PORSCHE Cayman S Review


PORSCHE Cayman S  - Page - 1
After the Cayenne SUV pretty much doubled their production figures at the beginning of this century, Porsche didn't rest on its laurels and continued investments in releasing another addition to the model range. Launched in 2005, the mid-engine Porsche Cayman was first introduced only in "S" guise, followed soon by the regular Cayman model.

Essentially just a coupe version of the Boxster, the Cayman was first met with some reticence, especially since it was more expensive than its soft-top little brother. The clouds soon dispersed and everybody found out the real deal behind the Porsche Cayman's sheer existence. In short, this is probably the truest sports car in the whole Porsche line-up, GT models included.

Why is that? Well, there's only one reason actually. The engine isn't wrongly positioned at the rear, but in the best side possible, the middle. In other words, after the 914, the Boxster and the Carrera GT, the little Cayman is the third road-going Porsche with a mid-engine configuration.

With a name derived from the tax haven going by the name of Cayman Islands, which in turn is derived from the small crocodile species, the second least expensive Porsche is also one of the best handling cars ever built for the road by the Stuttgarter sports car maker.

At the end of 2008, a mid-life facelift was carried out, keeping the exterior quasi-identical, with most of the modifications to be found under the skin. Direct injection and a newly-developed double-clutch gearbox with seven forward speeds found their way onto the Cayman. We tested a "Guards Red" Porsche Cayman S with the PDK double-clutch gearbox and the Sport Chrono Package.

Out of this world handling and stability during cornering? Check. Enough engine grunt to keep you firmly pressed in your seat all the way to... let's say "highly illegal speeds"? Check. Ergonomic interior and enough space in the luggage compartment(s) for longer traveling? Check. Reasonable fuel economy considering the fabulous performance figures? Check. Anything bad to say about this car? Umm... read on and you'll find out.

With a front 99.78% identical to that of its open-top little brother, the Boxster, the Cayman is pretty hard to be reckoned as a stand-alone model just by seeing its face. As a matter of fact, it's also about 97.56% identical to that of the 911, which kind of makes one wonder if the Porsche design department has been on vacation since... the 1960s?

This is far from being a bad thing since every non-frog-like face Porsche has tried putting on its models has failed, meaning evolution is quite a hit with their customers. There are even less discrepancies between the regular Cayman and the "Spezial" version, at least when talking strictly about the car's frontal design.

The side view is the real deal-breaker when it comes to looks though. Apart from the Carrera GT, it's probably the best-looking Porsche in the last decade. The overall lines make a beautiful compromise between muscular and elegant, classic lines. The Central-positioning of the engine is pretty obvious, especially when compared to a 911, which has a rear overhang a tad bit longer.

Even though Porsche marketing really tried to influence the critics by stressing the fact that the Cayman's design has similar cues to that of a Caiman crocodile's head, they kind of failed to point them out. Still, if you squint your eyes for a bit you can see some reptilian looks in there.

The rear is where the "sexy back" expression really comes into place. The bulgy rear shoulders really stand out, while the LED swooping taillights make a very powerful impression, especially since they're flanking a hydraulic-actuated spoiler and a couple of thunderous exhaust pipes. Unlike some of its bigger brothers (hint: Cayenne and Panamera), the Cayman S is quite a staggering design. A perfect compromise between bold and beautiful, if we may say.

After jumping inside and suppressing the instinct to reach for the ignition with your right hand, you can most definitely say that you're in a car designed by the calculated mind of a German. Every button, every knob and every information display is right where it should be. Except for the ignition still present on the left side of the steering wheel. Paying tribute to the old days of racing at Le Mans, the left-side ignition has become a tradition in all road-going Porsches since the late 1950s.

Just as you would expect, almost everything touchable is engulfed in perfectly-stitched leather. In other words, both seats, the steering wheel, most of the dashboard and most parts of the inside door panels are practically drenched in it. Not to mention the fact that the seats in our test car had perforated leather (since they were both heated AND cooled). Even so, Alcantara-based or other types of leather are available as an option for the interior side of the roof and the pillars. The only plastic stuff inside had top-notch quality, with a only a few minor exceptions: the steering wheel column-mounted switches for the turn signals, windshield wipers and the cruise control looked and felt a bit on the cheap side. Other than that, it's pretty fancy stuff for a mid-engine sports car priced just under the base 911 Carrera.

The available space is just right for two average-sized persons, especially since you sit so low and the seats are completely adjustable. Speaking of which, despite being both heated and cooled, the only electronic adjustment is done for the backrest, while the longitudinal and height adjustments are done manually. In another Porsche-like manner, the fire extinguisher sits right under the driver's legs, as if Porsches would be generally known to casually combust.

