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Car reviews - Porsche - Cayman - S coupe

Launch Story

Porsche logo24 Mar 2006

By MARTON PETTENDY

TAKE the second-generation version of Porsche’s super-popular Boxster roadster, add a fixed roof and a more powerful six-cylinder boxer engine and, hey presto, the iconic German sport car maker has produced one of the most exhilarating and best-value performance coupes ever available.

Okay, so the Cayman’s agonisingly tedious gestation period proves turning Boxster into Cayman wasn’t that simple. And there are good reasons the original Boxster never morphed into a mid-engined coupe after its launch eight years ago.

First, Porsche was in dire financial straits back then and has only in recent years – thanks to the success of both Boxster and its first SUV, the Cayenne - generated the resources to develop the likes of Cayman.

Second, there were critical design and technical issues to be resolved and, third, serious marketing concerns had to be considered, such as how much power to give a Boxster-based coupe, what to call it and what price to put on it.

Given the sub-$150,000 Porsche coupe’s potential to undermine the status (and profitability) of its flagship 911 coupe, Porsche’s concerns were well founded.

And after driving it on home turf for the first time, it’s clear that while Cayman offers an altogether different driving experience to the rear-engined 911, it’s one helluva polished, exhilarating drive that opens Porsche coupe ownership up to a whole new generation of customers.

Our Opinion

LET’S acknowledge the obvious from the outset: a coupe version of Porsche’s accomplished Boxster was never going to be anything other than a smash hit.

To be sure, doubling the already razor-sharp Boxster’s body rigidity by adding a fixed roof, then powering it with a more ferocious version of Porsche’s invigorating boxer six could only produce an even faster and more focussed sports car.

Both boxes are boldly ticked with the Cayman, but a first drive at the new model’s launch in the Adelaide hills this week highlighted a number of surprises.

First, the hard-topped Boxster is more roomy than expected inside, where the familiar Boxster II interior echoes all of its convertible sibling’s standard equipment, but adds a classier sound system for good measure.

Headroom – even for tall drivers – is refreshingly generous and, if anything, vision is improved over the Boxster’s fabric soft-top in all directions.

However, despite the traditionally high level of seating adjustment, tall drivers will find legroom no better than in Boxster, meaning it’s restrictive for anyone on the high side of six feet.

But within the beautifully resolved exterior, whose rear haunches are two of the most wildly sculpted panels of automotive sheetmetal ever produced, there’s also a whole new league of interior space.

Along with the Boxster’s 150 litres of luggage space under the bonnet, Cayman offers a commendably large cargo area beneath its massive new tail-gate, which incorporates a large rear screen and what was the Boxster’s bootlid, and opens up to an easily-reacheable height as well as a super-high loading height.

The split-level cargo area is fully lined, illuminated and separated by an alloy-look section containing a hatch to access the engine oil and water fillers. The section on top of the mid-mounted engine replaces the Boxster’s parcel shelf area, while the adjacent lower section makes the whole space more flexible by being a single unit.

Two additional 4.5-litre outboard lidded compartments provide further theft deterence (beyond the inherent security advantages the fixed roof offers over Boxster’s rag-top), while the a luggage net is also included and an optional luggage barrier is also available.

Of course, the heart of Cayman is a new 3.4-litre boxer six that delivers 217kW at 6250rpm and 340Nm of torque at 4400rpm. Compared to the 3.2-litre six that powers Boxster S, the greater capacity, higher 10.6:1 compression and smarter Variocam Plus valave timing system results in an extra 11kW (from an extra 50rpm), plus an extra 20Nm – which is available from 300rpm lower at 4400rpm.

That’s not quite as flexible as the base 911’s 3.6-litre, which offers 370Nm from a lower 4250rpm but is more highly strung with a higher 11.0:1 compression ratio to deliver 239kW at a relatively fast-revving 6800rpm.

In the 1340kg Cayman (1380kg for the five-speed auto version, making it 5kg lighter than Boxster and 55kg lighter than Carrera), the result isclaimed 0-100km/h acceleration in 5.4 seconds for the manual (5.5 for Boxster) and in 6.1 seconds for the auto (6.3 for Boxster auto).

Of course, 911 retains a significant acceleration advantage at five seconds dead (5.5 auto), but Cayman doesn’t feel that much slower than the base 911.

Aerodynamics play a part here too, with the Cayman’s drag coefficient of 0.29Cd being more slippery than the 0.30Cd Boxster S but not as aerodynamic as the 0.28Cd 911 Carrera.

Throw in the Boxster’s standard equipment list (including Porsche’s amazingly effective stability control system) and the same optional extras as even the 911 (like ceramic brakes and active damping) and the Cayman S price of $148,500 seems like good value.

On paper, Cayman S is just $16,000 more expensive, 11kW more powerful and 0.1 second quicker to 100km/h than Boxster S. Similarly, it’s a whole $46,725 less expensive than the least expensive 911, but just 22kW less powerful and (officially) four-tenths slower to 100km/h.

But in the real world, Cayman S presents an even more persuasive argument thanks to handling that feels even more neutral, more agile and even better balanced than the sublime Boxster.

Magnifying all of the Boxster’s well documented attributes via a (vastly) stiffer chassis, the mid-engined Cayman is so well balanced, so adjustable mid-corner and so nimble to change direction that it makes average or even poor drivers look, feel and actually be quick.

Of course, all the Porsche hallmarks help, such as an incredibly sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearbox (and the intuitive and easily mastered button shifters of the five-speed auto), super-responsive steering that’s alive in your hands yet filters out all of the unwanted feedback from road rubbish, and unflappable brakes that never cease to supply powerful yet communicative retardation.

Oh, and Porsche’s legendary durability, reliability, safety and resale value, which – despite service intervals of a long 30,000km – instills the confidence to drive hard, even on a racetrack, without worrying about getting home again.

A touch more understeer than Boxster S was evident in the many hairpins and tightening-radius tuns around Adelaide, and that comes from Porsche’s logical decision to fit a larger front anti-roll bar while specifying a thinner rear item. With a chassis as rigid as this, the mid-mounted Cayman S could quite easily have been much more of a handful than it is.

That said, the roofed Boxster is so fluid, so progressive and so chuckable that it both easily out-paces the 911 for mid-corner speed yet is more controllable beyond the limit of adhesion.

Cayman S feels like it could easily do with more power, but it’s not just for marketing reasons that it’s not fitted with a 911 engine.

The mid-engined two-door (dare we call it a three-door hatch?) lacks the power-down traction and corner exit grip of the more powerful 911, which remains the enthusiasts’ choice as the more challenging, more expensive and more powerful - and ultimately the quickest and fastest – Porsche coupe.

While an entry-level Cayman, powered by the 3.2-litre Boxster S engine seems a future certainty for around $135,000, it will be interesting to see whether Porsche chooses to offer a more powerful ClubSport version, which would both encroach further on the top-shelf 911’s turf and, possibly, diminish some the Cayman S’s user-friendliness.

As it is, Cayman S offers prodigious and accessible performance that’s now available to a whole new generation of sub-$150,000 Porsche coupe buyers.

Different enough from both Boxster and 911 to ensure its future within the Porsche line-up, it should have the makers of the SLK and BMW’s forthcoming Z4 coupe and the E92 M3 V8 shaking in their boots.

Never has uncompromised Porsche performance come at such a small price.

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