Porsche's junior coupe is better than ever. Start saving. Jonathan Crouch tries the Cayman S.
Ten Second Review
The Porsche Cayman has evolved. It's now a bigger, faster and more efficient thing but that much was predictable. It's also become far better looking than before and steps up to the plate to become possibly Porsche's most rounded sports car. Especially in 325bhp Cayman S form.
Despite Porsche making more money out of Cayenne SUVs these days, the lifeblood of the company remains the 911 sports coupe. It embodies fifty years of history and development, and offers all the evidence you need of the company's engineering nous. The 911 is Porsche. But is it the best Porsche sports coupe? That's a question that has been rumbling in the background for some time and will come under increasing scrutiny in the light of the 981-series Porsche Cayman. First shown at the 2012 Los Angeles show, this car replaced the original 987-series model that appeared in 2005. The basic formula remains much the same. It's a coupe version of the Boxster with a few horsepower extra in an attempt to justify a small price premium. Some typically Porsche price gouging aside, we're looking for this car's Achilles heel. So far, we haven't really found it. Let's put the top 3.4-litre Cayman S version to the test.
The original Porsche Cayman was quick to cement its reputation as a brilliant driver's car, albeit one that many suspected was always held back from its true potential in order to protect the more profitable 911's sales. That's why we never had a Cayman GT3. This time round, the shackles have been loosed a little further. How much? Well, the 2.7-litre entry level engine now puts out 275bhp while the 3.4-litre Cayman S we tried now develops 325bhp. As before, both engines feature direct injection for improved efficiency. A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard although most customers now fork out a couple of grand extra to get the seven-speed PDK double clutch transmission. This features updated software for quicker and smoother shifts. Thus equipped, a Cayman S will detain you for just 4.7 seconds from 0-62mph and will keep going to 174mph. It's now a properly quick car. The longer wheelbase of the Cayman promises better ride quality while the wider front track offers improved grip. Like the latest 911, this generation model switches from Porsche's traditional hydraulic power steering to a more efficient electro mechanical setup developed by ZF. Most cars will come out of dealers weighing around 100kg less than their immediate predecessors, which has direct benefits on handling, acceleration and efficiency. There's also optional PASM active damping and PTV torque vectoring.
Design and Build
With a wheelbase stretched by 60mm, the Cayman now has more distance between its hub centres than a 911 and that pays dividends in elongating what was once a rather Marmite shape. It now uses its own doors rather than 911 items too and they've been sculpted to add plenty of shape to the Cayman's flanks. It's a clever illusion as from directly ahead, the Cayman remains a little slab-sided. Nearly half the bodyshell is now made from lightweight aluminium, bringing the kerb weight down by around 30kg model for model, despite the car getting noticeably bigger. The latest Cayman models ride on wheels and tyres that are now one inch larger in diameter than on the previous model. Standard now are 19-inch alloys on the Cayman S, which give this sports coupe increased lateral stability and handling properties. The driver and passenger sit on redesigned sport seats that offer better comfort for long-distance touring and excellent lateral support for when the roads get twisty. The extended silhouette of the Cayman also increases the practical virtues of the car: the larger rear boot-lid offers better access to that cargo area and luggage capacity of the two-seater has been increased by 15-litres to 425-litres when loaded to the roof.
Market and Model
The anomalous thing about a Porsche Cayman is that it's pretty much the only hard top coupe we can think of that's actually more expensive than the roadster variant. You'll pay around £50,000 for the Cayman S, some £2,500 more than its soft-topped sibling. The car comes reasonably well equipped too, with those alloy wheels, air conditioning, a CD audio with seven-inch touch-screen control interface, a universal audio interface offering MP3 connectivity, automatic headlight activation, an auto stop-start function, an electronic parking brake, a 'Sport' button, a top tinted windscreen, floor mats, a partial leather interior and Bi-Xenon headlights. All new Cayman customers also get the opportunity to understand the limit handling of their car by joining a training course at the Porsche Experience Centre in Silverstone. Here you'll really get to understand what the car's been engineered to do.
Cost of Ownership
Porsche does a great job in delivering vehicles with extremely high performance as well as high efficiency. Take this Cayman S as an example. Here, you've got a car that can better 32mpg and emit 206g/km when fitted with a manual box. Go PDK and you're looking at 35.3mpg and 188g/km. The PDK transmission features a 'sailing' mode whereby the engine is decoupled during periods of trailing throttle or on longer downhill sections, dropping the engine revs to a mere 700rpm, further saving fuel. Prod the throttle and it will instantly resume duty. Residual values have held up reasonably well on the last Cayman and demand for the 981 series is so strong that industry specialists KeeResources predict a retained value of around 56 per cent after three years and 30/000 miles.
Make no mistake, the Porsche Cayman is a stunner, especially in 3.4-litre S guise. Here, you're getting the same engine and pretty much the same level of performance as you would in a base 911 Carrera - for £35,000 less. If, like us, you love 911s, that's something of a sobering thought. Having said that, you'll easily spend £10,000-£15,000 more than the £50,000 budget Porsche demands for this car with even a restrained trip through the options list. But it's worth it. There's nothing else that comes close to offering the same payoff in terms of chassis talents and depth of engineering. Well, except for a Boxster, but you're usually either a Cayman person or a Boxster person and there's not a lot of overlap on that particular Venn diagram. Porsche's rivals can look forward to quite a few years of their accustomed position, namely trying and failing to catch up.