By on July 6, 2006

CaymanS_1024c.jpgThe moment I dropped the hammer on the Porsche Cayman S, an entirely unexpected emotion welled-up inside: fear.  I was holding the wheel of the world’s best sports car on a perfectly-groomed country road and I couldn’t fully commit to a corner.  I wasn’t afraid of crashing— the Cayman is far too accomplished and forgiving and electronically mindful for that.  I was afraid of the unknown.  What if some dumb ass pulled out of a hidden drive without looking?  What if a child’s bike suddenly appeared just beyond the apex of a turn?  My sightlines were good, but my nerves were shot.  I suppose that’s what happens when you spend too much seat time in a Honda Odyssey.  

As I struggled to reclaim my high-speed equilibrium, I wondered how I’d ever decided that the Porsche Cayman S was underpowered.  If the mid-engined marvel was so acceleratively challenged, why was I dabbing at the stoppers almost as often as the go pedal?  If I had extra power underfoot, what the Hell would I do with it?  I’d either have to drive faster— a scarcely credible concept at the time— or find another road with big-ass sweepers.  The Cayman is a sports car, not a GT.  All my attempts to mind meld with the Cayman’s mojo foundered on the rocks of personal paranoia.


caymans06_03_1024.jpg And then, slowly, my brain formed the neurological pathways needed to parse the information the Cayman S was delivering to my hands, feet, body, eyes, ears and nose (I love the smell of smoking brakes in the morning).  Although I couldn’t string together two coherent corners, I began to see that it wasn’t impossible.  Although I couldn’t get her out of third gear, I stopped trying. As my faith in the Cayman’s stoppers grew, as the little tin top swept away my go-faster cobwebs and locked me into the now, all of those bad feelings disappeared.  I was getting faster and safer.  Confidence was high.

If you’ve never sampled a Cayman S (or a Boxster or Boxster S), here’s what happens.  For the first dozen miles or so, you think it's far too easy to drive for a “real” sports car.  Porsche's boffins have weighted all the major controls for delicacy and precision, rather than heft.  The helm answers with mindless ease.  The clutch action is lighter than a pedal-operated trash can (and plays like a slide trombone).  The brakes shed speed without apparent effort.  Once you get acclimatized, the Cayman S loses its chick car shtick… and starts to resemble an adrenalin-crazed hunting dog bouncing on its paws, waiting for that blissful moment when it can finally realize its genetic imperative.

caymans06_02_1024.jpg

And so it does.  The harder you thrash the Cayman S, the more sense it makes.  The car suddenly gets fitter, better, stronger, happier.  You forget the Cayman’s incredible lightness of being, and concentrate on its incredible fleetness of foot.  (There are four-term congressmen who can’t change direction as fast than this car.)  You don’t need any special skills to make the Cayman dance.  You can accelerate, point, turn.  Brake, turn, accelerate.  Turn, accelerate, accelerate.  Cha cha cha.  Unlike a Corvette C6 or BMW Z4M, the Cayman is the perfect partner; always ready to subsume its personality to flatter yours.  In that sense, it's also the perfect teacher.  With its reptilian grip, unflappable suspension, seat belt imprinting brakes and benign limits, you don’t have to get it right to A) live B) have fun and live. Just like the Boxster and Boxster S, the Cayman S makes you a better driver without ever punishing you for being a bad one.

So where’s the downside to this mid-engine merengue?  Power.  Yes, I know; I began by confessing a misbegotten urge for additional oomph.  Well I was right the first time.  There is no question whatsoever that the Cayman’s engine bogs down at low revs— especially compared to the seamless thrust delivered from 3000rpm to the all-too-easily discovered rev limiter.  First gear is a bit of a bun fight, and the bottom end of third and fourth forces you to either ease into or fully commit to speed– rather than just lunging at it whenever you like (as you can in Variocamland).  Another 100 horses spread peanut butter thick across the rev range would certainly prove helpful in this regard, Wendelin.


interior1.jpgThe second complaint is the car’s lack of soul.  The Cayman is a thoroughly German sports car.  In other words, it’s all about the driving, not the car.  Yes, you become one with the motorized scalpel that transforms you into a corner carving God.  But there’s nothing about the Cayman that tugs at your heart strings.  The new shape makes a valiant attempt; but it ends up being handsome rather than svelte.  The new engine sound is magnificent— in a brutally efficient sort of way. The interior’s controls are ergonomically sound, but undersized and deployed without a hint of the spizzarkle that makes a Ferrari ghetto fabulous.  In short, the Porsche Cayman S is nothing less– and strangely nothing more– than the ultimate driving machine.      

