- Available for £25,000
- 2.7-3.8 litre petrol flat six, rear wheel drive
- Last of the six-pot Caymen
- Most of the 911 experience for a lot less money
- Historical bearing/bore scoring faults ironed out
- Check the mileage is right though
Who is Pinky Lai? He's not a character from a Pokemon game, or a mad blubbery despot. Most of us will have never heard of him, but if you go out on the roads on any given day it's almost certain that you'll see one of his creations.
Pinky Lai is a Hong Kong-born car designer. His 34-year career began at Ford of Europe, where he worked on the Sierra, Fiesta, Escort and Scorpio. Then he went to BMW where he created the E36 3 Series before being headhunted by Porsche in 1989 to bring in what could well be the most important new car in the firm's history: the 996, the first water-cooled 911.
That 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 name 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, 295hp, 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 8mins 11secs, which was four seconds faster than he managed in a 911 Carrera.
Famously, or infamously depending on your view, the gen-three Cayman/gen-four Boxster went to four-cylinder turbo power in 2016 with the introduction of the 718 (982). That's a conversation and a buying guide for another time. The Cayman we're going to be looking at here is the second-generation 981, announced at the 2012 Geneva show, going on UK sale in early 2013, and the last regular Cayman to be powered by the classic Porsche flat six.
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 987. Aluminium made up 44 per cent of the chassis, reducing the overall weight by around 30kg while increasing torsional rigidity by 40 per cent. 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 275hp/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. We'll talk about that a bit more later.
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 340hp 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 275hp 2.7 and the GTS. In between those two you had the 325hp 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 £64,451 new (yes, really) it represented the high water mark of flat-six Cayman performance.
SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE CAYMAN (981) 2.7/3.4 GTS
Engine: 2,706cc/3,436cc flat six, 24v
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 7-speed PDK automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 275@7,400rpm/340@7,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 214@4,500-6,500rpm/280lb ft@4,750-5,800rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 secs (5.6 PDK)/4.9 secs (4.8 PDK)
Top speed: 165mph (164mph PDK)/177mph (176mph PDK)
Weight: 1,310kg (PDK 1,340kg)/1,345kg (1,375kg PDK)
MPG: 34.4 (36.7 PDK)/39.8mpg (44.8 PDK) (official combined)
CO2 (g/km): 192 (180 PDK)/211 (190 PDK)
Wheels: 8x18 (f), 9.5x18 (r)/8x20 (f), 9.5x20 (r)
Tyres: 235/45 (f), 265/45 (r)/235/35 (f), 265/35 (r)
On sale: 2013-2016
Price new: from £40,000
Price now: from £25,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The big mechanical change from the gen-one 987 to the gen-two 981 was the capacity of the engine, which returned to the 2.7 litre size it was in 2007. Although it was smaller than the old 2.9 it was 10hp more powerful. The S carried on with the 3.4 engine but with an additional five or so horsepower.
Failing intermediate shaft bearings were the nemesis of M96 flat six engines that powered Porsches built between 1997 and 2008. The intermediate shaft took drive off the crank and passed it to the camshaft via a chain. The idea of the shaft was to reduce the speed of the timing chain and thereby increase its life. Unfortunately the IMS bearing which supported the intermediate shaft on the flywheel end of the engine was given to failure. The warning signs were metallic debris in the oil filter, an oil leak at the back of the engine, or knocking noises from that same area.
The great news for 981 Cayman fanciers is that the object of their want used the M96 engine's successor, the 2009-on 9A1, in which stronger chains run at full crankshaft speed, thus doing away with the need for an intermediate shaft and by extension with the troublesome IMS bearing.
Another sweary phrase in Cayman M96 circles was bore scoring. Porsche tried to solve this on the 981 by casting the 9A1's block out of Alusil, which as with the previous Lokasil-processed M96s relied on piston skirt rather than bore coatings to reduce wear and avert scoring, but it was an improved solution which reduced incidences of bore scoring to practically none. 'Practically none' isn't none, though. It's still important to warm a 9A1 through before giving it serious grief.
Owners of regularly tracked M96 cars will be well aware of oil starvation issues, but the 9A1 engine had improved baffling and a clever variable-demand oil pump to provide ample oil pressure in high-heat, high-load conditions. Something to bear in mind with the 9A1 engine however is fuelling. Only the base 2.7s had traditional port fuel injection. Direct injection in the other Cayman engines was a good thing in terms of the extra power it generated but not such a good one in terms of the enhanced possibility of undesirable intake deposits and fuel dilution, along with increased wear to intake valve guides and to the high pressure pumps that are required for this fuelling system. These are all generic rather than Porsche-specific issues.
