Marina’s resident motoring writer gets behind the wheel of the latest Porsche Cayman s and discovers it could just be all the sports car you’ll ever want…
As a life-long motoring enthusiast, I’ve been extremely fortunate to get behind the wheel of some truly fantastic vehicles in my time – from luxury cars to lowly little hatchbacks, SUVs to sports cars, even the odd van or two – but there’s one brand that stands apart for me, and that is Porsche.
When it comes to testing a boat, skill and experience notwithstanding, it’s comparatively easy to explore the full potential. Open water trials allow you to push the engines to their maximum operating window and you can throw the vessel around with ample room to spare. Do the same with a road car on today’s busy congested streets and things get a little more tricky. Try to find those limits in a 321bhp, £50,000 high performance sports car like the Cayman S on a public road and you’re likely to run into problems with the law very quickly.
So when Porsche invited me up to Silverstone – home of their UK Porsche Experience Centre – for a day driving their latest and greatest models on a private testing track, that was one experience I wasn’t about to miss.
Located on the main perimeter road that circles around the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit, the Porsche Experience Centre boasts nearly 5km of specially designed track that incorporates a handling circuit set up like a challenging country road with interesting and unexpected gradients, flowing corners and camber changes. There are also low-friction areas, including a water jet covered 7% slope to mimic driving on ice, a kick plate designed to induce a slide or spin, a polished limestone circuit for understanding oversteer and understeer, and two long straights where you can safely explore full acceleration and braking potential, and high-speed direction changes. All of which combine to provide a thorough testbed to safely extract every ounce of performance from both car and driver.
Launched in 2005, it’s easy to dismiss the Cayman as little more than a hard-top Boxster, and it’s certainly true that both models share much of their components, interior, engines and even styling. However, that fixed roof has allowed Porsche to build a car that is both stiffer and sportier than the open-top Boxster as well as providing far more luggage space – something the Boxster has always lacked – making it a rather more practical choice.
If outright performance is all you’re interested in then the flagship 911 range offers the ultimate rewards in that respect. But the lighter, more compact, purely two-seater Cayman is the truer drivers’ car.
With a mid-engine configuration, the Cayman provides near-perfect weight distribution and handling balance. Where the 911 Carrera coupe has gone for pure luxury, Porsche’s more focussed approach towards the Cayman has resulted in a car that rewards its driver with fantastic steering poise, keen pricing and a communicative, engaging drive that outshines its heavier and slightly numb-feeling Carrera brother.
And the performance gap isn’t as large as you might think. Where the base-spec Cayman makes do with just 271bhp from its Boxster-sourced 2.7-litre flat-six engine, the Cayman S features the larger 3.4-litre from the out-going 911 Carrera, de-tuned by 25bhp or so.
takes just five seconds for the 0-60 dash
Coupled to a sensational six-speed manual gearbox with perfectly spaced ratios, that 3.4-litre, flat-six engine takes just five seconds for the 0-60 dash – granted, the excellent PDK 7-speed auto with paddle-shift might shave 0.3 seconds off that, but for sheer enjoyment and driver engagement nothing quite beats the feeling of a manual shift, particularly when it comes equipped with an automatic throttle-blip feature to match the revs on down-shifts.
The Driving experience
Out on the open road you get a sense of what the Cayman is capable of. Threading through corners, the electric power steering is perfectly weighted and the feeling of outright grip is immense. You can place the car precisely where you want to with minimal effort and complete confidence.
Take it to the safety of the Experience Centre track, though, and the car really comes alive – the knowledge that there’s no other traffic or road hazards to temper your enjoyment means you can charge at the bends and really find the limits, and those limits might just amaze you. Trail-braking into a fast corner, the front wheels load up and the feeling of poise is sublime – the car just grips, and at speeds that you’d never try on public roads. But it’s the slower, tighter corners that really surprise and it’s here that you get a true understanding of handling and the driver aids at your disposal.
With such feedback as this car offers you can dive into bends and feel the grip through your fingertips, provoking a rear-wheel slip on demand and fully exploiting the Porsche Torque Vectoring and the mechanical limited-slip differential to keep everything under complete control.
Braking is also immense. Porsche state that before their models can leave the factory they must be able to stop from any given speed in half the time it takes to reach that speed – in a car that can reach 60mph in just 4.7 seconds (PDK) that’s quite something, but what’s more impressive is the chassis dynamics under heavy braking and sudden changes in direction – the kind of situation you might encounter when needing to take emergency avoidance action.
Porsche Stability Management, fitted as standard, continually monitors direction, speed, yaw velocity and lateral acceleration maintaining stability and traction even at the limits of dynamic driving. In normal conditions PSM monitors for oversteer and understeer, applying selective braking on individual wheels to restore stability – and it works supremely well. Under braking that same system predicts your actions. If you suddenly release the accelerator pedal, PSM automatically prepares for your next action: the braking system is precharged so that the brake pads are already in light contact with the brake discs and maximum braking power is therefore achieved much sooner. Brake assist detects a panic-braking situation and generates the brake pressure required for maximum deceleration.
Experienced on the track it takes your breath away, experienced on the road… Well, it might just save your life.
A closer look
The interior of the Cayman S is an exercise in form and function. Beautifully assembled with the highest quality leather, everything falls neatly to hand enhancing driver engagement.
Deep, comfortable sports seats hold you perfectly, even when sliding around the track. The gearlever is positioned tight and close to the wheel to aid ergonomics and all the functions of the on-board computer and climate controls are intuitive to find and select.
The steering wheel puts your hands in just the right place and is pleasingly devoid of the myriad buttons for phones, cruise control and audio so many manufacturers feel we need.
The first generation Cayman was a little cramped, but the latest model with its slightly longer wheelbase offers increased comfort for those over 6ft tall, and a generally more spacious interior with great visibility (although parking sensors are an optional extra should you feel the need).
Luggage capacity is good too, at least for a two-seater performance car. Open the boot and you’re welcomed by a shallow loading area that covers the engine bay. Although not vast, Porsche claim this area has a volume of 275 litres. There are two deep storage bins either side of the engine cover in the rear and a little space behind the seats, though not much if you’re a tall driver. Up front and things prove more useful with under-bonnet storage offering 150 litres of deep, well-shaped space. Not class-leading, perhaps, but certainly far more practical than the Boxster and much of the competition.
Living with a Cayman S
With a car designed for high performance it’s safe to say it should stand up to the every-day rigours of on-road use. Porsche build quality is exceptional and they always score well in the driver surveys so reliability should be of little concern. General servicing and running costs can be a little high, but CO2 emissions are acceptable at just 211g/km. Fuel efficiency isn’t too bad either with the 3.4-litre Cayman S offering 31.4mpg combined (and 34.4mpg with the PDK gearbox). Explore that potential too often, though, and your fuel costs will rocket.
Later in 2016 the Boxster and Cayman models will switch to a new line of flat-four-cylinder turbo petrol engines – good news for the CO2 and fuel efficiency figures – but gone will be the glorious flat-six wail of the current engines.
When it comes to driver involvement and sheer enjoyment the Cayman S is peerless. Unless you need the additional cramped seats or phenomenal performance offered by Porsche’s flagship 911 range, the Cayman really is the better option.
Engine size: 3.4-litre flat-six-cylinder, petrol
0-62mph: 5.0 seconds
Top speed: 176mph
Fuel economy: 31.1mpg (combined)
Boot Capacity: 425 litres (extending to 1,510 litres)
Price: From £48,783