[Porsche provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.] 

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28 Comments on “Porsche Cayman S Revisited...”


  • avatar

    I’m drooling just thinking about it, but even when I do get the cash for a (used) porsche, I don’t think I could justify getting a cayman as my extra “just for fun” car when I could get the boxter with the slightly worse dynamics and get a convertible out of it. My desire for a droptop always ends up winning over the “go faster” side of me, especially as I’m not likely to ever take a car to a track day, and lets be honest: even a boxter at 7/10ths on the public roads is irresponsible in the extreme.

  • avatar
    nutbags

    Why oh why did you have to mention the Teletubbies. Now I can’t get that damn purse toting TinkyWinky out of my head. Damn you RF.
    One hell of a car though.

  • avatar

    The Cayman S has always inspired a perplexity of emotions in me. Mayhaps thats not what Prosche intended, but as a potential buyer, Im confused. The Cayman’s marketing bean counter inspired restrictions stop it from being all that it can be. How does one buy a BoxterS, when they really would love the Cayman? But how does one buy a Cayman, when they know it was designed to be a criple? Can you love something for the market force from which it was driven, or will that truth haunty you at every turn and every strait away, to know she could be so much more?

  • avatar

    I agree. Porsche should have unleashed the world’s best Cayman (complete with a bespoke interior) and let the chips fall where they may. Meanwhile the Frankensteinian tuning houses are having a field day.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    When after much cajoling of Porsche’s public relations department I finally got to drive the then-new Boxster in August of 1998, I took it out on the sweeping curves of Lake Washington Boulevard, here in Seattle. It had just rained that day and the asphalt was wet with water and most probably, some oil come to the surface.
    Coming up a hill I became Walter Mitty in the midst of a hillclimb rally. But just then, the tail started to dance as if I was driving a vintage 911; it moved to the right and I countersteered and it came around faster than a drunk divorcee on New Year’s Eve. (My apologies to Sam and the other ladies reading this for that sexist comment; but there is my distant memory of a New Year’s Eve in 1978….)
    Porsche’s mid-engined autos – yes, even the late, generally unlamented “shoebox” (as it became known among Porschephiles) 914 – can do amazing things; but you can only push the laws of physics and utilize the low polar moment of inertia so far. Sometimes you have to err on the side of caution, most especially in a crowded residential district. Children and companion animals seemingly come from nowhere. It was more than just the recent drive in a Honda minivan that caused you to be cautious, Robert. It was just that bit of common sense cancelling out the hormonal urge to floor the “go-fast” pedal and play Hurley Haywood.

  • avatar
    eslai

    That was the best description I’ve ever heard for the Boxster S clutch engagement point. Thanks! I’m going to use that in the future when I describe how much I hate the clutch on my car.

  • avatar
    JFingas

    The Cayman may be built to a price, but I can see two very convincing reasons to buy one.

    Sports car drivers are typically held back by all the burdens of everyday driving: speed limits, traffic, and weather. The 911′s power is ultimately wasted unless you live in a rural villa. Boxsters are only truly useful when the skies are clear. Why spend more than you have to, or shelter your ride in the garage for days at a time?

    Another, perhaps more subtle reason, is simply that the Cayman is Not a 911???. You might recognize a few styling cues, but it’s tangibly different than its iconic big brother. The 911 as the “logical” choice only serves to highlight why it’s not as interesting anymore: every balding executive with a penchant for cars already bought one because it made the most sense. Screw sense! Get the more controversial car – the one whose pricing and styling some people hate. While they bicker, you’ll enjoy a capable car and have money left over to actually drive it.

  • avatar

    Here’s another reason to buy a Cayman over a [non-C4 or turbo] 911: the Cayman is more fun to drive at lower speeds, and just as capable at higher ones.

    Just remember: spec it lightly.

  • avatar
    eslai

    JFingas: not sure I understand your comment–you do know you can put the top UP on a convertible, right? :) I drive my Boxster S daily and wouldn’t trade it for the more-expensive Cayman S, especially since the 2007 Boxster S has the same engine as the Cayman S!

