2017 Porsche 718 Cayman

The previous-generation Porsche Cayman was one of this magazine’s very favorite sports cars—so near-perfect, as I slid behind the wheel for my very first drive of the all-new 2017 718 edition, I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. After all, when a machine is already “near-perfect,” changing things carries the risk of making a great thing, well, less great.

I needn’t have worried. Not only had my colleagues already chosen the 718 Cayman S as a 2017 Automobile All-Star (a broken ankle precluded me from participating in last year’s judging), but despite having 50 fewer horsepower, the base 718 Cayman that showed up in my driveway recently won me over almost the moment I climbed aboard.

I was delighted to find that my test car was equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission (a shift-it-yourself box being more and more of a rarity). Yes, Porsche’s fabulous 7-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic is optional, but the company says around 20 percent of buyers still opt for the manual. After trying the 6-speed myself, I have to say I’d be one of them, were I lucky enough to be able to purchase a 718 for myself. In typical Porsche fashion, gearbox response is superb, with a quick, nimble lever feel, excellent pedal placement (heel and toe downshifts are effortless), and zero fussiness in finding your desired cog. Blasting through a twisting two-lane with this box is driver’s-car heaven, the kind of immersive, rewarding, “live-wire” motoring experience enthusiasts dream about. You are connected to this Porsche.

There’s a ton of value here, too. At a base price of $54,950, the new 718 Cayman offers almost as much performance as the previous Cayman S. What’s more, a lot of what used to be optional equipment is now standard—including front and rear parking assist, Bi-Xenon headlights, Sirius/XM satellite radio, and a six-speaker Sound Package Plus.

Yes, the new 718 is—dare I say it—even better than the near-perfect old Cayman. It’s just that much quicker, that much more agile, that much better-looking and more refined. Absolute perfection being elusive, I’d still have to call the 718 Cayman “near-perfect.” But it’s “nearer-perfect” than ever.