Thursday, January 15, 2009

Porsche Cayman S

What is it?

More than ever the Cayman S is now a serous threat to its 911 relatives. The previous Cayman S always felt like it was being reined in by Porsche to prevent it taking sales from its key model. With the new Cayman S Porsche has changed that, the 3.4-litre engine delivering more forceful performance thanks to the addition of 25bhp. That's enough to push the Cayman S above the 300bhp bracket to 320bhp, allowing it in its ultimate PDK (twin-clutch, automatic) and Sport Chrono-equipped guise to sprint to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds.

Even without that trick, optional performance-enhancing gearbox and the launch control it brings combined with the Sport Chrono pack the Cayman S is a seriously fast car with a 5.2 second 0-62mph time and 172mph capability. As ever the Cayman S has an understudy in the form of the smaller engined non-S model, changes to it raising its capacity from 2.7-litres to 2.9-litres and swelling its power output by 20bhp.

Key changes to both models include the availability of a limited-slip differential, this allowing the Cayman to fully exploit its additional pace and add significantly to its already impressive dynamic ability. Indeed, such is the change that the new limited-slip differential specified Cayman S seriously challenges Porsche's own 911 models for dynamic ability.

Does it do the job?

That we're even mentioning the Cayman S as a threat to the 911 seriously underlines that it does the job. Since the Cayman S and its lower output Cayman relative were first launched many have called for Porsche to up its power to take advantage of its brilliant dynamic ability. Much of that is thanks to the Cayman's mid-engine positioning, it employing a recognised and proven engine position compared to the 911's unusual rear-engined layout. That might mean that the Cayman cannot offer the cabin space of the 911, but that's a small price to pay for its tremendous dynamic ability.

Porsche has tweaked the steering and suspension of its new Cayman range and it's done a phenomenal job. The steering is super quick and offers measured weighting and the sort of feel that few rivals can match. The clarity of the information coming through the Cayman's chunky steering wheel allows you to place it with real confidence, the rear faithfully following your input at the wheel. Beautifully balanced, the rear can be provoked into oversteer if you want it, the Cayman S easily caught and enjoyed at and above its limits of grip.

The 3.4-litre engine of the S offers real linearity in its delivery with it pulling with real vigour from low revs to its 7,500rpm. It's a great sounding engine, which despite the addition of direct injection hasn't lost its voice like the 911. It sounds great but what's really surprising is it feels 911 quick and even more flexible than its relative. That sensation is increased thanks to the Cayman S's ability to carry its speed confidently through the bends where you might be a bit more circumspect with a 911. Changing gears is either a robotised dual-clutch PDK 7-speed transmission with its hopelessly clumsy wheel-mounted buttons or a conventional six-speed manual. The PDK is unquestionably a hugely efficient means of changing gears - both in speed and economy - but using it robs you of real interaction with the car. Choose the six-speed manual and spend the near £2,000 the PDK commands on something else.

Something like the new limited-slip differential. Of all the options Porsche offers on the new Cayman the limited-slip differential is key. It brings a new level of dynamic ability to the car, ensuring the S will embarrass a good few 911 and supercar drivers at track days. The brakes, whether the super-expensive optional ceramic discs or the standard steel ones offer Porsche's typically sensational retardation.

For the ultimate in ride and handling tick the option box for PASM - Porsche Active Suspension Management. It enables the Cayman to deliver remarkable ride comfort despite its focus. The body control is sensational with a PASM-equipped car with roll-free cornering and remarkable composure and control almost regardless of the severity and contours of the tarmac passing beneath its wheels.

Should I give it garage space?

Absolutely, though you'll rarely feel inclined to park it up. The Cayman S is a remarkable sports car. It eclipses its obvious rivals for poise and precision and is so close to its 911 relative to make the Carrera look pointless unless you really need the additional space its interior offers. That's not to say the Cayman is a hugely impractical sports car, it's not. It offers two luggage areas, a large storage compartment up front and plenty of luggage space under its rear hatch. If that's still not enough then the platform above the engine in the two-seater cabin can be used as additional storage space.

Porsche's adoption of direct injection on the 3.4-litre flat-six engine hasn't just liberated more power it's also improved the economy. A PDK equipped Cayman S is able to deliver just over 30mpg on the official combined cycle and CO2 emissions on all is under 225g/km. Given the performance on offer that's a remarkable achievement.

With the Cayman S's list price a shade over £44,000 it's something of a performance bargain - even if you can't resist dipping into the options list. For those not so concerned about ultimate pace the regular Cayman will save you around £8,000 - and it's barely slower, either. Some will lament your decision as opting for a poor relation to the 911, but you'll silence any doubters if you take them for a drive.


5 stars

The Cayman S has always been teetering on the edge of brilliance and the changes Porsche has made to the new car ensures it delivers enormous thrills as a driver's car. The previous car always felt like it could deliver so much more and the new car addresses this. To the point where the S is more than a measure for all but the most extreme models in Porsche's 911 line up. That's perhaps a canny decision in these more cost conscious times, the Cayman S certainly no poor relative to its iconic 911 relative. Indeed, whisper it, the Cayman S is perhaps the best sports car Porsche produces.


Model: Porsche Cayman S
Price: £44,108
Engine: 3436cc flat-six petrol
Power: 320bhp at 7200rpm
Torque: 273lb ft at 4750rpm
Performance: 0-62mph 5.2 seconds, 172mph
Fuel economy: 29.4mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 223g/km
On sale: February

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