It might sound like an overstatement, but the 996 was hugely important not just in its own right as the first major change to the 911 in four decades but also as a style enabler for a new strain of affordable mid-engined Porsches, starting in 1996 with the 986 Boxster convertible. The Boxster offered traditional Porsche quality with a modern, open-air driving experience and a whizzy new 2.5-litre flat-six, all for the temptingly low price of just over £30,000.
Predictably, it was a smash hit, and better yet it was a great grounding for the introduction (albeit nine years later) of a coupe sibling, the 987 Cayman. Apart from some initial head-scratching about Porsche’s decision to call it after an alligator, the first generation Cayman (which coincided with the second generation 987 Boxster) was warmly welcomed by brand followers. Like the Boxster, it had the classic normally aspirated flat-six motor. The first gen-one Caymans of 2005 were six-speed manual 291hp 3.4 litre ‘S’ models with engines based on the Boxster S’s 3.2 but using cylinder heads from the 997 911’s 3.8. An entry-level 245hp 2.7 litre Cayman with a 5-speed manual came out in summer 2006. The Cayman’s suspension was revised to take the extra stiffness of the coupe shell into account, and the result was a spectacularly good balance of handling and performance. Walter Röhrl took an S around the Ring in 8m 11sec, which was 4sec faster than he managed in a 911 Carrera.
Following the new 991 911’s design cues, and with more than a nod towards the Carrera GT, the 981 Cayman had a 60mm longer wheelbase and a 40mm wider front track than the gen-one. Aluminium made up 44 percent of the chassis, reducing the overall weight by around 30kg while increasing torsional rigidity by 40 percent. Rear wing vents and new side mirrors attaching to the doors rather than the pillars harked back to the Carrera GT. The headlight and front air intake shapes were sharper and more angular, and LED daytime running lights went into the old fog light spaces. The rear hatch shape was new too, with vertically extended glass.
You had a choice of 271hp/214lb ft 2.7 or (in S spec) 325hp 3.4 engines. On the transmission front, you could choose a 6-speed manual (the five-speed having been retired) or a 7-speed PDK auto gearboxes. For steering, there was no choice – it was electric (EPAS) or nothing. The 981 was the closest thing yet to the idea of a ‘bargain basement 911’. It was hardly any slower than the 911 in the real world. Indeed, depending on which model you went for and which roads you were on, it was potentially faster than the halo car. The Cayman’s new asking price of £40,000 – about half that of a 911 – had quite a few 911 repeat buyers thinking twice about renewing their subs.
A year after the gen-two Cayman launch, the 335hp 3.4 Cayman GTS arrived standardising PASM active suspension (or the free option of 20mm lower sports suspension) and with a four-mode Sport Chrono driveline/chassis tuning package. It cost £55k new. Our spec panel below gives you the numbers for the base model 271hp 2.7 and the GTS. In between those two you had the 320hp 3.4 S. Topping off the range in 2014 was the 380hp GT4. Powered by the 3.8 engine of the 911 Carrera S and costing between £70k and £100k new it represented the high water mark of flat-six Cayman performance.