  • avatar

    Here’s a reason to buy a Cayman over the Boxster S: the Cayman’s body rigidity makes the merely fantastic totally incredible.

    Anyway, let’s not forget that the Boxster S was TTAC’s Car of the Year 2005. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with the way that whip creams. If you know what I mean.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Buy the Cayman and have money left over to enjoy it ?

    I don’t think anybody who is seriously thinking about buying a 911 really cares about saving money.

    But I could be wrong. After all, I’m just a balding executive.

  • avatar
    Steve@Rennsport

    The Cayman is so bloody competant that its scary,……..

    Before long, we’ll be installing the X-51, 3.8 381 HP motor that will make a real ride in the right hands and I can hardly wait until someone asks for the GT-3 power train in one of these things.

    That promises to be a challenge but the net result will be worth it.

  • avatar
    adrift

    All cars are designed to a goal. No car is “unrestricted”. I have heard a number of people say they don’t want a car that was artificially held back. All cars are designed and sold to a price / performance target. None is the best car they could be.

    If you like the car, buy it. If you don’t, don’t. The rest is immaterial.

    Is it just me, or is this review strangely confusing? The car is described as the world’s best sports car…then as soul-less and under-powered. lol And then again as a BMW…uh…the ultimate driving machine. Reference intentional?

  • avatar

    The Cayman S is [somewhat] soul-less and underpowered. It is also the world’s best sports car, and a better “ultimate driving machine” than anything wearing the roundel.

    Go figure.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I haven’t driven the Caymen yet (Farago…), but I just want to testify that nothing in the world smells better than the behind of a well-thrashed Boxster.

    Because these suckers are underpowered, you are constantly are doing 7,000rpm in 3rd. And of course beating hooly hell out of the brakes.

    Such a great smell.

  • avatar
    yalej

    Not a car guru like the rest of you, but can anyone comment how a Cayman or Boxter (S variant or otherwise) compares to a current M3? A co-worker got one, and have me a ride in it. Was the most fun I have ever had in a car. Phenomenal acceleration and road grip. I would like to get a Porsche some time down the road so I'm curious how it compares.

  • avatar
    JFingas

    The Boxster might have a cloth top, but I don't think I'd trust that to keep me as warm in the winter as a metal roof.

  • avatar
    DaveClark

    To my eyes, the styling is off.  Handling may be spot on, and it's true one doesn't see the styling cues from inside with hands at 10 and 2, but at this price point everything matters.  Porsche deliberately detuned the power band of the Cayman to protect the 911 audience.  So at the end of the day, the car is a compromise.  But a well-executed one.  I just don't think it should have to wear a paper bag over it to love it.  There is no standard for visual chemistry, so others will certainly disagree.

  • avatar
    eslai

    Robert: “Here???s a reason to buy a Cayman over the Boxster S: the Cayman???s body rigidity makes the merely fantastic totally incredible.”

    I agree, but the problem is that if you’re going to come out with a car in your “budget” range and then give it a weird price, you gotta expect people like me who are going to think you’re well, bonkers, as opposed to Mr. Moneybags 911 Turbo Buyer where cost is at least LESS of an object, if not “no object”.

    The extra body rigidity doesn’t get me past the whole 11% cost differential over the Boxster S. I’d feel silly for buying a Cayman or Cayman S knowing that I got a Boxster with a fused hard top.

  • avatar
    KEMA

    Having just surpassed 3000 KM in my new Cayman S I can now safely say that I have never owned such a complete sports car before.

    Granted the 911 offers more punch and prides itself by being ‘the original’ but test driving the 911 997 and Cayman S back to back the choice was clear.

    You don’t get into a Cayman S and drive it. You wear it. Every prod on gas, every slam on the brakes, every twist in the road is accompanied by a huge smile and a sense of being one with your car.

    Even compared to the 911 Carrera S I have to say that the sporty feel is more profound in the Cayman. And just to be clear here – if the finances allowed for it I would probably go for the 911 S. But for pure sport there is no comparison.

    No regrets here and a warm recommendation to anyone considering their options. You will never look back.

