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Car reviews - Porsche - Cayman - range

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Porsche logo31 May 2013

FOR US, one of last decade’s most memorable motoring experiences was being alone in a Cayman 2.7 manual and a lonely but lovely rural road.

It was a bonding session worthy of any buddy bromance rom-com.

The truth was that the cheapest new Porsche coupe available at the time was also the purist, offering a level of tactility and feedback that still brings on butterflies of anticipation, even after all these years.

Even with just five forward speeds, a sparse standard spec list, and relatively tiny alloys, that first base Cayman felt like an engineer’s machine through and through.

The latest, 981-series Cayman has huge shoes to fill, then.

Like before, this one shares plenty with the contemporary 911, and is essentially a Boxster with a roof.

But, just as we discovered to our profound pleasure with the latter, Porsche has honed and/or evolved every single item in the Cayman, in the name of efficiency and excitement.

Take the styling. Gone is the awkwardly angled C-pillar treatment of the old 987 model, replaced by a more elegant solution that melds beautifully with the more voluptuous rear flanks.

However, while we like the smart tail-light/spoiler integration, the elongated rectangular headlights and air-intake designs are fussier than need be. Visually at least, the Cayman is best enjoyed from behind.

That’s because, as before, the best seat in the house is behind the wheel.

But before we get to the driving experience, a note about the completely overhauled cabin – which is longer and roomier thanks to a 60mm wheelbase stretch, as well as decidedly more upmarket than before.

Now the 911 connection is greater even though more of the body bits (like the doors) are Cayman/Boxster bespoke.

The sheer proliferation of (rather fiddly) buttons along the segmenting centre console spine, along with the large centre screen and now-trademark triple-screen instrumentation, put the occupants in mind of a contemporary Porsche costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

Indeed, with that low driving position, on firm yet nicely supportive front seats, the mood is surprisingly 911. Only the lack of (albeit token) rear seats, and that great big hatch that offers a long if shallow 275 litres of luggage space to supplement the deep but narrow 150-litre cavity in the nose, betray the Cayman’s mid-engine hardware underneath.

Yet that’s exactly why we loved the Cayman even more than the 911 all those years away.

The $107,100, 202kW/290Nm 2.7 six-speed manual coupe with optional 19-inch alloys was the first car off the lot.

Heading along Sydney’s northern coastline, along some pretty pockmarked urban roads, all those fond old memories came flooding back.

From the perfect seating position to the slick and natural feeling of the gearshift, clutch action, brake pedal, and accelerator’s response, it is immediately obvious that the Cayman is a blue chip driving experience.

Machine embraces man just like Ironman’s suit wraps around Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark.

It takes a concerted mind effort to pop the bliss bubble and assess the Cayman more objectively.

A curious tappet noise at idle (when the efficient start/stop isn’t doing its thing), a couple of annoying squeaks from the parcel shelf, a ride that varies from acceptable over most surfaces to noticeably on others, somewhat ineffective cupholders, some confusion as to which of the multitude of buttons does what, and a fair amount of road-noise intrusion, all rank as downsides.

But oh the exhilaration of cornering a car that feels born to do so! The sheer balance and poise of the Cayman’s chassis is almost otherworldly, backed up by the intoxicating speed and sounds of the boxer six sitting just over your shoulder.

Like the Boxster, this is a precision instrument, only even more so.

Even the performance seems perfectly tuned to the 2.7’s dynamic ensemble, with speed rising briskly in concert with the soaring revs anybody who complains that the entry manual Cayman with a 5.7 second 0-100km/h sprint time figure and 266km/h top speed isn’t properly punchy enough needs a reality check.

After what seemed like an all-too short driving spell, we move to the $145,200, 239kW/370Nm 3.4 S with PDK dual-clutch auto and optional 20-inch alloys this time around.

This might be the bestselling version of the Cayman, and in many ways it’s probably the best one for now as well, thanks to usefully extra performance that can shave almost a second off the 0-100km/h result, as well as a transmission that operates with lightning speed, offers driver interaction in the form of paddleshifts, and yet can be smoother than the lead character in Mad Men.

Great stuff, really, and on a well-maintained back-road this is the car that will most likely give potential 911 buyers the most sleepless nights.

The effortless S PDK’s towering steering, handling, roadholding and balance really do make it a junior supercar – and a bargain of sorts considering how supernaturally talented it is.

Those bigger wheels seem to exacerbate the tetchy ride on bad surfaces despite the inclusion of electronic dampers, however and the same goes with noise levels.

But the most pressing issue for us is something that – on reflection – also applies to the base Cayman 2.7 manual, though it wasn’t as immediately obvious because the roads weren’t quite as snaking, while we were still a bit tipsy from the love-bubbly that had engulfed us.

Like the 911, all 981 series Porsches including the Cayman gain what really is a superb electric power steering system. It helps bring the fantastic efficiencies that are a hallmark of today’s newest Porsches.

And if you have never driven the earlier 987 Cayman you’d probably be none the wiser, for this sport’s car’s turn-in is as responsive and controlled as most of you’d want or need.

But its predecessor’s nth degree of precision, that pin-sharp synaptic feel and feedback, just isn’t fully present. You’re especially reminded of it driving the PDK because there’s less to do with your hands, so your mind (and palms) focus more intently on the steering.

Like we said, only if you’re intimately familiar with the incredibly 9.5/10 original will the newcomer’s 9/10 helm be obvious. It’s just a matter of degrees.

Yet this isn’t enough to have us salivating at the thought of our next encounter with the Cayman.

Porsche by and large has improved the car in virtually every single way that matters to almost everybody out there, and with the new lower prices, sports car buyers would be utterly insane not to do themselves a huge favour by not driving a 981 – coupe or convertible – first. Trust us, it will set the benchmark.

And for lesser mortals with big mortgages and not-so-big pay packets, the Cayman remains the stuff of dreams.

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