By Frank A. Aukofer, Motor Matters

Driving the 2014 Porsche Cayman S is like running a marathon: it takes a lot of work, but the rewards are great.

The Cayman, a hard top, two-seat coupe that was spun off in 2006 from the Boxster, is one of the world's premier sports/grand touring cars, though the price keeps climbing to the point where many fans can no longer afford it.

The test car, for example, had a starting price $63,800, but with a whopping $23,875 in options, had a sticker price of $88,625. And that was for the Cayman S with the six-speed manual gearbox. Porsche's PDK seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission is an option. (The Cayman is also offered in a base model that starts at $52,600).

The manual gearbox is part of the reason the new model is not for the faint of heart. Because the Cayman S gets its motivation from a 325-horsepower flat six-cylinder engine, it requires a fairly beefy clutch and shifter to handle the 272 lb.-ft of torque, or twisting force.

That means that instead of a leisurely flick of the wrist and minimal pressure from the left foot, the Cayman S requires good leg, arm and hand muscles to make it obey the driver's wishes. This car is not for the casual boulevardier.

But the reward is a car that, all other things equal -- driver skill being one -- likely could outrun just about anything on the public roads.

The 0-to-60 mph acceleration time is 4.7 seconds, according to Porsche's specifications, with a top speed of 175 miles an hour. That comes from just 3.4 liters of displacement with horizontally opposed cylinders.

The design -- also called a boxer or flat configuration -- has the cylinders lying prone or supine on both sides of the crankshaft, unlike conventional designs in which the cylinders lean to the sides or stand straight up as in V, W or inline designs.

Boxer engines once were common in Volkswagen Beetles and micro buses. Now the only major manufacturers using them are Porsche in some models and Japan's Subaru in all of its vehicles.

Of course, other super cars can beat the Cayman's performance numbers. But on public roads, in traffic, maneuverability comes to the fore and is as important as sheer power. There the Cayman S shines.

It is a mid-engine coupe, which means that the motor resides behind the driver's shoulder blades -- in its own closed niche -- but in front of the rear axle. That distinguishes the Cayman from other Porsche models, like the 911, which have their engines mounted behind the rear axle.

The mid-engine design delivers balance. The Cayman S has a front and rear weight distribution of 47/53 biased toward the rear wheels where the power goes. Combine that with stability and traction control, along with a stiff chassis, tightly snubbed and supple suspension system, sticky Pirelli performance tires and a torque vectoring system that automatically punches the brakes to keep the Cayman S pointed, and the driver has a low-slung missile that follows his or her inputs seemingly by thought control.

Yet even with its point-and-shoot personality, the 2014 Cayman S is a fine touring machine. It cruises serenely on the highway, holding a steady line (the electric power steering provides good control and feedback), and the two bucket seats deliver lateral support and comfort. The ride, as might be expected, gets choppy on the nation's abundance of rough roads.

Despite its tight cockpit, which restricts some of the power seat adjustments, the Cayman S has accommodations for a long trip. Trunks in the front and back have a total of 15 cubic feet of space -- about what you find on a midsize sedan.

The Cayman S also lacks a few things you might expect on a car in its price class. For example, there's no backup camera, which would be useful because of restricted outward visibility. There's only an illustrated proximity warning.

It's also important to adjust the outside mirrors properly to eliminate blind spots, mainly because of the broad, sloping rear pillars that effectively block the rear quarter views. And it would be nice to have sun visors that slide on their support rods to block sunlight from the side. It's such a simple thing, becoming increasingly common even in economy cars, but absent on a number of European luxury cars.

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 PORSCHE CAYMAN S

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 2-passenger RWD coupe

BASE PRICE___________________ $63,800 (as tested: $88,625)

MOTOR TYPE__________________24-valve Boxer 6-cylinder w/DI

DISPLACEMENT________________3.4-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 325 at 7400 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)________________ 272 at 4500 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ 6-speed manual

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 172.4 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___36.0 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 2,911 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 16.9 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway