front of the rear wheels, plus different grill air vents and fog lamps.

In the back, a rear spoiler pops up automatically at 75 mph; the rear hatch will accommodate a bit of soft luggage but not much else. The front trunk features a deep cargo spot that will hold 5.3 cubic feet of goods on its own.

You want a comfy, big-shouldered sports car? You may be in the market for a 1991 Trans-Am. The Cayman’s a whole different breed, indeed.

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