The 3.4-liter boxer six engine is mounted behind the seats, giving the car ideal balance and bringing a sweet but not loud 7000-rpm howl into the cabin. Two hundred and ninety-five horsepower, along with the car's light weight, bring 60 mph in five seconds with a top speed of 171 mph, with the standard six-speed gearbox in the Cayman S, our test vehicle. The standard Cayman, which costs about $10,000 less, uses a 2.7-liter version of the same engine, making 50 less horsepower with a five-speed gearbox. Tiptronic S, Porsche's five-speed manual automatic transmission, is optional on both Caymans.
With its magnificent brakes, big vented rotors and four-piston calipers, the Cayman S will stop from 60 mph in a mere 106 feet. The ride is naturally firm, but comfortable all day long.
The cabin has the quality of a luxury car, while keeping the focus on function. The Cayman comes standard with a digital radio with in-dash CD and eight-speaker system, and the Cayman S has a Bose Surround Sound system. Thanks to a large amount of storage space for a sports car, two people could travel across the country and be very happy: never tired, never inconvenienced, and excited by the performance. And the Cayman will deliver 25 miles per gallon along the way.
Big trucks might be intimidating on the highway because the Cayman is low to the ground, but it's still a very safe vehicle, with a chassis engineered to withstand a crash, those superb anti-lock brakes, sophisticated electronic stability, and three airbags per occupant: frontal, thorax and head.
The Cayman S ($58,900) uses the same engine bored out to 3.4 liters; it's less stressed, with a slightly lower compression ratio and fewer horsepower per liter. It makes 295 horsepower, peaking at 6250 rpm. Torque is pumped up to 251 pound-feet, peaking at 4400 rpm and staying there to 6000. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with the five-speed Tiptronic S ($3,210) optional. Brakes are bigger, with rotors that are 12.52 x 1.10 inches in front, and 11.78 x .94 rear; the 18-inch alloy wheels take 235/40 ZR18 front tires, and 265/40 ZR18 at the rear. The Cayman S also gets a nine-speaker Bose Surround Sound System.
Standard equipment includes power windows, cruise control, air conditioning, carbon-filter ventilation system, power leather seats, heated sideview mirrors, digital radio with in-dash CD and eight-speaker system.
Options include a choice of leather trim that can be ordered for virtually every interior piece of the car, including the dash, sun visors and steering column. There's also a choice of wood, carbon or aluminum trim, rear parking assist, heated seats, and a navigation system.
The main performance option is Porsche Active Suspension Management ($1990), which offers two shock absorber settings, Normal and Sport. Other options include bi-Xenon headlamps ($1090), 19-inch wheels and tires ($1550), and lightweight ceramic brake discs ($2000) meant to improve hard braking on the track. That's $2000 per wheel. There are always ways to spend money on a Porsche.
Safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, a tire pressure monitor, and six airbags: two in front, two thorax airbags mounted in the seats, and two head bags that deploy from the door windowsills.
It brings grace to the Boxster's shape by adding a sleek roof. The last remnants of the upside-down bathtub are blown away by the styling (if not by 295 horsepower). The rear hatch, which lifts to access the mid-mounted engine, sweeps back and down between the hips and the wide arched rear fenders, ending with a sleeper spoiler that automatically rises three inches on struts, at 75 miles per hour. The slope of the roofline is shallow and long, like a beginner ski run. From the rear, there's something almost '50s Fastback about the roof (without feeling retro), as well as the fenders that are suggestive of the Porsche 550 of that era.
The Cayman looks sleekest from the rear three-quarter point of view. The same lovely haunches that suggest a Porsche 550 also have the lines of a prototype racing car, when viewed from an angle. Very cool twin exhaust tips poke out together from under the center rear of the car, another touch that dates to the '50s.
The huge air intakes for the engine, located under the quarter-windows and just forward of the rear wheels, identify the car as being serious. Big red brake calipers shout for attention through the spaces between the sprawling five spokes of the alloy wheels. A horizontal aerodynamic tray runs under each door and flows gently up behind the air scoops, taking the shape of a hockey stick lying on its edge. Sounds goofy, but looks good.
Forward of the windshield, the Cayman loses some of its originality, although the chin, too, improves on the Boxster. The three horizontal openings below the headlamps are more aggressive on the Cayman, with round foglamps mounted on slats in the outer two holes. From every angle, the Cayman is more stylish than the Boxster.