Early Caymans did have cooling problems. Radiators rusted and the air-conditioning didn't run for ever. The 981 came with a new computer-controlled thermal management setup that shut the cooling system down completely during warmup, allowing operating temperature to be reached much more quickly, boding well for long-term wear.
As noted earlier, the old five-speed manual was no longer available in the 981. The six-speeders are very strong, the only occasional problem being less than smooth shifting from first to second when cold, which could be down to out-of-adjustment cables or a failure to depress the clutch fully.
PDK-equipped cars had clutches that automatically disengaged on coasting to boost fuel economy. They also had auto start/stop and adaptive cruise control to scan the road ahead and adjust the speed to maintain one of four selectable following distances.
Official servicing intervals are every two years or 20,000 miles, alternating between major and minor, but careful owners will often add mid-schedule services for certain elements like oil, or brake fluid which otherwise wouldn't get changed for four years. Changing brake fluid on its own will typically cost you between £100 and £150 at a good independent, who will charge around £400 for a major service (excluding spark plugs) and £300 for a minor filter-based and inspection service. A stamp from an independent specialist using genuine Porsche parts and up to date PIWIS diagnostic equipment will carry the same weight as an OPC's.
For the 981, Porsche added torque vectoring to the PSM (Porsche Stability Management) that had been on previous Caymans. PSM made sure the car was going in the desired direction by using sensors to monitor driving direction, speed, yaw and lateral acceleration. It helped traction on wet roads by working in conjunction with the ABD (auto brake differential) and ASR (anti-slip) functions. You could switch it off for extra sportiness, but it came back on automatically if either (or both, in Sport mode) of the front wheels needed anti-lock assistance. Torque vectoring (PTV) worked all the time in a positive manner by applying light braking force to the inside rear wheel when turning. It worked too. The difference between PTV and non-PTV Caymen was ten seconds around the Nürburgring.
Note that PSM is not the same as PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) which is an electronic damping control system designed to give each wheel exactly the right amount of damping force for any given situation. If the target of your affections has PASM, insist on a test drive to check for a noticeable difference between the ride quality in Normal and Sport (and Sport Plus if it has that). PASM damper units have occasionally been known to leak, something that's immediately obvious on a ramp inspection. New units are around £600 a corner.
The switch to electromechanical power steering (EPAS) was controversial. Porsche moved away from hydraulic steering because it was harder and more expensive to install, configure and maintain. Porsche's suspension guy told PH that, on 991 911s at any rate, EPAS filtered out feedback and artificially created the mystical substance we all know as 'feel'. Arguably however the Cayman chassis has feel to spare, and you might only notice a reduction in it if you're coming to a 981 straight from a 987.
The Sport Chrono option is a good thing on a Cayman, whether it's on a manual or a PDK car. It altered the throttle mapping and response on all Caymen, and the shift points on a PDK went a lot nearer to the redline than they did in regular Sport mode. On manuals it provided rev matching and an upshift indicator, and on all 981s it lifted the nannying point for the cut-in of PSM. SC cars also got a G force meter, a sports screen on the PCM with lap timers, lap comparisons, and data downloadability, a clock with a lap timer, and a button to disable anti-slip, enable PASM sport mode and activate the PSE's (sports exhaust) extra-throaty option with a single press. On PDK cars, Sport Chrono added launch control, although you could actually use the electronic handbrake on non-SC cars to achieve the same sort of thing.
Sport Chrono-equipped cars also got electronically-controlled dynamic transmission mounts which were designed to give the stability and comfort benefits of hard and soft mounts in one system, stiffening in hard driving to improve transition response on twisty roads and softening in gentler use to reduce vibration and noise. Internet research indicates that owners with access to canyon roads really rate the extra precision that the DTMs bring.
The base model 2.7 had larger (compared to the 987) 18in wheels as standard, while the 3.4 S had 19s, with a 20in option on both. The 3.4 GTS had 20s as standard, as did the GT4, but its rim widths were up to 8.5 at the front and 11 at the rear. Pirelli P Zeros were original fitment tyres, and you're supposed to only have 'N' spec Porsche-approved ones, but they seem to have a reputation for cracking. Michelin Pilot Sport 4s and Cup 2 tyres are generally preferred for track longevity.
