2014-2016 Porsche Cayman 981 (3rd Generation) Review

Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Used Cayman 981

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3rd Generation Porsche Cayman 981: What Owners Say

  • Owners love the superbly balanced handling that is unmatched in this class
  • Strong engines (especially from S and up) with surprisingly good fuel economy to boot, coupled to excellent transmission options
  • The Cayman was so customizable when it was new that few are alike, so buyers scrutinizing the list of fitted extras and packages carefully can get a very well-specced used example
  • The basic spec is sorely lacking and many items standard on lesser cars cost extra on the Cayman when it was new
  • The poor standard four-speaker audio system is a huge letdown in a car of this caliber
  • If you want all-wheel drive, you're out of luck and will have to look at rivals such as the Audi TT

Porsche Cayman 981 Third Generation Facelift

This 2014-2016 Porsche Cayman is built on the third (981) generation of Porsche's mid-engined platform. The first was the 986 generation from 1997-2004, only available in Boxster open-top format, and the second was the 987 generation from 2005-2013, which included a Cayman coupe for the first time. So the 981 might be the second-generation Cayman, but it's the third-generation mid-engine Porsche and we refer to it as such. This particular Cayman was on the local market for a scant three model years and never received any meaningful styling changes inside or out. The 982 that succeeded it is not really a new generation but since it came with all-new four-cylinder turbocharged engines, it was quite substantially changed and given a new generation code. Hence, this review covers the naturally aspirated 2.7-liter and 3.4-liter six-cylinder engines that saw out the 981 Cayman.

2014-2016 Cayman 981 Front View Porsche
2014-2016 Cayman 981 Front View
2014-2016 Cayman 981 Rear View Porsche
2014-2016 Cayman 981 Rear View
2014-2016 Cayman 981 Side View Porsche
2014-2016 Cayman 981 Side View
2014-2016 Cayman 981 Interior View Porsche
2014-2016 Cayman 981 Interior View

Engine, Transmission and Drivetrain

The MA1/9A1 flat-six engine used in the Porsche Cayman 981 for the 3rd generation first appeared in 2009. It succeeded the much-maligned M96/M97 engines and prospective owners will be pleased to learn that it does away completely with the intermediate shaft (IMS) that caused so many problems in the 986, 996, and 987 Porsches. The MA1 has a closed-deck Alusil engine block, uses a maintenance-free cam chain, and makes use of VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift, and direct fuel injection.

In the 981 Cayman, the MA1 is offered in 2.7-liter and 3.4-liter sizes with outputs ranging from 275 hp to 340 hp. They are high-revving engines and develop their maximum horsepower at 7,400 rpm. All models are available with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission. These naturally aspirated Caymans are now quite sought-after, as the 982 update replaced most of the six-pot engines found in mainstream models with turbocharged flat-four engines that are generally less charismatic and aurally exciting; the subsequent generation Boxster/Cayman 718 engine lineup continued with the four-cylinders too.

2.7L Flat 6 Gas DOHC MA1.22
275 hp | 213 lb-ft
275 hp
213 lb-ft
Six-speed manual/seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic

The base engine is an advanced direct-injected 2.7-liter six-cylinder with 275 hp at 7,400 rpm and the maximum torque of 213 lb-ft available from 4,500 to 6,500 rpm, thanks to the VarioCam Plus system. The six-speed manual reaches 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and the seven-speed dual-clutch PDK is a little faster at 5.3 seconds. Equipped with the Sport Chrono Package, the PDK can cut that down even further to 5.1 seconds.

3.4L Flat 6 Gas DOHC MA1.23
325/340 hp | 273/280 lb-ft
325/340 hp
273/280 lb-ft
Six-speed manual/seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic

A larger 3.4-liter version of the 2.7-liter flat-six engine in the base Cayman is used in the Cayman S, here developing a healthy 325 hp and 273 lb-ft, with the peak revs at which these outputs are developed being exactly the same as the 2.7's, save for the torque peak that is a little narrower, starting to taper off again from 5,800 rpm instead of 6,500 rpm. The performance is truly scintillating, with even the manual Cayman S able to reach 60 mph in 4.7 seconds (PDK 4.6 seconds and with Sport Chrono Package, 4.4 seconds). The Cayman GTS uses a slightly more powerful version of this engine, developing 340 hp and 280 lb-ft - and is also available with both transmissions.

