November 6, 2006

Photo Gallery: 2007 Porsche Cayman

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This was refreshingly different: my 2007 Porsche Cayman press car had exactly two options – a pair of $160 floor mats and a $1,730 18-inch wheel upgrade. Normally, Porsches come with a sprinkling from the extensive and notoriously pricey options list that can add a good 10-20% to the bottom line: stuff like $4,700 full leather interiors and $4,300 sport exhaust systems. And that’s before you start looking at $11,400 ceramic brakes.

Granted, most people who buy Porsches probably find great joy in loading up their cars with expensive techno-goodies, but in the case of this new-for-2007 “entry level” Cayman, its stripper status seems wholly appropriate. You see, the base $69,600 Cayman is arguably the purest Porsche driving experience money can buy.

The Cayman, in the simplest of terms, is Porsche’s mid-engined Boxster roadster with a lid. Less than a year ago, Porsche launched the 3.4-litre 295-hp 2006 Cayman S ($83,000) which was positioned to slot in between the 3.2-litre 280-hp Boxster S and the iconic 911 Carrera Coupe ($104,300).

Some questioned Porsche’s decision to charge more for the hardtop version than the convertible (although the Cayman S had a bigger engine and more 911 bits than the Boxster S), and indeed, some questioned the need to put a roof on the Boxster in the first place (myself included). But Porsche knew there was a market for this sexy coupe, and as it turned out, the Cayman proved to be a unique animal – sharper, stiffer, more agressive and better suited to track work.

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Doesn’t look half bad either.

And now, in another move that goes against the automotive norm, Porsche has given us a lower-powered and less expensive version of the Cayman to play with. In doing so, they may have hit the sweet spot.

The Cayman’s mechanical bits are base Boxster fare, which means a DOHC 24-valve 2.7-litre horizonally opposed six-cylinder mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The engine generates 245 hp at 6500 rpm and 201 lb.-ft. of torque from 4600 – 6000 rpm. This is up 5 hp and 2 lb.-ft. from last year’s Boxster, although the torque now arrives earlier and sticks around longer, largely due to the addition of Porsche’s VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift system and a revised two-stage intake plenum.

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Although not as punchy as the 3.4-litre motor in the Cayman S, this 2.7-litre engine sings a sweeter song. Above 4000 rpm, it comes alive, sailing smoothly to the redline with each upshift. By 911 standards, the base Cayman is not fast, but neither could you call it slow, with a claimed 0-100 km/h dash of 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 258 km/h. I call it just right, if license-preservation is a primary concern.

Throttle application in the Cayman rewards the driver with eager acceleration and a lovely soundtrack, without the insane velocities that are so easily attained in vehicles like the Porsche Turbo. No need to spend half your drive time looking in the mirror for Barney Fife.

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The mid-engine, rear-drive Boxster/Cayman platform is a proven commodity – it’s pretty much the benchmark against which all other sports cars are measured. And I’m not the only one who thinks these cars are more balanced, handle better and ride better than their big brother, the iconic 911.

With the slightly stiffer structure of the coupe body, the Cayman is allegedly an even sharper driving tool than the Boxster. I say allegedly because without the two side by side, who’s to say? The Boxster is certainly not wanting for torsional rigidity.

Hit your favourite back road in the Cayman, and the elemental sports car experience is yours. You work the gears, you work the engine, the steering comes alive in your hands and you feel every nuance in the exquisitely balanced chassis.

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If I were my nickel, I’d spend the extra $3,752 for the optional six-speed transmission that would make the most of the flat-six’s powerband. It is bundled with PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management), a bi-level electronic damper system that is a worthwhile addition to any Porsche sports car. In normal mode, PASM smooths out the traditional kidney-busting Porsche ride, but will switch to the firmer setting when the going gets frisky. If sport mode is selected manually via a button in front of the shifter, a more aggressive throttle map is called up. PASM is also a $2,790 stand-alone option.

The Cayman uses the same brakes as the Boxster – very effective vented discs (298 mm front/299 mm rear) with four-piston calipers at each corner. The standard 17-inch tires (205/55ZR front, 235/50ZR rear) don’t fill the wheel wells like the optional 18-inchers on my tester, but if anything, they might add to the purity of the feedback.

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Dynamic aids include PSM (Porsche Stability Management), ASR (anti slip regulation), ABD (active brake differential) and EDTC (engine drag torque control). The latter will close the throttle a bit more gradually if it senses you’ve abruptly lifted off in a high speed turn, reducing the chance of a spin.

The interior of the Cayman is the same as the Boxster’s, which received a much needed revamp in 2005. The standard leather seats offer fine lateral support and long-distance comfort, and the driving position and relationship to all the major controls is spot on.

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Standard features include HomeLink, cruise control, multi-function trip computer, fully adjustable steering column, six airbags, tire pressure sensors, and a four speaker AM/FM/CD sound system.

Heated seats will cost you $680, automatic climate control $770, GPS sat/nav $4,290, Bose Surround Sound $2,330, adaptive powered sport seats $3,775, park assist $750, and so on…

But why does Zuffenhausen have this love affair with drab battle-ship grey cockpits? It seems almost every Porsche I’ve driven in the last few years has been saddled with this decidedly depressing and cheap-looking hue. If you buy a Porsche, puhleeeze order one of the alternate no-cost colours like sand beige, black or even palm green.

Externally, the Cayman distinguishes itself from the Boxster with a more aggressive snout and, of course, the dramatic fast back roof. This specimen, in Speed Yellow, looked particularly, um… arresting.

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For a swoopy coupe, the rearward visibility is not bad – better than the Boxster with its roof in place. A sunroof is not available.

The utility of the Cayman is surprising. Although strictly a two-seater, the rear 260-litre hatch has enough room for a load of groceries or a couple of overnight bags, and there’s a flat shelf just behind the seats with a stretchy net that will hold a briefcase or laptop. The small but deep front trunk (150 litres) is useful as well, and proved a perfect fit for my little bass amp.

So in the case of this 2007 Cayman, is less more? It certainly makes for a convincing argument. The base Cayman is $13,700 cheaper than the S variant and delivers all the dynamic goods with just a small compromise in forward thrust. The revised 2.7-litre six also returns impressive fuel mileage in this 1300-kg coupe. Consumption on my watch was just 9.8 L/100 km (premium fuel required).

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Two competitors for the base Cayman are on the horizon – the 255-hp BMW Z4 Coupe and the all-new Audi TT.

And then there is the in-house competition. Hmmm… the Boxster drives like the Cayman and offers the joys of top-down motoring along with a $6000 discount. I know where my money would go.

At a glance: 2007 Porsche Cayman

Base price: $69,600

Options: floor mats $160, 18" wheels $1730

Destination charge: $1085

AC tax $100

Price as tested: $72,675

Manufacturer’s web site

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