Mid-engined perfection with Porsche power and tuning--the 2014 Cayman is the consummate sports car. Even the vaunted 911, as good as it has been and become, leaves something on the table when it comes to the sheer driving pleasure of the Cayman.

That is, perhaps, surprising to some. The 911, after all, is the venerated Don to which all other Porsche models pay homage in one way or another. Observers have noted the Cayman, but for some intentional choices by Porsche, would be the better car outright.

Whether or not you prefer the Cayman to the 911, however, it's easy to appreciate the neutral, balanced character of the smaller sports car, as well as its combination of relative lightness, power, and precision. From the mid-engined poise to the slick-shifting gearboxes (both the six-speed manual and seven-speed PDK dual-clutch), and in both base and S forms, the Cayman is a symphony of synergistic forces.

Those forces are lower and less than you'll find in the 911, especially at the top of the range with the 911 Turbo S, but they're no less satisfying. If anything, the Cayman is more accessible because it's a tick slower. Things don't happen faster than you can think, and more of the car's potential is available on the street without taking a walk on the homicidal side of the speedometer.

So what really makes the Cayman so great? In base form, it starts with a 2.7-liter flat six-cylinder good for 275 horsepower. The punchy little engine is also good for some truly mellifluous tones as it draws near its 7,400-rpm power peak and 7,800-rpm rev limit. With the base model, you'll work the gears a bit more, as its 213 pound-feet of torque comes at 4,500 rpm, and is never overwhelming. But that just makes for a more involved, engaging drive when pushing the limits.

When simply cruising, the power is more than ample for the 2,888-pound curb weight (with the manual; 2,954 lb with the PDK), making for a charmingly dual-natured car. When pressed, the Cayman with Sport Chrono and PDK will hit 60 mph in as little as 5.1 seconds; even in base form, the same run is completed in 5.4 seconds.

Step up to the Cayman S and you get that little extra hit of aggression for even more breathtaking performance. Power rises to 325 horsepower, and torque climbs to 272 pound-feet, though both arrive at the same rather lofty rpm figures, meaning you'll still have all the audiophilic pleasure of a screaming Porsche flat six. Acceleration is even quicker, the Cayman S hitting 60 mph in 4.7 seconds in base form, or as little as 4.4 seconds with all of the go-fast goodies--a few ticks quicker than the 911 Carrera S. Top speed gets a 10-mph bump from the base model's 165 mph, too.

2014 Porsche Cayman

2014 Porsche Cayman

But just being sporty is easy enough for a Porsche; to be our Best Car To Buy, a car must also be at least somewhat practical. The Cayman, thanks to its mid-engined layout, manages this surprisingly well. Up front, there's a trunk that's as large as a MX-5's at 5.3 cubic feet. But then there's another 9.7 cubic feet in the rear hatch area. Altogether, it's plenty of space for a weekend's luggage, plus room to bring home some mementos--or enough space to do a week's grocery run for two. At up to 22/32 mpg city/highway in base form (or 21/30 mpg for the Cayman S), it won't break the bank if it's pressed into commuter duty, either--and the drive to work will never be more fun.

Then there's the feature list, which is rather extensive in standard configuration, including full power accessories, climate control, rain-sensing wipers, electric-adjust/heated exterior mirrors, CD/AM/FM/MP3 audio with four speakers, a 7-inch color touchscreen display interface, Bluetooth, cruise control, and more. Add-ons include upgrades to the leather, interior and exterior color and appearance customization, performance upgrades, premium Bose or Burmester audio systems, and much, much more. So much more, in fact, that the $52,600 Cayman and $63,800 Cayman S base prices can quickly inflate to $80,000 or $100,000--or more.

And of course, you'll have to look at the Cayman. Or, more accurately, you'll want to, and so will everyone else. Graceful curves, tasteful performance-styled details, and Porsche's classic themes wrap the Cayman in an elegant, sleek form that might just be Porsche's most beautiful design yet. Inside, the style directly emulates that of the 911's front row, with a simple but never spartan aesthetic that emphasizes the driver's role while putting controls close at hand, with a granular, button-focused scheme in the center stack.

In other words, the Cayman is undoubtedly the "junior" car to the 911, but in terms of the driving experience, the equipment, the comfort, and the style, it feels anything but second-class. But is it good enough to take down this year's cream of the sports/luxury crop to win Motor Authority's Best Car To Buy 2014 award? Find out November 12.

Motor Authority's Best Car To Buy 2014 award

Motor Authority's Best Car To Buy 2014 award