3.8L Flat 6 Gas DOHC MA1.24/MDB.XA
380 hp | 310 lb-ft
380 hp
310 lb-ft
Six-speed manual/seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic

The 3.8-liter version of the MA1 engine is referred to by either the MA1.24 or MDB.XA engine codes and is a detuned version of the engine found in the 991 911 Carrera S, developing 380 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. It is found in the 2015-2016 Cayman GT4, a track-orientated Cayman weighing less than 3,000 pounds and featuring the six-speed manual transmission only, and a host of track-focused features. It reaches a top speed of 183 mph and lapped the Nurburgring in seven minutes and 40 seconds. For the 2016 model year, the Cayman GT4 Clubsport used the same engine; this car is a racing version of the GT4 with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission exclusively.

2014-2016 Cayman 981 Real MPG

One of the advantages of the MA1 engine is its efficiency, partly thanks to the direct fuel injection. The base 2.7 achieves 31 mpg on the highway according to the EPA and all models except the hardcore GT4 achieves at least 22 mpg on the combined cycle. On a 16.9-gallon fuel tank, that is good enough for a range of between 370 and 420 miles. The GT4 is both heavier on fuel and has a smaller 14.3-gallon tank, but it's meant for track use anyway. Very few owners submitted real-world fuel-consumption figures to the EPA, so we only have one for the GTS PDK. It shows that the EPA's claims should be accurate.

EPA mpg (city/highway/combined)Real-world combined mpg*
2.7 flat six six-speed manual20/29/24N/A
2.7 flat six seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic22/31/25N/A
3.4 flat six six-speed manual (S)20/27/22N/A
3.4 flat six seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic (S)21/29/24N/A
3.4 flat six six-speed manual (GTS, 2015-2016)19/26/22N/A
3.4 flat six seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic (GTS, 2015-2016)21/30/2525.6
3.8 flat six six-speed manual (GT4, 2016)18/23/20N/A

* Real-world mpg and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales, or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.


No Porsche has ever been crash-tested by the NHTSA and the Porsche Cayman third generation is no exception. Being a modern car, it should hold up as well as most other cars, given that other Porsches like the Taycan have achieved top scores in European crash tests.

The standard safety specification includes ABS brakes, stability control, tire-pressure monitoring, and eight airbags - including knee airbags for both occupants. Adaptive cruise control is an optional extra, but bundled with it comes Porsche Active Safe, which scans the road up to 650 feet ahead for possible collision risks and can apply the brakes at full force if necessary - even with the adaptive cruise control turned off. The feature can be switched off. Also on the options list, unfortunately, is the Porsche Dynamic Light System, keyless start, and even some basic safety features such as parking sensors, an auto-dimming interior rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, and even a rear window wiper, so you'll have to check which of these have been fitted.

3rd Generation Porsche Cayman 981 Trims

The 3rd-generation Porsche Caymanlaunched in three trims - Cayman, Cayman S, and Cayman GTS. For 2016, the GT4 joined the lineup.

