Review of the new Porsche Cayman 2.9
It says a lot for a vehicle if it can remain desirable and relevant even in its basic entry-level form. If it's possible to argue the case for a poverty-spec derivative actually being the pick of the range, then so much the better. Any fool can take a serviceable car, cram in a big engine, beef-up the specification and bolt on some styling accessories to create a mouth-watering but prohibitively expensive range-topping version. The true measure of any model however, is whether it's still good when all this superfluity has been stripped away. Do the lesser versions that most buyers end up with still feel special? In the case of the entry-level 911, the Carrera2, the answer is yes but can Porsche's 2.9-litre Cayman pull a similar trick?
It seems to make sense. After all, if you stump up around £45,000 for the 3.4-litre Cayman S, there's a strong argument for suggesting you should have saved for a little longer and bought a 911. In contrast, at well under £40,000, even with a few well chosen extras, the Cayman 2.9 seems to make a lot more sense. Certainly, this car is within touching distance for the thousands of motorists who long for Porsche ownership but are forced by financial constraints to settle for sportscars without such an illustrious heritage.
The engine in question is a 6-cylinder horizontally-opposed or 'boxer' engine - so called because of the way each piston jabs out of the cylinder at the one opposite in the manner of two people knocking seven shades out of each other. The maximum power output of 265bhp is nothing to be sniffed at and the Porsche VarioCam Plus system helps to achieve a muscular torque output over a wide band of the rev range. The Cayman 2.9 can spirit itself to 60mph in just six seconds. There's a 160mph top speed to get to grips with where conditions allow and if you go a little easier on the throttle, the official average economy of 31mpg is surprisingly good.
"The Porsche Cayman, like the 911 and the Boxster is all about the driving experience..."
The Cayman is available with the Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) carried over directly from motor sport, and replacing the former Tiptronic S torque converter automatic transmission. When equipped with PDK, the Cayman accelerates from 0-62 mph 0.1 seconds faster than with the manual six-speed gearbox. Acceleration is particularly fast and dynamic with the optional Sports Chrono Package Plus featuring Launch Control; this offers maximum acceleration from a standing start and also a Race Track Gearshift Strategy for the fastest conceivable gear change as an exclusive highlight on the PDK models.
Porsche has shown us with the 911 its fondness for settling on a styling direction for its cars and sticking to it like a like a mute monk to his vow of silence. Sure enough, the latest facelifted Cayman isn't hugely different from the original car. The latest car has reshaped headlamps with indicators built in that resemble the units on the Carrera GT supercar. The air-intakes below have also been reshaped with horizontal bars for the outer ones in the front bumper that also house LED side lights. There's more of the in vogue LED lighting at the rear where the bumper has come in for some subtle tweaks. Far more salient are the changes to the suspension and steering designer to enhance the Cayman's exemplary driving experience.
Having tinkered with the suspension settings on the Cayman, Porsche predictably claims improvements to both handling and comfort. The power steering system has also been remapped with the aim of achieving a more agile and spontaneous feel. The Porsche Stability Management system is rightly regarded as the leading technology of its type and now features Brake Pre-Loading that primes the brakes in anticipation when the driver lifts off the throttle suddenly. An optional feature that's now available will please those who felt the Cayman was only a limited slip differential away from being a better car than the 911: it's a limited slip differential. This ensures that the car can put its power down more effectively in extreme handling scenarios and will be a must for buyers planning to take their car to the track.
The interior is remarkably spacious given the size of the car and although headroom may be limited for the very tall, most drivers will be able to get comfortable. One reason why the packaging is so good could be Porsche's laudable decision not to include rear seats. Market analysis will tell a cautionary tale of sportscar buyers in this sector shunning anything without four seats that isn't a convertible but the kind of seating you get in the back of small coupes tends to be nothing short of ludicrous. Anyone with legs of more than 18 inches in length will find it a physical impossibility to get into the rear of one of these cars which, for the most part, relegates the 'seating' to a mere storage role. Surely, it must be better to forego it altogether, as the Cayman does. Luggage compartments front and rear offer a combined 410-litre capacity to meet your storage needs.
The audio and communication systems have been comprehensively upgraded in the latest model. The standard car gets a plush CD radio system but the set-up to have is the optional PCM (Porsche Communication Management) version 3.0. This includes a hard disc satellite navigation server and a 6.5" touch screen monitor which houses all the controls neatly under one roof. Voice control makes the interface even more user-friendly and further options box ticking will bring iPod, USB and Bluetooth compatibility.
Elsewhere, the cabin is extremely well finished and Porsche offer a huge array of trim options so buyers can personalise their vehicle. Beware of outlandish colour combinations though, as residual value can be a fragile thing. Fire-up the 2.9-litre engine and you certainly don't feel as though you're missing out. It has decent refinement at low revs and that addictive metallic yowl chimes in as you approach the red line. The controls are superb from the pedal feel to the weight of the steering, there's no doubt that the Cayman was built by people with a deep understanding of how a sportscar should be.
The Porsche Cayman, like the 911 and the Boxster, is all about the driving experience. Not necessarily the power of the engine but more the poise of the chassis, the feedback through the controls, the way the whole car feels so solid and supple on the road. You still get all of this good stuff even in the entry-level 2.9-litre derivative, just without quite the same concussive acceleration as in the S. The Cayman 2.9 is nine tenths of the car that the Cayman S is and certainly not a million miles away from the legendary 911 in terms of its abilities on the road. Some entry-level cars feel distinctly second best next to their higher-spec stable-mates but if there is a compromise here, it's not a big one.