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First drive: Cayman for the common (wo)man!

Entry-level: Cayman undercuts Cayman S by a cool $30,000.

Porsche launches its base Cayman 2.7 coupe in Europe, two months ahead of Aussie sales

27 Jul 2006

THE entry price of Porsche coupe ownership will become significantly more affordable for the second time in nine months following this weekend’s European release of a 2.7-litre version of the mid-engined two-seater Cayman.

Due on sale here in September priced from $118,000, the base Cayman will undercut the 3.4-litre Cayman S introduced in Australia in January by some $30,500 – and the cheapest 911 variant by $77,225.

The cut-price variant of the Boxster-based hardtop is powered by a revised version of its convertible cousin’s 2.7-litre DOHC flat six, which (along with the 3.4-litre Cayman S engine) will also become available in Boxster in September.

Thanks largely to the addition of the 911 flagship’s VarioCam Plus variable valve timing system (the 2.7 already employed VarioCam valve duration control, but now also gains the electrohydraulically variable valve lift function signified by "Plus"), Porsche’s smallest-capacity engine now offers peak power of 180kW at 6500rpm (up from 176kW at 6400rpm) and maximum torque of 273Nm at 4600rpm (up from 3Nm at 4700rpm).

Porsche says a lighter and smaller crankshaft, pistons and gudgeon pins are fitted, along with a higher (11.3:1) compression ratio and the addition of a coolant duct between the two exhaust valves to cope with the extra heat.

The result is claimed 0-100km/h acceleration of 6.1 seconds – around the same time as stated for the base Boxster 2.7, which weighs just 5kg more than the 1305kg Cayman. AT the same time, fuel consumption drops three points over the current Boxster 2.7, to 9.3L/100km on the combined average EU test cycle.

25 center imageAt 258km/h, the five-speed manual Cayman’s claimed top speed also out-does the current Boxster 2.7’s – despite having the same 0.29Cd drag co-efficient. An optional six-speed manual transmission (unlike the standard Volkswagen-built five-speed manual, it’s supplied by Getrag and is available only with Porsche Active Suspension management,) realises an even higher claimed top speed of 260km/h, but despite lower first and second gear ratios Porsche continues to claim a 6.1-second 0-100km/h time for the six-slotter.

The five-speed Tiptronic S auto returns claimed top speed and 0-100 acceleration figures of 253km/h and seven seconds respectively, and while the six-speed manual returns slightly higher 9.5L/100km fuel consumption, the auto is higher again at 10.1L/100km.

In contrast, the 3.4-litre Cayman S delivers 217kW at 6250rpm and 340Nm at 4400rpm – enough to return claimed 0-100km/h acceleration and top speed figures of 5.4 seconds and 275km/h respectively in (standard six-speed) manual guise. Of course, the base 3.6-litre 911 Carrera ($195,225) is quicker still, completing the 100km/h sprint in a claimed five seconds.

Cayman also has smaller wheels than Cayman S, measuring 17-inch in diameter rather than 18. The 2.7’s specific five double-spoke hoops are 6.5 inches wide up front and eight inches wide at the rear, wrapped in 205/55-section (front) and 235/50-section (rear) rubber.

A 10 per cent lower rear spring rate (to compensate for the 2.7 boxer’s lighter weight), 0.5mm smaller-diameter anti-rollbars at both ends, and black (rather than red) eloxy-lated monobloc two-piston calipers round out the mechanical changes, while the only other visual differences to Cayman S are black front bumper extensions, a single (not twin) central exhaust outlet and Cayman rear badging.

Full Australian specifications are yet to be finalised, but expect Cayman to come standard with six-way adjustable bucket seats, Porsche Stability Management, a total of six airbags and the same 410 litres of total luggage space as Cayman S, while options will include the six-speed manual with PASM, PASM on its own, fully-powered leather sports seats and the Sports Chromo Package comprising a "sport" to improve engine and automatic transmission response and to delay stability control intervention.

Drive impressions:

WELCOME to the brave new world of Porsche, whose corporate bacon was saved by a succession of successful models including the original 986 Boxster (1997), the first water-cooled 911 (the 996-series of 1998) and then the famed sportscar brand’s first SUV – the US-oriented Cayenne (2002) that was jointly-developed with Volkswagen, which now counts the Zuffenhausen company as its largest single share-holder.