There were only two special editions:

  • 2015-2016 GT4. This high-performance track-orientated Cayman uses a 380-hp 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine and comes only with the six-speed manual transmission. The GT4 is loosely based on the Cayman S, but adds the slightly detuned 380-hp 3.8-liter engine from the 911 Carrera S, lowered (by 1.2 inches) suspension, larger brakes (the last two items essentially borrowed from the 911 GT3), a sports exhaust, and an altered exterior appearance that includes a rear diffuser, a front spoiler, and a big, fixed rear spoiler.
  • 2016 GT4 Clubsport. This Porsche Motorsport-developed racing version of the GT4 was launched at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show and uses the 380-hp 3.8-liter engine from the GT4. It is mated exclusively to the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but with the seventh gear disabled because that would only ever be used for highway cruising. Not being street legal, the Clubsport only needs six gears for track use. It comes with a limited-slip differential, 12-step adjustable ABS brakes, a welded-in FIA roll cage, racing bucket seats, a six-point harness, and the option of a 100-liter (26.4-gallon) bag-type fuel tank.
2.7L Flat 6 Gas
Six-speed manual/seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic

As standard, the 2014 Cayman comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, an automatically deploying rear spoiler, high-performance summer tires, auto stop/start, air-conditioning, cruise control, manually adjustable sports seats with power recline, a 4.6-inch driver-information display, and a dashboard-mounted seven-inch infotainment touchscreen incorporating Bluetooth, an auxiliary input jack, and a disappointingly basic 2x25-watt four-speaker audio system.

Cayman S
3.4L Flat 6 Gas
Six-speed manual/seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic

The Cayman S has everything the normal Cayman S has but adds the more powerful engine, 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, more powerful brakes with red calipers, satellite radio, HD radio, and USB/iPod connectivity.

Cayman GTS
3.4L Flat 6 Gas
Six-speed manual / seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic

The GTS continues where the S leaves off and additionally gets slightly more power, plus a few model-specific exterior and interior trim changes, such as Alcantara on the steering wheel, headliner, and seat inserts. It also has Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) adaptive dampers and 20-inch alloy wheels, as well as the Sport Chrono Package, which includes launch control (PDK only), a lap timer, dynamic transmission mounts, and driver-selectable chassis settings.

Third Generation Porsche Cayman 981 Features

CaymanCayman SCayman GTS
Adaptive Cruise ControlOOO
Back-Up CameraOOO
Brake AssistSSS
Climate ControlOOO
Cooled Front Seat(s)OOO
Cruise ControlSSS
Driver Air BagSSS
Front Head Air BagSSS
Front Side Air BagSSS
Heated Front Seat(s)OOO
Heated Steering WheelOOO
Keyless EntryOOO
Keyless StartOOO
Multi-Zone A/COOO
Navigation SystemOOO
Passenger Air BagSSS
Power Driver SeatOON/A
Power Mirror(s)SSS
Power Passenger SeatOON/A
Premium Sound SystemOOO
Rear Parking AidOOO
Satellite RadioOOO
Seat MemoryOON/A
Smart Device IntegrationOOO
Stability ControlSSS
Steering Wheel Audio ControlsOOO
Tire Pressure MonitorSSS
Traction ControlSSS
Universal Garage Door OpenerSSS

Interior, Trim And Practicality

Porsche Cayman 981 Interior Overview Porsche
Porsche Cayman 981 Interior Overview

The interior with its high center console hems the driver in and makes for a sporty, low-slung driving position. The quality of the material used is very high and seated inside, a 911 driver won't feel short-changed - or that they're sitting in a cheaper car. Storage spaces are a little sparse in the cabin and the cup holders are rickety, but trunk space is surprisingly good - as long as you don't mind that it's divided up into a rear trunk behind the engine providing 9.7 cubic inches and a frunk holding 5.3 cubes. The combined 14 cubes makes it a surprisingly practical two-up tourer. A word of caution: go for an extended test drive if you want a Cayman with the beige interior and dashboard because the dash reflections in the windshield can be very distracting.

