There’s something intensely satisfying about an object whose sole focus is to do one thing very well, whether that’s a delicate Swiss watch or a pit miner. While completely different on the surface, both share a complete lack of compromise. You wouldn’t expect the watch to do your taxes, nor expect the pit miner to shuffle the kids to school.
Such is life with automobiles as well. Up until a few years ago, sedans were what you bought when you matured, SUVs were built to go off road, and sports cars were only meant for warm summer days with little chance of breaking down.
Now, we have supercars that you can use in all four seasons, SUVs that can turn laps faster than sports cars, and sedans lapping the Nurburgring faster than Formula 1 cars of 50 years ago. Porsche is as guilty as anyone in this department thanks to the all-wheel drive 911 Turbo, g-force-inducing Cayenne GTS and, soon, the ultra-rapid Panamera sedan.
It’s amazing to consider that the company’s latest sports car is also its purest. Launched in 2005, this ‘Boxster With A Roof’ has become widely recognized as the Porsche to drive if you love driving. Its mid-engined construction and nimble manners were melded with more powerful engines, and the result was near perfect. Only by blatantly ham-stringing the Cayman with fewer horses than a 911 and no mechanical limited-slip diff was Porsche able to keep the less-expensive two-seater from cramping its big brother’s style.
For 2009, Porsche buckled under pressure and uncorked the Cayman with a bunch of mid-cycle improvements that taken together push the ‘S’ version higher up the performance chart.
First is the introduction of gasoline direct injection to both engines, which helps boost both performance and fuel economy. The Cayman S now features more horsepower (320) from its 3.4-litre six-cylinder than the first 996-generation 911. That’s huge. Add all the performance toys, like custom 19-inch Sport Design wheels ($2,100), $4,170 one-piece Sport Seats, the $1,310 Sport Chrono package, the $2,720 Porsche Active Suspension Management, and the $1,300 limited-slip differential, and this little Porsche becomes one focused track machine.
Things to pass on? For such a small car, the $11,400 composite brake package seems overkill, especially as the big-red callipers (standard on the ‘S’) instill supreme confidence.
Of some concern is Porsche’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, called Doppelkupplung (or PDK). In theory, it’s a great improvement over the old five-speed TipTronic automatic, but compared to the company’s regular six-speed manual transmission, it’s clumsy. The thumb-switches on the steering wheel are severe impediments to smoothness. I understand Porsche’s desire to be different, but adopting traditional paddle shifters would make all the difference in the world, especially when you charge $4,660 to tick the PDK box.
Overall, prepare for some sticker shock, since what was a reasonably affordable $76,000 Cayman S has now transformed into a $94,070 track monster. However, it’s probably one of the most rewarding cars to drive, certainly more so than the base, no-option 911 Carrera that you could get for similar money.
I didn’t get the chance to drive the latest Cayman on real roads, being limited to laps around Mosport International Raceway during the Porsche World Roadshow, I did have enough time in the original to say that it handles the stop-and-go world very well. It’s one of those rare cars that flatter the driver immensely, certainly more than a 911 would anyway.
Porsche fanatics have been screaming for the company to build such a vehicle for years, and it’s finally done so. If given $100K and told to drop it all at a Porsche showroom, I know which way I’d go. What about you?
Price as tested: $94,070
Summary: Ultimate track-focused Cayman
Exterior Design: 8/10. Fantastic mixture of Porsche cues.
Interior Design: 7/10. Better design/materials than previously, but PDK buttons a nightmare.
Engine: 8/10. More power than a 996-vintage 911.
Transmission: 7/10. PDK works like a charm… Too bad you can’t remember how it works.
Audio/Video: 7/10. Upgraded navigation/communication system much easier to use.
Value: 8/10. Expensive for a Cayman, cheap for a Porsche with this level of performance.
Overall (not an average): 8/10
By Mark Atkinson
Photo Credit: Paul Giamou/Porsche Canada