On the one hand, the Porsche Cayman S is a superlative piece of sports car engineering, pared down, tightened up, with its every switch, lever and cog honed to utter perfection. On the other, it's a compact two-seater that would serve perfectly well as an everyday car in the real world - fuel efficient, manoeuvrable, easy to drive and easy to live with.

We can think of few other cars that flit so effortlessly between these two different roles. The motor industry has spent the best part of two decades slicing and dicing its product range to cater for every conceivable niche, safe in the knowledge that specialisation breeds more sales - at mass market level - and for the super rich, it simply leads to larger garages. Yet the new Cayman S falls between these two stools. It's by no means a mass market car - although Porsche will build tens of thousands over the next few years - but with a list price of under £50k, it's hardly the exotic dream of a Powerball winner.

Instead, the Cayman is pitched at those who love driving but don't want every journey to be a bone-jarring endurance test of the kind you might get with a premium Lotus. It's also as practical to use as a Japanese supermini, with ample luggage space in twin compartments, fore and aft, and an interior and instrument panel straight out of the Dieter Rams school of functional design. There's nothing showy here, inside or out - except perhaps the rear spoiler, which curves across the rear flanks, bisecting the tail lights (a visual nod to the original Carrera GT supercar, perhaps).

For your money, you get purity of vision - a true mid-engined car with steering, chassis and gear change set up for perfect balance and with just the right amount of power. The Cayman S is quick, make no mistake, but the key to a great sports car is its ability to eke entertainment out of any journey, be it a trip to the shops or a cross-country trek. Traditionalists might pick the slightly larger 911 and exhibitionists the drop-top and mechanically identical Boxster, but the Cayman S is, for us, the quintessential Porsche experience.

TAGS: PORSCHE