Porsche’s second-generation Cayman S is so good, it raises the question, who needs a 911?
Following its launch in 2006, the Cayman was quickly dismissed by some as a poor man’s 911. Yet,
in reality, Porsche’s mid-engined sports car is closer to the original Porsche breed than its larger rear-engined brother.
Porsche’s first-ever car, built in 1948 and auspiciously known as ‘Number One’, was in fact mid-engined. Founding father Ferdinand Porsche only decreed that the engine should be shifted to the rear during the development of the 356 — the forerunner to today’s 911 — to enable a rear row of seats to be installed.
So, practicality overruled dynamics and multiple generations of tail-happy 911s were born. The reality is it took Porsche the best part of half a century to master the rear-engined format. Meanwhile, in the intervening years, mid-engined designs were churned out by rivals from Ferrari to McLaren. The fluid dynamics afforded by perfect 50:50 weight distribution made the mid-engined format the design of choice for the world’s preeminent sports car manufacturers.
Read: Porsche Panamera S Hybrid review
Having ridden a wave of popularity in the 1970s and ‘80s, Porsche fell off the radar in the early 1990s. Struggling financially, the company was lumbered with an ageing 911 and limited model range.
Battling irrelevance and facing possible extinction, Porsche decided to pursue the development of an affordable, mid-engined sports car in a bid to salvage its fortunes. As a result, the massively popular soft-top Boxster was born, saving Porsche from financial disaster and kickstarting the manufacturer’s renaissance, which has led to the development of other hugely profitable models, such as the Cayenne off-roader.
Born from the Boxster platform, the first-generation hard-top Cayman also proved a sales success, despite its price premium over the similarly capable soft-top and positioning beneath the 911.
Launched in the Middle East earlier this year, the second-generation model improves on the original concept in every way and provides a formidable rival to big brother 911. Sitting in the latest model, which borrows the rising centre console and other cockpit cues from the 911 and four-door Panamera, the Cayman feels noticeable larger and classier than its predecessor.
Turn the key and the naturally aspirated 3.4 boxer engine standard in the Cayman S fires to life. With 239kw and 370Nm on tap, the seven-speed PDK-equipped test car powered to 100km/h in under five seconds, although relatively tall gearing makes it feel slower than this.
Drivers increasingly accustomed to the instant grunt provided by modern direct-injection turbo engines may be a little underwhelmed by the relative lack of pace off the line, although launch control and a sweet-revving top-end somewhat compensates for this. The Cayman S really shows its mettle in the bends, despite there being a distinct lack of driver’s roads in the Gulf.
Still, on our test drive which covered mostly deserted roads on the outskirts of Dubai, the little Porsche proved hugely entertaining. Shift the PDK transmission to Sport Plus and the Cayman powers through the gears, while the mid-engined, ultra-stiff chassis provides flat, stable and involving handling. While others have criticised Porsche’s move to adopt electric steering, the Cayman’s set-up is highly communicative and is aided by a beautiful, thin rimmed and leather wrapped steering wheel, flanked by aluminium paddles.
The seven-speed PDK remains among the best of the latest generation of double-clutch gearboxes and is noticeably smoother and faster than Volkswagen’s DSG equivalent. A stop-start feature that cuts the engine at idle and disengages the gearbox while coasting at speed also provides noticeable economy benefits.
Still, there are a couple of drawbacks. Some tire drone at motorway speeds makes the Cayman feel a little labourious on longer journeys, and that doughy low-speed throttle response can prove tiresome in traffic.
But perhaps the biggest problem with the Cayman is the price. At $61,000 the standard Cayman S seems a relative bargain. However, Porsche learnt a thing or two about the commercial benefits of upselling customers during its lean years in the 1990s, so items you’d expect standard come at a price.
Our test car was fitted with almost $20,000-worth of mostly-desirable options, bringing the price into the realm of far more exotic machinery, not to mention the $93,000 911.
$81,000 is a lot of coin for a little Porsche, particularly considering the standard Cayman S offers the same level of driver satisfaction without the accessories. Still, when parking sensors, floor mats and alloy wheel caps (!) come standard on many sub-$15,000 econo-boxes, but not on the Cayman, you have to wonder who is taking who for a ride.
THE GOOD STUFF
• Steering. Highly communicative, the Cayman is fitted with one of the better examples of Porsche’s electric steering.
• Sublime balance. Flat, stable, involving handling.
• Beautiful interior and a major leap forward compared to the first-generation model.
• Strong performance from naturally aspirated 3.4 boxer engine. Stunning Porsche flat-six growl towards redline. Engine performs best above 5,000rpm.
• Seven-speed DPK double-clutch gearbox best of breed, although still a little jerky around town. Markedly better than VW DSG. Brilliant at full-chat. Stunningly fast changes in Sport Plus mode, although plain Sport is more suitable for non-track use.
THE NOT SO GOOD STUFF
• Some tire drone at motorway speeds.
• Slightly doughy throttle response compared to modern turbo’d rivals.
• Doesn’t feel as fast as the numbers suggest. Have to work the flat six to get the most out of it.
• Pricing and exhaustive options list. Worthwhile options fitted to test car included PDK gearbox, sports chrono package, power steering plus, electrically adjustable sports seats, Bose surround-sound system and integrated phone/satellite navigation. Options that should be standard at this price include electric folding mirrors, parking sensors, multi-function steering wheel, leather, floor mats and wheel caps.
Copyright: UMS International Fz LLCTheme