Enter Cayman S, a hardtop based on last year’s second-generation Boxster convertible and which reduced the admission price of Porsche coupe ownership by almost $50,000.

Released in Australia in January, the S-badged Cayman two-seater introduced a new 217kW/340Nm 3.4-litre version of Porsche’s proven flat six engine layout and offered a more focused driving experience than the 3.2-litre Boxster S convertible.

Significantly, however, while the Cayman 3.4 produced blistering mid-corner speed, proved even more agile and neutral than the flagship 911 and offered a totally new aural experience via a mid-mounted engine beneath a hardtop roof, it lacked the outright pace and rewarding nature of its more expensive, more powerful, rear-engined four-seater stablemate.

Almost 10 years after its original donor car appeared, it seems Porsche’s carefully considered Cayman strategy has paid off: the Boxster model line has spawned a second bodystyle derivative that in Australia will attract about 200 new buyers this year – seemingly without any impact on sales of either the 911 or Boxster itself.

Now, Porsche heads further downstream with the entry-level Cayman, powered by an upgraded 180kW/273Nm version of its smallest (2.7-litre) boxer six, which will power the base 2007 Boxster from September (when the Boxster S also receives 3.4-litre power and its 3.2-litre six ceases production).

Curiously, Porsche's promotional video depicts a women going about shopping chores in the new Cayman 2.7 and Porsche says the base Cayman's significantly lower pricetag will attract a new, younger breed of buyers to the brand.

Porsche Cars Australia says that, eventually, Cayman sales will be evenly split between the 2.7 and the 3.4, with virtually no substition from Boxster or 911 buyers.

Coupe buyers are not convertible buyers, says Porsche, which is adamant that Porsche customers migrate upwards towards 911, not downwards.

Unlike companies like BMW (whose forthcoming Z4 Coupe will be less expensive than the roadster upon which it's based), Porsche charges a $10,000 premium for its Boxster-based coupe. Despite that, Cayman 2.7 is still more than $77,000 less expensive than the cheapest Porsche coupe (the 911) available at this time last year.

Mind you, Cayman 2.7's $118,000 asking price is still around three times that of the hottest new small hatches, whose turbocharged fours (and fives, in the case of Ford's Focus XR5) offer around the same performance as the base Cayman.

Of course, the mid-engined rear-drive Cayman provides an altogether different automotive experience.

During a 220km road loop outside Frankfurt, Germany, the base Cayman proved itself even more neutral than the S, whose higher output easily activates the standard PSM stability control system, which is best left switched on.

Not so in the Cayman 2.7, which lacks the "step-off" urge of the S and feels significantly more pedestrian at low revs - but is certainly more responsive than the current 176kW Boxster 2.7, which also weighs a whisker more.

All is forgiven once the VarioCam Plus valve timing and lift system hits its straps at 5500rpm, where there's a noticeable power surge and the Cayman really gathers its skirts.

We sampled the optional six-speed manual first, which offers slightly lower first and second gear ratios than the standard five-speed manual, as well as a slightly higher top speed - but claims the same 6.1-second 0-100km/h time.

While that's 0.6 seconds down on the Cayman S (and the five-speed Tiptronic S is substantially slower with a seven-second 0-100km/h claim), the Cayman doesn't feel that much slower.

Yes, there are inevitable cost-reducing down-spec items like 17-inch wheels and tyres (which seemed a little more compliant than the lower-profile 18-inch rubber underneath the S and will be cheaper to replace), cheap-looking matt-black bumper extensions up front, a single axhaust outlet and black brake calipers.

But those aspects are difficult to pick on the road, where Cayman's sexy shape stands out from the crowd and delivers the same aural experience as its 3.4-litre sibling.

Of course, changes to both anti-rollbars and rear suspension spring rates merely serve to compliment the 2.7's lighter weight and don't make the base variant tangibly softer than the S.

There's no denying the 2.7 Cayman is a further step away from 911 in both price and performance. But the 2.7 suits the mid-engined Cayman so well that all of a sudden the $30,000-plus extra for the S seems extravagant.

Fear not: the base Cayman remains a Porsche coupe through and through. It's just that the admission ticket to enter that exclusive club has become a whole lot more affordable.

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