The big 8000-rpm tachometer, using black numbers on a pleasing gray face, is in the center where it's easy to see; and the other instruments are also well placed, thus giving up their information easily. The quality of all the materials is evident.
Unlike many sports cars, the Cayman offers cabin and storage space. There's a big shelf behind the leather seats, which are surprisingly non-racy looking, but which hold your torso in a snug and comfortable grip. This shelf serves as the engine cover, and supports storage bins at each end. The glovebox is relatively big, and contains two outward-swinging cupholders that can hold huge drinks. The console has two more storage compartments, an open one forward and a covered space containing a coin holder and 12-volt power outlet at the rear. The doors, also, have covered pockets.
There are two luggage compartments, one under the front hood and another under the lightweight rear hatch, behind the engine; together they offer 14.5 cubic feet of space, as much luggage space as some small sedans.
Visibility forward is good, but not so good that you forget you're in a low-slung sports car. Unfortunately, there's a huge blind spot over the driver's right shoulder, thanks to that lovely roofline, so be careful when pulling onto a highway at an angle.
Maybe the most impressive thing about this six-cylinder boxer engine is its broad powerband. Its 251 peak pound-feet of torque arrives at 4400 rpm and stays there to 6000. With torque this great, you can accelerate in sixth gear without downshifting, and the engine will carry the effort.
Redline is 7300 rpm, and the engine doesn't cry out for more; in fact, the redline might be too high, because the horsepower peaks at 6250 rpm, and the revs don't drop much between shifts of the close-ratio six-speed gearbox. One hundred mph is 4000 rpm, where it's perfectly smooth. Top speed is 171 mph as measured on the track, and it'll do zero to 60 in 5.1 seconds with the six-speed gearbox.
The vario-ratio steering is effortless. The Cayman is much easier to turn (and drive at high speed) than, say, the BMW Z4 M Coupe. Car and Driver magazine recently did a head-to-head comparison test between the two cars, and the Cayman S got the nod, for its racier chassis. Other enthusiast publications agree that it's more stable and sure-footed than either the Boxster S or Carrera 911. We didn't have those Porsches with which to compare the Cayman S, however, we can say its balance is impeccable, nearly impossible to upset with anything less than incompetent aggressive driving.
We're pleased that the electronic stability control (PSM), isn't easily excited; it's programmed conservatively (and correctly for a Porsche), and won't activate until it can be of benefit to help keep the car on the road.
The steel roof of the Cayman, along with an added crossbeam behind the seats, adds rigidity to the Boxster chassis; Porsche says it's twice as resistant to flex as the Boxster S. This enabled engineers to tune the suspension more tightly, because stiffer springs can be used with a more rigid chassis without affecting the comfort of the ride; so the Cayman S uses firmer springs and shocks, and needs a slightly smaller anti-roll bar than the Boxster. And despite the steel roof, it's 11 pounds lighter than a Boxster S; also 80 pounds lighter than a 911 Carrera, and 225 pounds lighter than a Corvette Coupe.
Our Cayman S used optional 19-inch wheels and fat, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tires; even on cold asphalt it's very difficult to break them loose. Slalom and skid-pad tests for the Cayman S have been stunning; no Ferrari, Corvette, BMW or 911 can do better.
But don't even think about taking the Cayman out in snow or ice with its fat tires intended for traction on asphalt. We found ourselves on the freeway on an icy day, and it was stressful, if not downright scary; taking the Porsche out of the garage that day was dumb. Having a mounted set of high-performance ice tires for the winter months would be good.
Our Cayman S was equipped with both of the options that increase the sophistication and versatility of the suspension. First, there's Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), which lowers the ride height by 10 mm (0.4 inch) and provides two settings: Normal for everyday driving and Sport for aggressive driving. Compared to the standard Cayman S suspension, PASM Normal delivers a smoother ride, especially over rough roads; however it automatically stiffens as the driver makes more aggressive inputs.
Because we didn't get our Cayman S on the track, we didn't have any legitimate reason to test the Sport mode, which sharpens the throttle response and tightens the shocks. In PASM Sport, sensors measure vertical movement o
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Columbia River Gorge.