CaymanCayman SCayman GTS
Bucket SeatsOON/A
Leather Steering WheelOOO
Premium Synthetic SeatsSSS
Woodgrain Interior TrimOON/A
Agate Gray, Special Leather Seat/Interior TrimOOO
Agate Gray/Pebble Gray, Two-Tone Leather Seat TrimOOO
Agate Gray/Amber Orange, Two-Tone Leather Seat TrimOOO
Agate Gray/Lime Gold, Two-Tone Leather Seat TrimOOO
Black/Luxor Beige, Two-Tone Leather Seat TrimN/AN/AO
Espresso, Natural Leather Seat TrimOOO
Garnet Red, Natural Leather Seat TrimOOO
Black, Full Leather Seat/Interior TrimOOO
Platinum Gray, Full Leather Seat/Interior TrimOOO
Luxor Beige, Full Leather Seat/Interior TrimOOO
Yachting Blue, Full Leather Seat/Interior TrimOOO
Pebble Gray/Agate Gray, Two-Tone Leather Seat TrimOOO
Amber Orange/Agate Gray, Two-Tone Leather Seat TrimOOO
Lime Gold/Agate Gray, Two-Tone Leather Seat TrimOOO
Luxor Beige/Black, Two-Tone Leather Seat TrimOOO
Black, Leather Seat Trim w/AlcantaraN/AN/AS
Black/Carmine Red, Leather Seat Trim w/AlcantaraN/AN/AS
Black/Rhodium Silver, Leather Seat Trim w/AlcantaraN/AN/AS
Black, Partial Leather Seat Trim w/Leather PackageOON/A
Black, Partial Leather Seat TrimSSN/A
Black, Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Platinum Gray, Partial Leather Seat Trim w/Leather PackageOON/A
Luxor Beige, Partial Leather Seat Trim w/Leather PackageOON/A
Yachting Blue, Partial Leather Seat Trim w/Leather PackageOON/A
Platinum Grey, Partial Leather Seat Trim w/Leather PackageOON/A
Platinum Gray, Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Luxor Beige, Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Yachting Blue, Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Agate Gray/Pebble Gray, Two-Tone Partial Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Agate Gray/Amber Orange, Two-Tone Partial Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Agate Gray/Lime Gold, Two-Tone Partial Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Pebble Grey/Agate Grey, Two-Tone Partial Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Lime Gold/Agate Grey, Two-Tone Partial Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Amber Orange/Agate Grey, Two-Tone Partial Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Black, Leather Interior/Seat TrimOON/A
Platinum Gray, Leather Interior/Seat TrimOON/A
Luxor Beige, Leather Interior/Seat TrimOON/A
Yachting Blue, Leather Interior/Seat TrimOON/A
Agate Gray, Special Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Agate Gray/Pebble Gray, Two-Tone Leather Interior/Seat TrimOON/A
Lime Gold/Agate Grey, Two-Tone Leather Interior/Seat TrimOON/A
Amber Orange/Agate Grey, Two-Tone Leather Interior/Seat TrimOON/A
Carrera Red, Natural Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Leather in Custom Color, Custom Color Leather Seat TrimOON/A
Platinum Gray, Partial Leather Seat TrimSSN/A
Luxor Beige, Partial Leather Seat TrimSSN/A
Yachting Blue, Partial Leather Seat TrimSSN/A

2014-2016 Porsche Cayman 981 Maintenance and Cost

Besides the basic service items listed below, the Porsche Cayman 981 doesn't need constant attention, but you will still have to replace some parts every few years, even if you don't reach the stipulated mileages for them. The cabin air filter must be replaced every 20,000 miles or two years, the engine's air filter, spark plugs, and spark-plug leads every 40,000 miles or four years, and the auxiliary drive belt every 60,000 miles or six years. Porsche stipulates ambitious 120,000-mile or 12-year intervals for the transmission fluid of either the manual or PDK dual-clutch, but we would most certainly halve that distance, at least on the automatic. Repairs and clutch replacements will be expensive and we generally regard 60,000 miles to be the maximum sensible fluid-replacement interval for automatic transmissions. Note that the PDK's transmission and clutch fluids are separate.

