Car reviews - Porsche - Cayman - S coupe
Symphonic, flexible and powerful engine, peerless handling, build quality
Room for improvement
In-cabin buffeting, Visibility around C-pillar, no spare tyre
24 Mar 2006
By CHRIS HARRIS
IT’S easy to think of the Porsche Cayman as a Boxster with a roof because that’s pretty much what it is (and who would be game to say that’s a bad thing).
But, with the Cayman, behind-the-wheel reality proves otherwise.
Not even the Boxster S, in terms of engine performance, feels as responsive and sharp-edged, and probably no other Porsche feels quite as solid and unmoving on the road.
Certainly no other Porsche offers the aural immediacy of a howling, 3.4-litre boxer six sharing the passenger cabin with you.
And even that is not quite what you’d imagine because, despite the lack of a windowed partition insulating the cockpit from the engine as in some other mid-engined coupes, the sound that does intrude is manageably loud and certainly not unpleasant.
So far only available as a Cayman S and with an engine capacity straddling the Boxster S and the 911 Carrera, the new Porsche looks set to drag a few sales away from its iconic sibling, and maybe even a few from the two-seat convertible from which it sprung.
This is an exciting new Porsche, maybe one that will draw some mystique from the 911 coupe, and certainly one that will appeal to the purse strings - if that’s ever a consideration among new Porsche buyers.
The Cayman S, in manual transmission form, is tagged at under $150,000, placing it pretty squarely between Boxster S and 911 Carrera.
In reality, what it offers in a practical sense pretty well equates the 911 except for the lack of a token rear seat, and what it loses in outright performance is virtually negated by it’s being probably the best-balanced, tautest Porsche yet.
Adding a roof has done wonders for torsional strength – which is already pretty good in the Boxster anyway – and, if anything, has reduced rather than added weight.
Then there’s the styling.
From any angle the new Porsche is Cayman-specific, from the revised front-end with its slightly wider-set lights and revised air scoop, through the new tin-top profile to the sweeping, dramatic hatchback rear-end giving access to a wide and high, but not very deep loading area.
The Cayman looks quite different to a Boxster, and is decidedly unlike a 911.
And even if it was just a Boxster S with a roof, the Cayman would be a remarkably agile, punchy coupe able to wear the Zuffenhausen badge with pride.
But it’s much more than that, with a specific, purposeful suspension set-up and its own engine cobbled up from Boxster S (stroke dimension) and 911 Carrera (bore dimension) to displace 3.4 litres and produce 217kW, along with 340Nm of torque.
It is also the first mid-mount engine to adopt Porsche’s VarioCam Plus, which controls not just the timing of the intake camshaft, but also the intake valve lift, which can be either 3.6mm or 11mm depending on the needs of the moment.
And what a beautiful engine. Capable of soaring eagerly to the 7300rpm redline, or simply picking itself up by the bootstraps from as low as 1000rpm and accelerating steadily, smoothly and quickly, it possesses the lack of effort required to go fast that distinguishes a genuinely rapid car.
The six-speed manual Cayman S (five-speed Tiptronic auto is available) accelerates from zero to 100km/h in 5.4 seconds and will cover the standing 400 metres in 13.6 seconds, which is just a bit slower than a 911 Carrera but awesomely quick nevertheless.
It might be in deficit by 22kW, but makes up for that by being 140kg lighter, to equalize power-weight with the 911 and begging the question of why it doesn’t accelerate quite as quickly. The suggestion seems to be it may simply be a gearing thing.
Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that the Cayman always unleashes more than you expect, and from virtually any point in the rpm range.
The sound as it winds out through the gears is gloriously mind-altering, moving through various symphonic ranges as the variable intake, variable timing and variable camshaft lift come into play through the carefully tuned exhaust system.
Not many car-makers understand the need, in a performance car, for a succulent engine sound as well as Porsche.
And, despite being more powerful than the Boxster S 3.2-litre engine, it is barely any thirstier with a claimed figure of 10.6L/100km on 98 RON unleaded.
