Driving Northwest: The Porsche Cayman

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by TOM VOELK / KING5 News car expert

NWCN.com

Posted on March 18, 2010 at 3:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 1 at 10:13 AM

Porsches aren’t like other cars. The ignition is on the left hand side of the steering column. Their designs are fiercely original. The company doesn’t compete on price alone. There’s also a good chance you’ll find the engine behind the passengers. No, not many car companies do it the way Porsche does.

Desirable? Sure. Affordable? No so much but there are models that can be purchased by those with fewer sheckles than Bill Gates. The Cayman fits that description. Kinda. Sorta. Prices begin at $52,350 with destination. Good news considering a 911 Turbo S Coupe runs $159,100. My tester stickers for $58,040 with a few popular options so kids flipping burgers won’t be tooling around in these.

Refinement, not revolution

Another reason things are different at Porsche is models don’t get radical changes. The 911 is the perfect example. Looking much the same as it did 40 years ago it’s a completely different car. If you’ve eyed the shapely Cayman with envy in the past, know that Porsche calls the ones currently in the showroom the second generation. Don’t feel too bad if you can’t tell the diff between Gen 1 and 2.  Only Porsche fanatics will notice the slight exterior differences which include new headlights, front fascia air intakes and LED tail lamps. A radical re-skin this is not.

It’s also hard to see the upgraded engine since it lives under carpet in the area most consider to be the trunk. It’s now a 2.9-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine making 265. That’s up 20 from Gen 1. Torque is rated at 221 lb-ft from 4400 to 6000 rpm. If that’s not enough power for you there’s the Cayman S with its new 3.4-liter engine. It churns out 320 horsepower at 7200 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque at 4750 rpm. That’s all I’ll write about the S until Porsche hands me the keys to one. Hint, hint…

Enjoy the sound of machinery? This precision noise coming from behind the passengers is pure sonic joy. This is not a homogenized motor, it’s a Rolex watch amplified to 11. It feels substantial. It sounds substantial. It’s what you’re paying for.

Now available with Doppelkupplungsgetriebe 

Another upgrade? Porsche’s new 7-speed dual clutch transmission. It’s real name is Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe but you can call it PDK (Porsche does). Think of it as two gearboxes bolted together, one taking the even speeds, the other the odd. Sharing duties this way allows “blink of an eye” gear changes since the next shift is always anticipated by the box that will handle it. It’s like two major league baseball pitchers playing catch 5 feet apart. Fully caffeinated.

The shift lever looks like an automatic transmission unit and PDK can be used that way. It can also be thrown into manual mode where it upshifts sequentially, 1st through 7th (which is overdrive). Adapting to varied driving situations the PDK can skip gears when downshifting, even leaping from 7th to 2nd if need be. Shift from the console lever or steering wheel buttons. Unlike some auto writers l really like the way the wheel buttons operate.

Gee forces 

Standard Caymans spool up to 60 MPH in an impressive 5 and a half seconds from a standstill. Being a Porsche, serious lateral G-forces and great handling dynamics are a given. That said, Cayman’s mid engine design is especially confident in a curve. Looking for a car that hardwires into your nervous system? This is your ride. It’s not overly quiet but part of the appeal here is enjoying the motor. Ride quality is very firm, but hey, no one expects Lexus cush here. EPA fuel economy is 20 city, 29 highway with the PDK tranny, pretty decent for a performance car (dropping a couple with the standard manual 6-speed gearbox). Cayman drinks premium fuel. 

Brakes are important when the mission is performance. The standard anti-lock units with cross-drilled rotors and 4-piston monobloc aluminum calipers are impressive and fade free. Ceramic composite brakes are optional.

Great for Costco runs?

Many folks view Cayman as simply a hardtop version of the convertible Boxster but Porsche considers it a completely different model. They say the rigidity added by the fixed roof allows them to set the suspension differently making the experience that much better. They also claim that people forget about the Cayman. Lost in the controversy of the Cayenne SUV and the classic nature of the rear engine 911 I suppose.

Compared to the Boxster, there’s more room in the rear for cargo. As you know, my standard trunk measurement metric is Kirkland brand bath tissue which just happens to be the size of a standard suitcase. The rear engine bay area can easily handle two of them. Oh but wait, there’s more (sounds like an infomercial). Cayman has the ability to play the TP trunk test bonus round. There’s room under the hood as well. Watching people’s faces when loading stuff into the front end is kind of fun. Two more packs fit here. Consider it the practical Porsche. After a hard drive, careful when loading up the back end. The center mounted tailpipe gets toasty.

German engineered cupholders

The snug cabin uses very high quality materials, many parts look over engineered. Especially large folks may find this space tight, that’s why there are test drives. Performance cars need clear simple gauges. Cayman has those. There’s also a meaty steering wheel and surprisingly supportive seats (the bolstering appears minimal). There’s little padding on the standard chairs, I have to wonder about long road trip comfort.  Porsche tries to help by providing lots of small storage cubbies and quite possibly the word’s most elaborate cupholders. They impressively spring from the passenger side instrument panel, wowing everyone who sat there.

But refreshing beverages will be rightfully ignored when the road turns twisty. If I haven’t hammered this home, the Cayman is supremely capable and entertaining to drive. Are there less expensive performance cars? You bet, especially when you start adding options. A friend of mine complains he can buy two Nissan 370Zs for the cost of the Porsche. I argue you can only drive one car at a time (rimshot please). Really though, the argument for the Cayman is this- It’s a unique machine for automotive connoisseurs, a machine that feels like a machine and not an appliance.  If you have the means, there is no substitute.

 

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