Porsche Cayman 3rd Gen 981 Basic Service

Being a sports car that will most likely be subjected to spirited use, the interval to change the engine oil and filter is appropriately low at 5,000 miles or one year - whichever comes first - to ensure the engine always gets optimal protection. This is the only item included in the basic service and all the other service items are long-life items. The typical oil viscosity is 5W-50 but may be 0W-40 in some climates, so check with your dealership or consult the owner's manual if you're unsure. The oil capacity of the flat-six engine is 7.9 quarts and the cost of the oil and filter is typically around $135 if you do it yourself. You'd probably want a Porsche dealership to perform the basic service to maintain your vehicle's service history and protect its resale value, and then it is likely to set you back about $780.

Although spark plugs only have to be replaced every 40,000 miles, many of these cars don't reach those kinds of mileages soon because they are often weekend cars that sit in a garage during the week. Spark plugs eventually tend to get stuck in the cylinder head, given enough years, and can be a nightmare - and very costly - to extricate. That is why Porsche also attaches year intervals to the service items, even if the mileage is not reached; in the spark plugs' case, this is every four years. A set of spark plugs cost around $45 and having them replaced by your Porsche dealership will cost around $620, labor included.

3rd Gen Porsche Cayman 981 Tires

Front Tire Size:
Front Wheel Size:
18" x 8"
Rear Tire Size:
Rear Wheel Size:
18" x 9"
Cayman S
Front Tire Size:
Front Wheel Size:
19" x 8"
Rear Tire Size:
Rear Wheel Size:
19" x 9.5"
Cayman GTS
Front Tire Size:
Front Wheel Size:
20" x 8"
Rear Tire Size:
Rear Wheel Size:
20" x 9.5"

Check Before You Buy

There weren't many 2014-2016 Porsche Cayman 981 recalls. The 2014-2015 Caymans were recalled to replace the side sections of the rear axle carrier, which may fracture, as well as to replace a faulty hood latch that may cause the hood to open while driving. The 2014 model was also recalled to fix the front passenger seat's wiring that may cause the frontal and knee airbag to become disabled, in which case they will not deploy in an accident. There was only a single recall for the 2016 model year and it was also airbag-related; Porsche replaced a defective airbag ECU that may either cause the airbags to deploy inadvertently or not at all. Some recalls were for minor technicalities and not due to a fault of the car itself, such as the 2014 Cayman's owner's manual containing unclear instructions on how to use the child-restraint system.

It is important to check for abuse and possible track use and avoid buying cars that were subjected to either. Track cars lead hard lives and will be more unreliable. Abuse might be more difficult to identify, but there are pointers. Patchy maintenance and service records, slipping clutches, shunts and clunks in the driveline, a whining diff, and hesitant or harshly shifting PDKs are a few of the possible clues. The Cayman offers a lot of rear-end grip and owners who have revved manual cars and dropped the clutch on a dry surface would have put a lot of strain on the driveline. The Cayman also tends to suffer from axle tramp when subjected to that kind of harsh launch and that in itself can be damaging to the driveline.

It's quite easy to dent the trunk and frunk lids from the inside by carelessly slamming them shut on protruding luggage, so carefully check the outside sheet metal on these lids for protruding dents.

2014-2016 Porsche Cayman 3rd Gen Common Problems

MA1 Flat-Six Engine Problems

The MA1 engines used in the 981 Caymans aren't quite old enough to show consistent patterns in terms of the problems encountered, especially because these cars tend to be weekend cars and don't accumulate miles at the same rate as daily drivers. Therefore, we might not know whether additional 2014-2016 Porsche Cayman 981 engine problems may crop up in the future. However, these engines are direct-injected, so the issue of carbon build-up on the back of the intake valves is likely to become a problem as they age. The mileage at which this problem rears its head can vary but is typically from around 60,000-100,000 miles in direct-injected gas engines. Given the inaccessibility of the Cayman's engine and cylinder heads, the walnut-shell blasting required to clean the intake valves may run into many hundreds of dollars. As in other modern high-compression direct-injected engines, oil dilution via fuel coming past the piston rings could become a problem, but only if the oil is not replaced frequently. Stick to the 5,000-mile intervals and all should be fine. To maintain the reliability of the high-pressure fuel system, always fill up with the highest octane non-ethanol gas available.

