Three cars with similar silhouettes, sizes, and power outputs. Yet, the difference between them is enough to write a few pages on. If a balanced and reassuring road car is what you're after, the mid-tier Cayman has its own charm. Though each generation has its own unique blend of charms and foibles that create very distinct driving experiences.
If one engine/gearbox combination offers the driver the most pleasure and refinement, it has to be the 981's. There's the torque and zest of a larger, naturally aspirated motor and the subtle, crisp operation of a revised PDK. For the most aural pleasure and the clearest link between powerplant and right pedal, the bigger middle brother wins.
Interestingly, the chassis is far less engaging than the others'. A civil ride, filtered electric steering, smooth shifts, agreeable character, and sumptuous interior helps the 981 blend the line between sports car and grand tourer better than the other two.
For reasons of sound, character, and tradition, the 718's 2.5-liter turbocharged engine wasn't widely appreciated when it first hit the scene. It definitely isn't quite as characterful as the six which preceded it, but it's able to compensate for its shortcomings with a different level of straightline performance.
The 314 lb-ft at 1,900 to 5,000 rpm for the seven-speed PDK transmission means easier times negotiating traffic, shorter squirts between corners, and most importantly, the sort of power you have to treat with a little respect. Not that the chassis can't handle the grunt—it can—but there's something about a forceful shove from low in the rev range which makes a driver just that more tentative when rolling into the throttle. If a hint of intimidation and impressive straightline performance is what you're after, the 718 is the buy.
Where the former two have their road-oriented perks, the 987 has its crisp change of direction, detailed steering, and diminutive size to make it stand apart as a bonafide performer. Unquestionably the most engaging car in the group, the 987 is the pick for the track-happy driver.
Although it's a R and it's more aggressively specced than the others, this pocket-sized plaything still serves as an accurate demonstrator of what ten years of weight and refinement do to a vehicle. Its size, weight, and direct steering help give it a "backpack" feel, ie. something which the driver can eventually wear like an article of clothing. With any luck, the R becomes one wit the driver—provided that particular driver is happy enjoying a little more rotation than many road cars offer.