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Porsche vs. Porsche, or more aptly, big Porsche vs. little Porsche. Which is better? Which is a better value? Which is a better performer? Which do you prefer? Which would you drive? All good questions.

The comparo is run using one of Club Sportiva’s vehicles, the 2006 Porsche Cayman S, in Member-approved yellow. The second is a 2006 Porsche 911 C4S Cabriolet provided by one of us at Club Sportiva who uses it as a daily driver. The Cayman S stickered at $63,000 and the 911 C4S Cabriolet windowed at a whopping $112,000. For starters, the Cayman S takes the lead straight out of the gate based on the price/value equation. At an eye-popping $112,000, we are talking exotic car territory…well, no longer these days, I guess.

Styling? It is tough to call which car is better. This is very subjective. Each car has strong attributes. The Cayman is a newer, fresh design, whereas the 911 has amazingly evolved for over 40 years. The 911 has meaty rear tires that look aggressive and the new headlights recall the ever-popular and timeless 993 911. The Cayman shares the beautiful and curvaceous rear haunches with the Boxster, which harkens back to the 550 Spider. I also like the fact that you can raise the rear spoiler on the Cayman, even when parked, as it looks cool, as though it should still be in motion. I’d say styling between them is a draw, based on very individual preferences (see my 911 dead end design post on April 1st). For me, I’ll take the Cayman by a hair.

Exhaust and engine note? Without even driving the cars, I’d assume the prize goes to the sportier 911 and this assumption holds accurate in practice, as well. The 911 has a snortier exhaust note that borders on a raspy growl that just sounds mean at idle and gets better under revs. The Cayman has a good rasp but lacks some of the grunt at idle. Under acceleration, with the mid engine inside the cabin, the engine blends out the exhaust note for the most part. The one disappointing thing on both Porsche’s exhaust is that the sound is superior from outside the car, which means the driver gets the least gratification from the ordeal. The engine note is, however predominant, which is a good thing in my book.

Road holding? The Cayman is tremendously well balanced due to the mid engine configuration and the rear drive layout gives the car some edginess that fills the gaps left by missing torque. The 911, in this case being AWD, has an intuitively planted feeling that offers the driver a sense of invincibility, even with the rear engine layout that would otherwise taunt the driver. In a corner, you can continue to gently press the gas and at the turn’s apex, hit the gas hard. You couldn’t drive that way in a Cayman and certainly couldn’t do it in a C2 911. Choosing one over the other is tough. Which is better, the Cayman’s agile balance and svelte finesse or the 911’s gobs-‘o-grip in the twisties? I love both car’s features, but would choose the sure-planted AWD of the 911 over the lithe Cayman. Because this was a close one, I am sure I will contradict myself as some point since I am generally a bare bone, raw, agile sports car guy and here I am choosing the heavier 911 C4S for its grip.

Power and torque? This is a no-brainer. The 911 C4S wins hands down, as you would expect and as Porsche engineers carefully planned it. The 911 has a lot of grunt and power that makes it a thrill to drive. The Cayman S, on the other hand, is more a revver that requires you to row the gears a bit to get the grunt needed. This isn’t to say the power band isn’t easy to find with 295 horses on tap, it just isn’t like the 911 with 355 horsepower.

Interior? The Cayman radio blows. And it is worse at night finding the preset buttons, which is stupefying. I would ordinarily say the true enthusiast shouldn’t even turn on the stereo, as in any Ferrari or Lamborghini or a Lotus Elise with Stage 2 exhaust, but…since the exhaust is muted from the cabin and the famous Porsche engine note is refined, stereo use is permissible. Porsches are great for ease of ingress and egress, 360 degree visibility, seat comfort and position and generally good ergonomics. As simple as this sounds, Porsche has always done an excellent job of balancing the sporty driving nature and styling with the drive-ability of an everyday car. Both cars share a strong family resemblance and jumping from one into the other is simple. I’d take the uprent 911 interior.

Other features? Both gear boxes are great. They are crisp and direct, if not joystick-like in their action when flicking through the gears. Reliability? We’ve had zero problems that weren’t easily covered by warranty with either car in the past 12-15 months since new. Wow factor? Well, in California, practically everyone has a Porsche, so you see them on every corner; so neither car is a unique sight – which is a great endorsement for living in California.

Final thoughts? Porsche has done an excellent job perfecting each car to excel in its performance category without overlapping with the other. The Cayman S is without doubt the little brother. The Cayman S leaves me yearning for more from the aspects of torque, exhaust note and the planted AWD option. Because of its price, significantly less than the 911, I am willing to forgo those attributes for an otherwise incredibly well balanced sports car. The 911, on the other hand, provides a more full-tilt sports car experience with its performance but comes with a heftier price tag.

Regarding the Cayman, it is hopefully only a matter of time before Porsche comes out with a club racer version that is louder, lighter, even more raw, with a dab of extra juice to motivate the car. That is the Cayman I will order for Club Sportiva. Then again, the Cayman I’m dreaming of here might bump into the 911 and begin to cannibalize its sales – so we may not get to see this uber-Cayman, like I hope.

Porsche has done an excellent job ensuring the Cayman will never be viewed in history as the undesirable dog that the Porsche 924 is remembered or the fading memory of the mid-pack Porsche 944, as it has proven to be over the years. The Cayman has likely, already, cemented its reputation as a true Porsche for the books and the 911 continues to forge ahead with its evolution, now several generations old.

It isn’t an easy choice because the two cars are both winners that really aren’t competing with one another. Give me the 911, even for the price difference. The Cayman is really just the starter car for the person who isn’t ready just yet for the 911. Try them both out back-to-back with a car share club and see what you think! Feedback welcome.