Porsche Cayman S

By Richard Homan, Date posted: 10-06-2005
At the risk of alienating my Inside Line colleagues, my best friends in automotive journalism, Jerry Seinfeld, and the whole of Porsche's PR machine, I have a confession to make: I've never thought much of the Boxster.

Now I ain't sayin' that Porsche's baby roadster doesn't deserve every fan it's got, or that the Boxster S doesn't turn a mean wheel in anger, I just don't think about it all that much. It's a good car, but it isn't going to contribute anything to the Porsche legend. The 2006 Porsche Cayman S sport coupe, on the other hand, is a car worth building dreams around. Pricewise, it's a stretch for the working enthusiast — starting at $58,900 — but it isn't beyond our reach like a 911 Turbo, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, or a Ferrari anything.

And if you multiply that price by a fun factor of 10, cubed and rounded off to the nearest high-speed corner, the result is a car that maybe deserves to be your favorite Porsche.

Thinking Out of the Boxster

But it's just a Boxster S with a steel cap, right? Not even. The Cayman S is a master's class in styling done on the Boxster theme. Round foglights punctuate the front end. Sharp, vertical-slatted air scoops in the rear quarters integrate hissfully into the Cayman S bodywork. And the tail end, sadly amphibian on the Boxster, now snarls from the center dual exhaust all the way up the car's hatchback spine. The midengine two-seater's overall shape is unmistakeable as anything but a Porsche, referencing the marque's highlights without imitating itself.

Getting to Heaven By Way of Zuffenhausen

Under that hatchback, there's 9.1 cubic feet of storage — twice that of a Boxster. And under that storage space, ahead of the rear axle, is the Cayman S's 24-valve, four-cam, 3.4-liter, flat-six engine bolted to a six-speed manual transmission. A Tiptronic unit is available, but I'm short on space and you're short on time so let's concentrate on the performance setup.

Based on the Boxster S's 3.2 six, the Cayman S's 295-horsepower six draws its inspiration from a variable intake manifold, cylinder heads imported from the 911 Carrera S, and the 911's VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift. The engine snaps the Cayman S to attention just off idle, and lays down a flat field of peak torque — 251 pound-feet — between 4,400 and 6,000 rpm. There's not a dead spot anywhere in the powerband. And in a 2,955-pound car with a close-ratio six-speed, that's a party you don't want to miss.

Porsche figures a 0-60-mph time of 5.4 seconds. Shorter 1st and 2nd gears aid the Cayman S — about 45 pounds heftier than the Boxster S — in its quickness campaign. Finding the 1st-gear gate posed a vague challenge, but every other up and down gear change was tight and flawless. Matching revs on downshifts is easier than falling asleep during a Bruckner symphony, and slipping past slower traffic (in this car, it's the only kind of traffic you'll encounter) is a thrilling cinch.

Everything You Need Under One Roof

About 1,000 times more listenable than Bruckner, the Cayman S engine is a powerful presence within the cabin. The seats, clad in leather, could use a touch more bolstering, but they've got plenty of electronic adjustments to tailor your ideal fit. The tilt/telescoping steering wheel mitigates the need for more legroom, only a real concern for taller drivers.

As can be clearly seen in the Cayman profile, headroom is not a problem for anyone, no matter how tall-torsoed. There's a veritable troposphere of space beneath the vaulted Cayman roofline. Outward vision is surprisingly manageable in all directions, with a little help from the mirrors. And the Cayman interior also supplies one of the best sports car moments around: staring through a thick-rimmed, leather encrusted steering wheel into a huge center tach — black numbers against a white background, redlining at 7,300.

Platform Soul

Adding a roof to any structure is a sure way to add stiffness. Porsche tunes this law of physics to the Cayman's advantage. The car's newfound structural unity — it's twice as resistant to flex as the Boxster — allows Porsche to play with spring, strut and antiroll bar settings to engage corners much more aggressively, but still maintain ride quality.

With the history books steeped in tales of aft-engined Porsches swapping ends at inopportune moments, it's no surprise — and frankly somewhat comforting — to learn that the Cayman S, although midengined and rear-drive, is set up to understeer when overcooked into tight corners. You can still get the car to tuck into a turn with a smart drop-throttle maneuver, but the legendary, operatic oversteer is not part of the result. This benefit generally holds true whether you're riding on the standard 18-inch wheels and tires, or the optional 19s.

The standard Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system chaperones the Cayman S's poise into and out of corners, and pretty much stays out of the way unless the system senses that the driver has run out of natural talent and can use a hand. Optional PASM, or Porsche Active Suspension Management, allows the driver to choose between a sporty but comfy mode and a full-on race-worthy setup at the touch of a button on the dash. PASM's Normal mode is quite livable, sucking up bad road with ease. Meanwhile, the Sport mode takes body roll out of the equation and rattles the cockpit more, letting you do amazing things as long as the road stays fairly racetrack smooth.

The Cayman S's variable-assist rack and pinion steering is classic Porsche, with spot-on feel and action that's so direct, it's the next best thing to psychic. Likewise, the brakes — four-piston calipers clamping down on only moderately sized discs — responded whip-crack quick and possessed ungodly good feel under foot.

Unified Field Theory

It's hard to talk about any one aspect of the Cayman S's driving dynamics without trying to include others in the same breath. The engine marches in perfect synch with the transmission. And the suspension moves in unison with the unibody, and changes directions, or stops, seamlessly at the whim of the driver. The 2006 Porsche Cayman S isn't perfect, but it sure knows the way to perfect.