    Ken

  • avatar
    Jayden

    Ken,
    I am happy to hear this. I have just placed an order for a 2007 Cayman S.
    However, I did not order the new ceramic break option. I did get the Sports Chromo package and the Active Suspension management as well as a series of other extras.
    I am wondering if you did opt for this 8.5kUSD option?
    If not, do you feel as though your car is lacking some breaking power? Or is it performing as one would expect from a Porsche?
    Cheers, Jayden

  • avatar
    riemer2

    I give you another reason to consider a used 911 C4S at the same price as the fully spec-ed Cayman: 1)depreciation in the first 1-2 years already happened 2)resale value probably higher after 5 years 3)4 Wheel drive available in the C 4 S(and believe me anything BUT 4 wheel-drive+PSM+plus snow tires makes your rear end wiggle more than Jen Lopez on the catwalk..) and last but not least 2+2 seating availability,if you have family/kids you can actually take them all to dinner in 1 vehicle if needed
    Agree however a midengine layout and sexy curves of the Cayman are clear pluses for the single driving enthusiast…

  • avatar
    ls5

    The real reason to get a Cayman is that the 911 is an engineering error (rear engined) that has been refined over the years- the Cayman is right to begin with. I’ve never been tempted by a 911, but when they started coming out with mid-engined cars, they got my attention.

  • avatar
    yetis

    The real reason to buy the CaymanS… the RUF Kompressor upgrading coming out in a couple months.. 440hp, thats all I will say.

  • avatar
    Greg Kennedy

    The Cayman S is a remarkable sports car. Fast, sure footed and reassuring to even a recreational driver. If buying new, be very selective regarding options which can easily drive the cost north of $70K. Better yet, find a used opted out Cayman S as I did and let someone else take the initial depreciation hit. This will surely increase the pleasure of your driving experience.

  • avatar
    moto

    “Ultimate” doesn’t mean what you think it means. While popular english obfuscation and marketing hype has convinced people that it signifies the “best”, in reality, the word’s origins signified “the latest of the series”.

    Primo = first; Ultimo = last

    So, whether or not you consider the Cayman S the latest or the greatest, I can assure you that this is among the top 5 production vehicles of all time in terms of dynamic responsiveness and balance. For those who lust primarily for power, insane amounts of it can be had in any vehicle, including the Cayman, with a bit of tinkering. What you CANNOT get in any other car is the Cayman’s amazing poise. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one major flaw: Porsche overpriced it. A car this good should be available to more buyers so then they would understand what they are missing. As it is, the very few who have the opportunity to own a Cayman must constantly explain to muscle car enthusiasts why the Cayman is so good, and their 400+ horsepower buggy is slower and less fun to drive around almost any curvy road course on the planet.

  • avatar
    bapcha

    There IS a cure Robert. RUF as in Alois Ruf.

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    re: eslai / July 6th, 2006 at 9:54 pm
    and eslai / July 10th, 2006 at 2:24 pm
    “I’d feel silly for buying a Cayman or Cayman S knowing that I got a Boxster with a fused hard top.”

    over the last 35 years, i have owned and operated four porsches: a 64c cabriolet for nine years; a 70 911t coupe for eleven years – both pre-owned vehicles – a new 97 boxster for ten years; and, as of last friday afternoon, a brand new cayman.

    as one can tell from the models i have chosen, i tend to favor cars with smaller, more economically-tuned motors that offer better gas mileage and a less expensive purchase price. i never race, rally or autocross them.

    so when it was time to consider my lastest purchase, i didn’t even bother to drive the cayman s. i was pretty sure i wanted the basic model – and after just one drive, i was absolutely certain.

    initially, i thought i would keep the boxster and the cayman, simply because i could – but now i’m not so sure. to me, the cayman is much more than just “a boxster with a fused hard top,” although this is at least partially explained in my particular situation by the age difference and evolutionary improvements between the two vehicles and the content with which each is equipped.

    living in san diego, i must admit i will certainly miss not being able to stow the top for those weather-perfect pacific coast drives and back-country mountain excursions my wife and i love to take. but i find the interior and exterior aesthetics; the sounds emanating from the engine compartment; its rock-solid rigidity and the cayman’s superior performance capabilities so much more to my liking than those of the vintage boxster that i simply don’t see myself preferring to drive the roadster that much anymore.

    on the one hand, that’s kinda sad. but on the other, it’s very exciting.


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