Friday 5th December 2008


PORSCHE CAYMAN S

PH drives the latest version of Porsche's mid-engined baby...


The Porsche Cayman can seem like a bit of a lost soul sometimes. To some it is a Boxster with a roof and to others it is unfairly seen as a poor man’s 911. But since this mid-engined sports car was introduced in 2005 it has soldiered on regardless, impressing us with its undeniable depth of ability. And now we have a new Cayman, which after a bit of soul-searching has found its own identity.

For starters the latest car has more power than its Boxster brother – 320bhp compared to 310bhp in ‘S’ form – which the carmaker says further accentuates its sportier, more focused nature. Power from the 3.4-litre boxer engine is up over the previous Cayman S by 25bhp and thanks to the latest witchcraft that is Direct Fuel Injection fuel economy is up 15% too.


Whatever way you look at it more power from less fuel has to be a good thing. But changes to the 3.4-litre unit do not stop at just a power boost and direct injection – Porsche’s engineers have been obsessively revising the unit to make the car even more driveable.

For example the tappet shafts have been reduced in size to save 10g each, and this applies to all 24 of them, contributing to a 6kg reduction in the weight of the engine. The crank case is now a two piece unit instead of a four piece which makes it stiffer, thus reducing friction and improving efficiency.

The suspension set-up has remained pretty much the same, albeit with tweaked spring rates and damper settings in line with the extra power. The Cayman is now offered with Porsche’s unpronounceable Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe gearbox, or PDK to you and me, which was first developed for motorsport around 25 years ago.

With the Sports Chrono Package Plus this ‘box includes ‘Launch Control’ which gives the ‘S’ a very 911-like 0-60mph of 4.9 seconds. And unlike other launch control systems Porsche assures us that this system is built to last and not just for a handful of goes.

Externally the Cayman, like the new Boxster, has only a few subtle revisions including LED lights at the rear and Carrera GT-style front lamps. If you liked the look of the car before then you’ll probably like it even more now.


Perhaps the most interesting addition to the Cayman is the option of a limited-slip differential, something that the company refused to fit to the previous model. The company’s representatives say that a diff was not possible on the former Tiptronic car, but this doesn’t explain why it is now fitted to the manual. At the launch in Jerez, Spain, Porsche remained tight-lipped about exactly why the car now comes with this option, which journalists had previously suggested would take it too close to the 911.

The unexpectedly wet and greasy roads around Jerez seem to have a patchwork of different surfaces and don’t seem ideal for a new rear-wheel drive, mid-engined Porsche, but straight away the car impresses. The driving position is excellent in the Cayman and inside it feels like a quality product, with more than enough room for luggage and two people.


Whereas the criticism with the new Direct Injection engines in the 911 is that they have robbed the car of some of its character the same can’t be said for the Cayman. Build up the revs and the cabin is filled with a sweet flat-six howl, hard-edged and unashamedly intrusive.

This gives you an early clue to the Cayman’s character – it is a hardcore car that doesn’t want to be driven slowly. The steering is spot on, with a chunky feel and a directness that puts the car exactly where you want it. As I head out onto the slippery back roads the back tyres can be easily overcome and the rear of the Cayman will step out with little encouragement.

It is testament to the effectiveness of the PSM system that the car will break away, but only enough before it is reined in for proceedings to continue. In these conditions it seems far more sensible to resist the temptation to flick around the gears excessively, instead leaving it in one ratio and letting the engine do the work.

Although the PDK system undeniably works brilliantly it is perhaps a victim of its own success. The changes are so fast and seemless -  60% faster than a conventional automatic transmission – that the ‘box itself can become a distraction, taking away that simple mechanical action of a manual gearbox.


Power from the 3.4-litre is never a problem however. The Cayman S is an incredibly quick car, especially in the mid-range where it seems to have almost supercar-chasing punch. Despite it being agile enough to tackle even the bumpy, twisty and narrow sections that run through the hills away from the coast, the ‘S’ is most at home on the wider fast-flowing roads.

There is almost zero body roll and the Cayman simply devours left after right hander at a mind-blowing rate. The £737 diff is a bargain, and gives the car grip where without it the rear would undoubtedly become unsettled, instead tucking the car in and sharpening the line.


The brakes, in true Porsche fashion, are hard to fault, hauling the car up without upsetting it on wet roads even when you are entering a corner too fast. They need a decent shove to make them bite, but bite they will and they just serve to inspire even more confidence in the car’s capabilities.

The £44,250 Cayman is a true sports car in the most traditional way. Driving it isn't always easy, you need commitment and focus, constantly learning more about the car that you can apply to the next corner. It is a completely absorbing experience that leaves you wanting to drive more and more, reaping the rewards when you get it right and scaring the hell out of you when you don’t.

Porsche’s engineers and marketing people seem to become a little edgy if you mention the Cayman S in the same breath as the 911, but it is clear it has closed the gap considerably. This is a credit crunch Porsche that is the cheaper but perhaps no longer the inferior choice. Maybe the question you have to ask yourself now is where you like your engine to be.


Author: Oli S