First Drives

18 February 2013

First drive: the new Porsche Cayman

"The new Cayman has moved the game on in every area..." Ollie Marriage reports

Ollie Marraige
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Right, no dilly-dallying about, just how good is it?

What, can't I tell you about the longer wheelbase, the 30kg weight reduction, the stiffer chassis, the extra power and torque of both the 2.7 and 3.4-litre engines, the attention to detail, the engineering? You know, give you a bit of preamble?

No, you may not. Now spit it out.

It's terrific. Exceptional. I've spent the afternoon driving both the 3.4-litre S (pictured) and the regular 2.7 and both handle and drive with such control and dexterity. The ride on huge 20-inch wheels is close to sublime and the damping, well, both cars were equipped with Porsche's optional PASM system and felt wonderfully fluent. Peel into a fast corner and it's rock solid, play with the throttle mid-corner and you can feel the car moving the balance around. With a couple of exceptions (more on which anon), the new Cayman has moved the game on in every area. In a way this comes as a surprise.

How so?

OK, not a massive surprise, but with the Cayman now firmly established in the model line-up Porsche would have been justified in taking its foot off the gas a little. The first Cayman was a difficult sell, dismissed in some quarters as a Porsche for those that couldn't afford a 911 and in all quarters by those puzzled that a coupe, traditionally the cheaper variant, was more costly than the convertible Boxster.

I'm assuming they've kept the pressure on?

Of course. This is Porsche we're talking about after all. So, there's a feeling this is a more purpose-designed and built Cayman than the first generation. That was based on a Boxster and bound to be a little compromised as a result. This time round both have been developed in parallel. And as a result improvements have been made: torsional stiffness is up a massive 40 per cent, for instance.

And it's so much better looking.

Isn't it? Bigger, heavier shoulders, so much more muscular and there's something about the angle of the hatchback rear and the shape of the haunches that's so right when viewed from the rear three-quarters. The front is fine, but plainer by comparison, but those deep, sucking flanks improve the stance so much, and overall the surfacing gives the Cayman a deeper, richer, more desirable twist. That's boosted by great detailing, especially the way the rear spoiler integrates with the lights. It's self-assured, boasts a far better sense of proportion than before and, provided you go for a good colour (not dark brown...), little short of captivating in the metal.

And what goes on underneath?

A choice of two engines and many, many options, most of which you don't need (a Cayman shouldn't be available with radar cruise or a keyless system in my opinion). Most people will spec the PDK gearbox because the 0-100kph times are faster, but the manual now has a similar rev-blip feature to the Nissan 370Z. It's foolproof and fun and mated to a honey of a six-speed manual. The 2.7-litre engine produces more power (271bhp) and torque (290Nm from 4,500-6,500rpm) than the outgoing 2.9 and in so doing becomes the first Cayman to produce more than 100bhp per litre. It has notably less zing than the (321bhp and 370Nm) 3.4-litre at low revs, but although it picks up well from 4,000rpm and has a claimed 0-100kph of 5.7 seconds, you get the feeling you'd have a hard time fending off Focus ST's in this naturally aspirated coupe. Does make a divine noise though, and as the flat-six doesn't whip through the revs, you get to listen to it for a good long time. Spec the optional sport exhaust and listen to the sounds of the distant Crimean War rumble and pop behind you. The 2.7 is noisier and more tuneful than it has any right to be and sounds just as fruity as the 3.4.

So should you upgrade to the S?

Tricky one. The upgrade costs a fair bit more and if you'd never driven the 3.4 I think you'd be perfectly content with the 2.7. However, you'd always be keeping a watchful eye out for determined hot hatches in the 2.7, while in the S, which uses a detuned version of the entry-level 911's 3.4-litre flat six, you'd know you had them covered. It's quick (0-100kph in 5.0 seconds), notably more energetic and punchier across the rev range. And it too sounds glorious, a real rich rasp, full of intent and intoxication.

Good. Now what about those causes for concern you mentioned earlier?

It's chiefly the steering. In any other car I wouldn't bother to mention it, but because the Cayman is so exceptional in other areas, the new electro-hydraulic steering sticks in the craw slightly. It's perfectly weighted, beautifully accurate, but there's this bit in the press pack where it says, ‘negative or unnecessary noise is filtered out' and I have a feeling that some of what's been filtered out would have been better left in. It's the same with the new 911: the steering is consistent and you know exactly where you are with it, but the electro-mechanical set-up lacks the last little bit of tingle and fizz that a hydraulic power steering system offers. The old Cayman's wheel used to jiggle and writhe a bit on bumpy roads, let you know about the surface, the camber and everything. This one doesn't do that as effectively. You feel it through the chassis as much as you do the steering. It's a small point, but one worth making.

True. But is this one better to live with?

Undoubtedly. There's a faint impression that the Cayman is now aimed at a broader, less specialist customer base, and the Cayman, even as a manual, is blissfully easy to drive. There's no challenge here, it's a perfectly refined and quiet cruiser that would handle long range weekends away with aplomb, (even the S manages 11.3kpl, giving a 727-kilometre range) and the twin boot set-up (150 litres in the nose, a maximum of 275 in the tail) gives it decent practicality. As long as you don't need to pack a pushchair or something. But then junior won't be accompanying you and your good lady in a Cayman anyway.

Quite right too.

Agreed. The trouble is though, I think it's the practical elements of the Cayman that have taken the greatest leap forward: the cabin design and quality are truly superb and dynamically it's the quietness, smoothness and composure that have most obviously moved the game on from the previous car. Don't get me wrong, the Cayman handles joyously and if you really take it by the scruff and hurl it down a good, tight, twisting road, it really knows how to engage and excite in a way that no rival this side of the far more compromised Lotus Exige can manage. I'd have one over an Audi TT RS or BMW M3/Z4 35i, and the base 335bhp Jaguar F-Type is going to have to watch its footing, priced as it is. This is a great car, one that's grown up and expanded its repertoire without losing the essence of what it means to be a mid-engined, driver-focussed Porsche. Yes, I'm a tad disappointed by the steering, but I'd happily, happily live with it and probably think no more of it after a month or so.

So, what's the final verdict?

9/10. Call it 9.5 in manual S guise. Want one badly.

Tags: porsche, boxster, cayman

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