Apart from the state of the art interior ergonomics, the overall quality and the decent available space, what impressed us most was the sheer practicality of the Cayman S. For a car with only two doors, two seats and enough horsepower to give you wet dreams, the mid-engine configuration gives you two separate luggage compartments, comprising a highly surprising total of 410 liters (14.5 cubic feet). A very small trunk in the rear and a pretty spacious one in the front can really confuse some people though, since they may wonder where on Earth does the engine sit.

The very low ground clearance can be quite a pain if you live in a city with numerous "sleeping policemen" aka speed bumps and higher than normal roadside curbs. Not to say that the Cayman S is as low as a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but around 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) of ground clearance can mean the difference between a scraped undercarriage and leaving your front bumper on the side walk. Special attention should also be given when entering or exiting underground garages, since there is also a rather long overhang in the front.

Other than what we mentioned above, living with a Porsche Cayman S in a busy city isn't as impractical as you might imagine. Despite sitting so low, especially when compared to other drivers on the road, overall visibility is just fine. The exterior rearview mirrors are big enough to provide you sufficient information of what's going on behind, but they do have a downside in not being able to be folded.

A really pleasant surprise came from the in-city fuel consumption, which during our test was approximately 14.7 liters per 100 kilometers (US 16 mpg). Considering the official figures say 14.1 liters per 100 kilometers (US 16.7 mpg), we think this is quite a spectacular achievement, especially when thinking about the performance available and the amount of stop-and-go traffic we encountered during our test drive. Apparently the addition of direct injection and the intelligent PDK double-clutch transmission really upped the ante on the efficiency of the high-revving six-cylinder Boxer engine.

Unfortunately, our test car wasn't equipped with the optional front and rear parking sensors, which could have proven to be quite useful. We say this because, despite the decent visibility, you can't really see all the way to the front or where the car is actually "ending", and the front and rear overhangs are pretty long and bulgy.

If Porsche had given 30 or 40 more horsepower to the Cayman S and had kept a similar price, it would have meant the end of the 911 Carrera. Even without that extra grunt we really struggled to find any major reason for someone to choose a more expensive 911 over the Cayman S. Paired to a seven speed double-clutch gearbox, known as the... hold your breath... Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, the 320 horsepower Boxer engine can give quite a sufficient amount of hardcore sensations, especially in "Sport Plus" mode.

Speaking of which, there is absolutely no way for a beginner to drive safely in busy traffic with the Sport Plus mode activated. And no, we're not kidding. The accelerator is so sensitive in this mode that even if you tickle it with your right foot your Cayman S might end up kissing the bumper of the car in front of you. Yes, 320 horsepower can sometimes behave like hundreds more. Also, the revs will very rarely drop under 4000-4500 rpm in this mode, again, no matter how "soft" you're with the accelerator pedal. Oh, and we should mention the fact that if you don't have a heavy right foot and keep the car under the speed limits, its fuel consumption is only around 7 liters per 100 kilometers (US 33.6 mpg). If you don't, it can jump up to 13-15 liters per 100 kilometers (US 15.7-18.1 mpg) or even more, depending how hard you push it.

An empty stretch of serpentine road up or down a mountain are enough to make pretty much anyone fall in love with this car. The extremely direct steering provides quite a handful of information, while the central positioning of the engine represents dynamic perfection. A blistering 5.1 seconds time from zero to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) and an eye-watering top speed of 275 kilometers per hour (175 mph) are enough to keep your passenger on his toes every time you even mention about hammering the throttle. The six-cylinder Boxer engine paired with probably the best double-clutch we've ever experienced is only part of the thrill.

As we mentioned before, our car was fitted with the optional Sport Chrono Package, which, apart from adding a cool-looking "stopwatch" on top of the dashboard it also fills the center console with two extra "special" buttons. One of them is called "Sport" and the other "Sport Plus".

Far from being just a couple of placebo-inducing options, these two buttons can magically transform the Cayman S from a civilized beast to a completely savage one. Let's say, for example, that you're traveling in a very relaxed way on the highway, at 130 km/h (70 mph) in seventh gear. The rpm in this instance will be at around 2500-2800 rpm. If an instantaneous desire to "kick it" suddenly engulfs you, all you have to do is press the "Sport Plus" button.

As sudden and as instantaneous as a blink of an eye, the PDK transmission will change a few gears down, the electronically-controlled suspension and the power steering will stiffen, while the revs will jump to about 4500-5000 rpm. All you would have to do now is hold on tight and start overtaking like a madman. In conclusion, the Cayman S can be both a nice, somewhat comfortable GT, but also a mean overtaking machine. Until we drive the 911 Turbo, GT3 or GT2, the Cayman S will probably remain in our hearts as the only Porsche which can offer this amount of fun per buck. Pure, unadulterated fun.
72user rating 22 votes
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autoevolution Oct 2009
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72user rating 22 votes
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