There have been instances of cars that have had both the brake lights and the PSM stability control light showing. That's usually a result of the brake pedal bushes binding up to prevent full return of the pedal. Mending it is easy enough, but only if you have the special tool. Leave it unattended and the brakes will overheat. Correctly functioning front brakes should last for up to 25,000 miles (maybe a bit less on a 3.4), and 30,000 miles at the rear, all depending on use of course. A set of front discs and pads for a 2.7 will run you around £650, or £550 for the backs.
The 981 featured Porsche's latest weight-saving mix of bonded aluminium and steel. Aluminium was used for the front and rear body sections, floors, doors and both bonnets, front and rear (where a new wing brought more downforce), so traditional corrosion won't affect these parts, but stone chips and gravel rash will still need attention. Areas to watch are the bumper, the trailing edges of sills and wheelarches, front wings, and the leading edges of the rear wings which were factory-protected on earlier Caymen (but not on the 981) by paint protection film. Dealers often repaint the front bumpers to get rid of stone chips, which saves you the bother as long as they've done more than a quick blowover job on it. A paint thickness gauge will help you to uncover many truths.
If the windscreen on a car you're thinking of buying has significant marks or cracks, get the price reduced because glass damage can be a harbinger of electronic glitches relating to radio and sat-nav reception.
The Cayman cabin was completely revamped on the 981 to bring it in line with the new interior design language for the 911 and Panamera, with the signature high centre console first seen in the CGT bringing the gearshift quite a bit closer to the steering wheel. The manual handbrake was replaced by the previously mentioned electronic one, and the Sport Chrono stopwatch was much more neatly integrated than the 987's.
Once into the car via the keyless Entry & Drive system the immediate sensation is of a button-rich environment, but the 981's new-found quality and modernity went a long way towards easing the visual confusion, and the clear advantage of the button-fest was that it reduced the amount of screen menu mining required.
A 12-speaker 800watt Burmester Sound system became standard equipment and the tilt and reach control for the wheel went electronic. Paddle shifters on a sport steering wheel easily trump the standard wheel with its rather dull shift buttons. If a car you're looking at is perfect in every respect other than not having the paddles and sports wheel, get that car bought because these items can be retrofitted by a good specialist (or of course by an OPC).
The 981 was the first non-911 Porsche to have oil pressure and temperature gauges, albeit in digital rather than a conventional analogue form. 981 door pockets were smaller than the 987's but the new swing-out facility was a smart touch.
Although the choice of used 981s is not that extensive, the good news is that many new buyers went for the extended leather option. For beefing up the luxury feel and maintaining resale value that's definitely worth having.
Dash mileage 'correction' is not unknown on Caymen. Plugging in a Porsche PIWIS computer will reveal the true mileage as well as any active fault codes and instances of over-revving. Make sure that key comfort features like air-conditioning, windows and sat-nav all work.
Many of us are on a search for the depreciation-proof car. Obviously you could stump up for a classic and then not drive it, but for many PHers that would totally defeat the object.
The 981 Cayman is a very good example of being able to have your cake and eat it. Buy one, enjoy its metallic six-cylinder rasp, balletic handling and excellent reliability and then, having lost very little money and gained an awful lot in driving pleasure, pass it on to the next owner. Or, more likely, just keep it. The small number of 981s on sale suggests that might be precisely what's happening.
You can understand why, too. It's hard to think of a mid-priced sports car that offers such a fine blend of quality and ability, or of a better argument for not laying out all that extra cash for a 911. A pre-purchase inspection is an obvious thing to do on any expensive car (expensive when new, that is), but you would be unlucky if that turned up many serious issues. Once bought, barring unforeseen disasters, your running costs should be satisfyingly low.
Spurning the 2.7 just because it has the smallest engine and the least power would be a mistake. Although the 3.4 is both faster and more economical than the 2.7, the smaller-engined car with the PDK box delivers mid-five second 0-62 times and mid-30s mpg figures. The S is a more sporting proposition and the GTS is another step up that ladder, while the GT4 will provide breathtaking thrills on any track, but if you avoid poverty-spec cars without full leather a 2.7 will provide just about all of the Cayman experience for less cash, and you'll always find a ready buyer if and when you decide to unload it.
Look hard enough and you will find high-mileage 981 Caymen at £25,000 or less, but you don't need to spend a lot more than that to achieve a substantial drop in the mileage. The best value 2.7 981 we found in PH Classifieds was this 19,000 mile 2013 manual car in grey with 20in wheels and black leather at £27,495.
At the top end of the market here's a grey GT4 3.8 manual from 2016. Modestly billed as 'simply the best' with just under 5,000 miles recorded and all the trimmings you could ever want to lead a brilliant double life on both track and road, it will cost you £76,985.
1 / 17