October 14, 2008
Winnipeg, Manitoba – Of Porsche’s current lineup – Boxster, Cayman, Cayenne, and 911 – the Cayman qualifies as my favourite for its unbeatable blend of pure Porsche feel and reasonable value. It’s a shame, though, that it often gets confused with my least favourite model, the Cayenne. Of course that confusion is in name only: one look at the Cayman will render that other Porsche easily forgotten.
The verbal exchange goes something like this: “So, Haney, what are you driving this week?” To which I respond: “One of my favourites: the Porsche Cayman.”
“Oh. Isn’t that the big SUV? I’m surprised you like it that much.”
But it doesn’t matter that the Cayman name has the least brand equity of any current Porsche model. What matters in any Porsche is how it responds to its driver’s inputs. And in my books, it’s the best of the bunch.
The appeal starts even before getting behind the wheel: I find the Cayman the most visually stunning of the stable from Stuttgart. First of all, I’m a hardtop fan, so that knocks the Boxster out of the running. And as iconic as the 911’s shape is – now as much as ever with the current 997 iteration fixing what was wrong with the 996 – for me it has always been too visually heavy in the derrière with its flat-six and associated plumbing hanging aft of the rear axle.
The Cayman’s mid-engine design moves that visual and physical mass ahead of the rear wheels (OK, so you lose the 911’s useless rear seat in the process, but seriously: people are supposed to sit back there?) and the resultant effect is that of much more balanced proportions lending an aura of sophistication to the car that is missing in the 911. To me, it looks more exotic.
It didn’t hurt that our car was dressed in Guards Red paint and was sporting 18-inch Cayman S wheels (17s are standard-issue). But those items just add to what is at its core a complete and correct interpretation of what a modern Porsche should be. From the front there’s no mistaking the raised round headlights for anything else. Functional air intakes ahead of the rear wheels don’t hurt either, but for me it’s the rear three-quarter view that finishes it off right. The line that characterizes the raised headlights in front flows into aggressive shoulders below the side glass and flanks the teardrop-shaped cabin as it stretches over the rear wheels. This is the closed coupe at its finest.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of the single centre-mounted exhaust pipe, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker. And with a sound like that, who cares what it looks like?
But things are much more subdued inside: functional, yes, but exciting? Hardly. A serious driving environment is what’s called for here, and Porsche has stepped up with a large, centrally-mounted tachometer (complete with 7,200-rpm redline); a perfectly placed steering wheel; and form-fitting seats. Ergonomically everything that’s important is in place, but secondary controls like those for the audio system and climate control always take getting used to in Porsches. That aside, this is the perfect starting point from which to experience what the Cayman has to offer.
Behind the seats – and only accessible from underneath when the car is on a hoist – is a 2.7-litre flat-six that develops 245 hp at 6,500 rpm and 201 lb-ft of torque between 4,600 and 6,000 revs. The “boxer” engine, so named because its horizontally-opposed cylinders cause the pistons to appear to throw jabs at each other, is used in mass automobile production only by Porsche and Subaru. It allows a lower centre of gravity and is naturally more balanced than a vee-type engine, and gives Porsches that wonderful thrum at idle that just oozes with character.
Power travels a short distance to the rear wheels through a five-speed (that’s right, just five) manual transmission. If its shift throws aren’t the shortest in the biz, they’re certainly some of the smoothest with such a fluid motion between gates that it’s hard to screw up a gear change.
The powertrain specs won’t send shivers up the spines of those driving even mid-sized V6-powered coupes and sedans – they’re entirely average. But the 2.7-litre flat-six/five-speed combination moves the 1,300-kg coupe to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 5.8 seconds according to Porsche; its light weight making the most of the available power. And to rev a Cayman engine beyond 4,000 rpm produces some of the most wonderful sounds intake, combustion, and exhaust can produce. Still, it’s not about straight-line performance with a car like this.
Throttle, clutch, and shifter: the performance triangle of daily driveability, it’s the difference between a deal maker or breaker for me, because regardless of ultimate performance capabilities, the day-to-day experience is what needs to be in place. High performance means much more to me if it’s based on a solid foundation of these three vital mechanical components. So how does the Cayman stack up? Simply put, every car should be this slick going down the road.
Add to that base truly intuitive steering that responds instantly and provides unparalleled feedback. Throw in a firm yet compliant suspension that soaks up road imperfections better than anything that corners this flat should (it does give a little up to the 911 in this regard, but we’re splitting hairs here), and firm brakes that have more stopping power than those who restrict themselves to street driving will ever have a need for.
Turning the wheel in the Cayman is something to be experienced: the driver feels like the centre of it all, making the car more of an extension of limbs rather than a machine that surrounds the driver.
Lest you think that I’ve been drooling too much over this car, there are some things that make it less than perfect. For instance, the Cayman S exists. It has an extra 50 hp and a sixth gear that get it to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and allow more relaxed highway cruising. Whether that’s worth an extra $12,200 is up to you, but to me, it elevates the acceleration of the car into an entirely different class that doesn’t include a bunch of $30,000 sedans. If you don’t want to get spanked by that V6 Accord in the next lane, you’d better pony up for the S.
The audio system is a bit tinny, so you’ll probably want to throw in another $990 for upgraded audio or even $2,330 for the Bose surround system. That is, for times when you’re not taking in the sonorous melody produced by the flat six doing its magic right behind you.
And really, $500 for a rear wiper? It seems to me like something that should be a no-cost option. It might sully the aesthetics of the car a bit, but visibility is too important, especially in a car this low.
Bang for the buck is a very subjective concept. If you’re looking to win the stoplight grand prix, look elsewhere. The Cayman is not a one-trick pony, but rather an eminently well-rounded performance coupe that provides the pure Porsche experience for a lot less than a 911.
Pricing: 2008 Porsche Cayman
$63,500 (“Market adjustment”: $-2,420)
|A/C tax:||$ 100|
|Price as tested:||$68,070|
Manufacturer’s web site