Mileage: Excessive carbon build-up on the backs of the intake valves usually doesn't become a problem before 60,000 miles.

Cost: Walnut-shell blasting the intake valves make cost more than $500 in labor.

How to spot: Carbon build-up is likely to manifest in uneven running, power loss, misfiring, poor economy, and the Check Engine warning light.

Transmission Problems

The transmissions are generally reliable and most problems are likely to stem from poor maintenance, abuse, and track use. On the manual transmission, make sure the clutch is taking smoothly without any slip, clunks, or play in the driveline. The PDK should be smooth and slip-free and if you replace both its transmission and clutch oil every 40,000-60,000 miles, it should remain reliable. A replacement PDK is reportedly in the region of $14,000-$15,000, so prevention is better than cure. A full service history at Porsche is essential.

Mileage: Transmission problems are more dependent on lax maintenance, track use, and abuse than mileage.

Cost: It depends on what goes wrong. A PDK replacement transmission can cost more than $14,000.

How to spot: Both manual and PDK clutches should take up drive smoothly without shunting, clunking, play, or slip detectable.

Less Common Problems And Problem-Free Areas

A complaint that often surfaces but is not related to an actual vehicle malfunction is dashboard glare in the windshield. This is not normally a problem unless the vehicle interior is in one of the light shades. The beige interior's dashtop in particular has come under fire for reflecting distractingly in the windshield, especially on a sunny day. It might be best to stick to a darker interior. It seems as if the HVAC system also needs periodic maintenance and some owners have reported that they need to replace the odd blower motor or condenser.

The AC can develop leaks and require a fillup and this is often due to infrequent use causing seals to become brittle. Porsches need to be used relatively frequently and not left to sit in a garage for weeks on end. The 981 generation has so far proven to be very reliable and there are very few under-hood electrical problems related to items such as the starter motor, alternator, and ignition system, as long as you remember to replace the spark plugs and their cables at the specified intervals.

Which One To Avoid

Unlike some of its predecessors, the 981 Porsche Cayman is a superb car even in its entry-level spec and although you can find faster rivals at the price, they cannot match the Porsche's all-round ability and handling. As such, there is no longer a dud in the range and even the mechanicals have so far proven to be durable and reliable. However, 981 Caymans come with very few standard features out of the factory and you don't even get parking sensors or a rear wiper as standard. It is therefore critical to study the specification sheet of a used Cayman and make sure which extras have been specified on it, lest you get a car without the features you want. Although they are rare, near-standard cars without many extras fitted do exist and should be avoided at all cost, as their spec is barren and you'll have trouble selling such a car again. Last of all, avoid cars without a full Porsche service history or that show signs of abuse or track use.

Which One To Buy

The Cayman S is probably the sweet spot in the range with excellent performance from the larger 3.4-liter engine and a few useful extra features, most notably the larger wheels, brake upgrade, and improved infotainment. With the manual transmission, it's a superbly interactive driver's car. If you prefer to go for the automatic, you'd probably want the Sport Chrono Package with all the useful performance features it comes with, in which case it's perhaps better to go for the GTS, which comes with this as standard, as well as the adaptive suspension, bigger wheels, and a bit more power. Either way, make sure one of the upgraded audio options is fitted, because the standard radio is feeble. A full service history at Porsche should not be negotiable.

3rd Gen Porsche Cayman 981 Verdict

The 981-generation Porsche Cayman is a superb sports coupe that offers an unbeatable blend of performance and handling dynamics in its class. So far, it's also proven to be very reliable, with all the horror stories of the old M96 engines with their cracking cylinder blocks and failing intermediate shafts seemingly relegated to the history books. However, it is extremely important to check a used one out very carefully, so take an expert along on the test drive. Avoid cars that show signs of abuse or track use, however cheap they may be, and carefully scrutinize the standard specifications, because a truly base-level car is disappointingly poorly equipped.

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