Our test car did better than that by averaging 9.8L/100km over 700 or so kilometres. The 68-litre fuel tank (the same as a 911) means a 600km-plus cruise is a comfortable possibility.
The thing about the Cayman is that all this is only a part of the total experience.
The steering, which goes from lock to variable-ratio lock in 2.6 turns, is as tactile as you could possibly imagine, with just a touch of reaction generated by the 235/40 ZR18 front tyres (265/40 ZR18 at the back) as the Cayman arrows through a bumpy section of road.
With the low polar moment of inertia that comes with its mid-engined balance, the Cayman steers itself around its centre, meaning the driver has a wonderful feeling of being right at the heart of the action.
Having a firmer suspension setup than a Boxster S, the Cayman rides a bit harder, but is even more responsive to the steering and even more nimble during direction changes.
Unleash a blast of power from the boxer six-cylinder and the Cayman will materialize at the end of a straight section of road almost before you realise it, then haul down strongly via the cross-drilled, ventilated discs (if you want to go further, ceramic composite discs are optionally available).
And the gear changes, despite the box being located aft of the rear axle, far away from the shift lever, is as slick and precise as if there were no tyranny of distance to be overcome at all.
The clutch, too, is positive and powerful, yet not at all heavy despite the torque and power it is asked to transmit.
The Cayman, unlike some supercars that ask the driver to overcome various ergonomic difficulties if they are to be driven smoothly, is as tractable and easy to operate as a regular economy car.
As it’s cruising along there’s a delicious, but sufficiently muted drone from the engine, accompanied by the degree of tyre roar you’d expect from a car with capabilities like this - and, with an aerodynamic drag figure of 0.29, no wind noise to speak of.
The Cayman has a small boot spoiler that activates automatically once speeds exceed 120km/h, and can be brought into play manually at lower speeds. Porsche says it reduces lift forces by 20 percent over the system used on the Boxster.
The cabin, which benefits from recent changes across the Porsche range to improve driver comfort by giving more legroom, is as snug and comfortable as you’d expect, definitely designed to maximise the sporting experience with solidly gripping leather seats (power for the backrest adjustment only) and an easy relationship between the two-way adjustable steering wheel and shift lever.
The instrument panel is the same neat and minimalised layout introduced in Boxster in 2005 – three shrouded dials dominated by a central tachometer, four ovoid air vents and a centre console that only gets complex if satellite-navigation is optioned.
The hatchback opens wide but, as you’d expect given the mid-mounted engine, doesn’t reveal a very deep load area. Porsche says the total luggage area is 410 litres, but those litres are spread somewhat haphazardly.
The front luggage compartment, thanks largely to the ditching of a spare wheel, is surprisingly deep and spacious, with a very useable 150-litre capacity.
The Cayman gets the usual lidded door pockets, as well as two hard-to-reach open receptacles next to the B-pillars and a netted bin right at the back to secure a bit of compact luggage. A hinged, carpeted cover gives access to basic engine-check functions.
Considering what the Cayman is, and considering the less thoughtful design, in terms of passenger and luggage convenience, of many other cars of similar intent, this new Porsche isn’t really all that bad.
Standard equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and head), PSM electronic stability control, climate-control air-conditioning, nine-speaker CD sound system, cruise control and trip computer - which is all very basic for a car of this calibre.
What can you say that is negative about the Cayman?
Not a lot, except for the puzzling aerodynamic buffeting that occurs in the cab at virtually any speed and makes you think Porsche would be advised to have a bit of a think about cabin airflow and air pressure, some difficulty seeing past the C-pillar despite the added glass area, and the fact there’s no spare tyre.
That, plus the price, which keeps even this sub-911 Porsche accessible to a privileged few.
But for sheer driving pleasure, whether you’re simply driving around town and experiencing the instant, easy accelerator response and delicious engine sound, or winding-out the boxer six deep in the country, the Cayman proves to be the most multi-dimensional of Porsches.
It gives any competent driver easy access to its astounding capabilities and secures the company as the ongoing, premium maker of desirable sports cars.
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