Its balance and willingness to let you make minor mid-corner adjustments set it apart from other mid-engine Porsches, 914 and Carrera GT included. It’s Boxster easy, but far more focused. That makes the RS350 one of the best modern Porsches we’ve driven on the loop, and the best 987. Up to seven-tenths it’s simply brilliant, flowing down the road with a rhythm hard to obtain in the 997s. It’s a momentum car that happens to have just enough power and great brakes. Maybe that’s why it always keeps pace with the far more powerful 997S and 997 Turbo. But it’s more pure fun than either.
Press harder, though, and it’s not long before the inside rear tire loses traction on the way out of tighter turns. In fact, any second-gear bend exiting uphill results in wheelspin — which prompts the PSM stability management to cut power. Eventually, we turn PSM off and manage the wheelspin with our right foot, an improvement but hardly the way to go. So, yes, the Cayman does want for a limited-slip diff. But there’s another problem, too.
While the 18-inch R-compound rubber was a brilliant call, the Cayman’s Bilstein PSS-9 dampers are no match for Motons. The PSS-9s don’t allow rebound-damping alterations without compression-damping alterations — a disadvantage against the independently adjustable Motons. There is a $3,000 price gap between them, but we feel the delta is justified. With better dampers, the Cayman might move from merely one of the best-handling Porsches we’ve tested on the Loop to top dog. Don’t get us wrong: the majority of enthusiasts who want to lower their Porsches and gain performance while doing it will love the PSS-9s. And, while the last 10-20 percent in damping goodness to be had with Motons is appealing, we’d spend our money on a limited-slip diff first.
It’s dark when we stop for dinner and discussion. So what’s Jared’s take on the Loop? “I see why you test cars here, but I don’t know why Californians don’t just get a big ol’ road iron and straighten them out.” Steve and I share a puzzled smile, then ask what a road iron is. “A steamroller!” responds Jared with a toothy grin. Clearly, the guy doesn’t know about earthquakes and California’s notoriously bad drainage. He did, however, notice something else: “Even the smoothest sections have porous surfaces to deal with rain. Our corners are heavily banked for drainage, so the grain is tighter, giving you a lot more grip.”
As for the cars, a book could be written on subtleties observed over 600 miles. Like the fact that re-baffling the Turbo’s muffler creates a more entertaining, more appropriate exhaust note — and that its clutch assist works well with an RS clutch and flywheel. Or that the 997S had the best short-shifter, even though several similar factory units have disappointed us. As ever, adjustment is key.
But, when it comes to the total experience, the driving, the white RS350 comes up big. I wasn’t alone in noticing the wee coupe was always in the mix, no matter who was driving. Jared wonders aloud what might have been had he started with a Cayman S rather than a Carrera S. He can’t get over the mid-engined chassis’ balance: “That little croc is even better balanced than my 911! How much do used Caymans go for?” When we tell him $35,000 with miles, all day long, his eyebrows rise. “Are you joking? I’d rather have that and one testicle than a new 350Z!”
The rest of us love the Cayman for its balance and undiluted fun, too — though all four of us agree the more powerful 911s would leave it behind on a race track. But, here, on real-world back roads, it’s got all the speed you need — an amazing feat considering the money involved. It’s the only sub-six-figure car in this test, and a savvy enthusiast buying used might build a copy for under $60,000.