PORSCHE CAYMAN S NEW CAR ROAD TEST
Viewed in the most simplistic terms, Porsche's Cayman is little other than a Boxster with a tin top. Delve a little deeper and it could be the precursor to a whole range of Porsches that could knock the 911 from its pedestal. Porsche tried this once before with the 928 series, but could the Cayman be the car to finally knock the legend into touch?
Recent developments at Porsche have been illuminating. When they set out to build a no compromise supercar - the Carrera GT - it didn't sling its engine out back as the 911 does, instead using a mid-engined layout akin to the Boxster and Cayman. Any chassis engineer worth their salt will be able to expound at length on the compromises such a rear-biased weight distribution forces on handling dynamics. Whispers that the Cayman S has lapped the Nurburgring in 8 minutes and 11 seconds - a full 4 seconds quicker than a 911 Carrera - will also heighten suspicions that this vehicle is at once a tehncial showpiece and a stalking horse designed to put a nail in the 911 once and for all.
That's the conspiracy theory. The reality is that the Cayman S is, publically at least, proclaiming itself as little more than a stepping stone from Boxster to 911 ownership, hence the price tag of £44,080. If that's a little on the high side and you don't need nearly 300bhp, there's also a 2.7-litre entry-level Cayman variant with 245bhp for £36,220.
The Cayman S - codenamed the '987 C7S' in Porsche parlance - is powered by an engine based on the old Boxster S unit, but which has been bored out to 3.4-litres. It also borrows the VarioCam Plus system from the 911 which uses electro-hydraulic tappets to vary the timing and lift on both inlet and exhaust valves. This helps boost power to a healthy 295bhp. Weight has crept by a mere 5kg over the Boxster, endowing the Cayman S with a superior power to weight ratio than its soft-topped sibling. Tipping the scales at 1340kg, the Cayman S is still decidedly svelte compared to the Nissan 350Z (1545kg), the Audi TT 3.2 (1520kg) and even the lightweight BMW M3 CSL (1385kg).
"With 295bhp mounted amidships, this Cayman has quite some bite"
The Cayman S shares around half of its componentry with the Boxster S in order to share development costs between the two product lines but aside from that roof, there are some notable differences. Although track and wheelbase is the same as per the common platform, the suspension has been modified to endow the Cayman with a sharper feel. Firmer springs, stiffer dampers, meatier anti-roll bars and beefier bushings all combine to give the Cayman a more focused agenda. There have also been changes to the stability control system and the anti-lock brakes to give keen drivers a little more margin for experimentation. Built alongside the Boxster at the Valmet plant in Finland, Porsche aim to sell around 10,000 Caymans each year. Some analysts have suggested that these sales tend to come from Audi TT owners looking to trade up to something a little more hardcore, and Nissan must be worried that the 350Z's reign as the king of the sporting coupes could well be coming to a swift end.
In order to keep the production lines rolling, Porsche are banking on customers accepting the Cayman's rather unusual styling. While it looks great from the front and rear, the three-quarter aspects of the car can occasionally look a little gawky given the domed rear haunches and low bootline. The Cayman shares the Boxster's bonnet, headlights, front wings, doors and tail lights but beyond that the steel metalwork is all custom. The front bumpers have been modified with bigger air intakes into which beady fog lights are indented. The tapered engine intakes on the side of the car don't look quite as elegant as those on the latest Boxster although the rear hatch design is a very neat piece of styling. This opens remotely via a button on the key fob and offers up a reasonable amount of space. Some storage space behind the seats gives a total of 260 litres which when added to the 150 litres up front means the Porsche is more practical than it has any right to be.Slightly longer than the Boxster, the Cayman is also 13mm taller yet the width remains unchanged at 1801mm.
Keen drivers will know that the addition of a fixed roof brings added torsional rigidity, with improvements to handling and refinement, and the Cayman is said to be stiffer than a 911 Carrera. A rear spoiler deploys at 75mph, doing a good job of alerting the boys in blue should you breach the motorway speed limit - something that should be rather simple to do in a car that boasts a power to weight ratio of 207bhp per tonne. For those who feel that this isn't enough, rumours persist that Porsche is planning a lightweight track special version of the Cayman which could bring back the classic GTS badge.
Although the styling may well divide opinion, it's unlikely there will be anything about the Cayman's driving dynamics that generate cause for complaint. Porsche dealers are already reporting massive interest in the car and the waiting list is growing fast. Don't buy to speculate as you're already way too late for that. Instead feel safe in the knowledge that you're getting 911-style capability with a better balance for £44,080. It's easy to see a place for the top end 911 GT3s and Turbos but for the Carrera, the writing could well be on the wall. The issue for Porsche is that the Carreras are where the profit margins lie, the GT1-derived engines of the racier 911s still being enormously expensive to produce. The Cayman may throw up as many questions as answers but it's a car you'll be itching to drive.