Tuesday 20th September 2005


CAYMAN S

Ian Kuah was one of the first journalists to get behind the wheel of a Porsche Cayman

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In the late 1980s, Porsche had three distinct model ranges with almost no parts in common. In the late 1980s, Porsche nearly went bankrupt. Today, Porsche has three distinct model ranges, two of which share a significant percentage of parts. Today, Porsche is the most profitable of all the German car companies.

While the Boxster and Carrera share 30 percent of their parts, including the front structure and some suspension components, the new Cayman is essentially a Boxster coupe using the roadster's floorpan and suspension in its entirety. A variant of the Boxster (Code 987), hence its internal code of 987 C7S, the Cayman is just 5kg heavier than the equivalent Boxster S.

The Cayman S, the first of this hatchback Boxster derivative to be launched, has slightly uprated springs and dampers with the option of PASM active damping. Together with the significant increase in torsional and bending resistance that comes with its closed bodyshell, this gives the Cayman even more driver focused dynamics.

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In the scheme of things, the 295bhp 3.4 litre Cayman S sits between the 280bhp 3.2 litre Boxster S and the 325bhp Carrera in power and price. Its market positioning is particularly interesting because the 911 has become larger, more powerful, faster, heavier and more expensive over the years, resulting in Porsche purists asking for a cheaper and more minimalist car to replace the earlier variants.

While the Cayman shares around 40 percent of its components with the Boxster, the bonnet, front wings, headlamps, doors and tail-lights being the most obvious, the swoopy roofline and rear wings are all new.

The same modern, high-quality interior we have become used to recently in the new Boxster is carried over, but aft of the seats, the Cayman augments its stowage capability with a further area above its engine bay for a briefcase. Include the rear boot for a combined 260 litres of storage space. Add the 150 litre front luggage bay to the equation and you have a generous total of 410 litres.

Performance

The 3.4 litre motor is a development of the Boxster S engine with larger barrels and pistons. In addition, it gets the latest Variocam variable valve timing system with electro-hydraulic tappets as used on the 997 Carrera. 295bhp at 6,250rpm and 251 lb ft of torque are enough to give this 1,340kg coupe a 0-62mph of 5.4 sec and a 171mph top speed.

Walter Rohrl recently managed an 8 min 11 sec lap of the Nurburgring Nordschliefe in a PASM suspension and PCCB brake equipped six-speed manual Cayman S. That is 7.0 sec faster than the Boxster S and a stunning 4.0 sec faster than the Carrera 3.6! Stand by for the best handling affordable Porsche ever. The Porsche specific N3 version of the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 is the tyre of choice on both the standard 18-inch and optional 19-inch alloys.

The Malmsheim test track - an old airfield now used for automobile testing and driver instruction - is close to both Zuffenhausen and Weissach, and we occasionally use it for limit handling tests with Mercedes and Porsche. After a morning of dry weather testing, by the time we got to Malmsheim in the afternoon, the rain had really set in and the runway was well and truly sodden.

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Some mid-engined cars can be very tricky, treacherous even in such conditions, but we quickly found that the Cayman is not one of them. Malmsheim has a high grip surface, but that does not change the handling balance of a car on the limit and beyond. Here, the relatively low polar moments of inertia of the Cayman and its progressive nature quickly became obvious.

Handling

With a 250 percent improvement in torsional rigidity and 200 percent improvement in bending resistance over the already superb handling Boxster, the Cayman is as rigid a platform as any high performance road car could wish for. Hatchback it may be, but we never detected a single squeak, rattle or any sign of flexing.

Structural rigidity is also the jumping off point for ride quality. Finding spring and damper rates that work almost all the time on a variety of road surfaces around the world is a tough call for any car manufacturer, let alone one that makes specialist sportscars. Although the Cayman S rides on 18 or optional 19-inch wheels and tyres, bump compliance is pretty well sorted.

Our test car did not have the PASM suspension option, which we know from experience with the Boxster provides a taut but supple primary ride in Comfort mode. Even so, the ride of the standard suspension was well judged, complementing the stiff structure with its ability to minimise the effect of short, sharp bumps at low speeds, yet provide iron-fisted control over the wheels when pushing on.

That stiff structure also means that when you point the Cayman's nose into a turn, its front wheels are even more eager to comply than the Boxsters. Adding finely honed suspension geometry to the mix delivers high precision and plenty of feedback from the power steering by the standards of modern sportscars. Another plus is that the steering does not load up much when you push hard into a bend.

The Cayman has a rock solid inherent turn-in stability. Where the Carrera, as good as it is now, always reminds you of its pendulous weight at the rear, the Cayman races for the apex of a bend like a big go-kart.

Thanks to the grippy surface and the excellent wet weather performance of the Michelins, drifting the Cayman at Malmsheim was tough, even with PSM disengaged. Initiating a turn at modest speeds to avoid the front-end washing out, we delivered a big dollop of throttle in second gear thinking this would easily push the tail out. However, despite the wet surface the big rear tyres showed more mechanical grip than the torque of the motor could overcome.

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Going in on a more open curve at speed in third gear gave us the momentum to finally break the tyres grip on the tarmac. At that point, balancing the car on steering and blipping the throttle to keep the slide going proved effective. It also showed us that the Cayman is user friendly on the limit once you know what it will do. This really is the best handling production Porsche ever.

Words & Pictures Copyright (c) Ian Kuah