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First drive: Porsche widens Cayman's appeal

More: Bigger new engines and a PDK auto take Cayman to the next level.

We drive Porsche's upgraded Cayman, with more power, economy and auto finesse

2 Dec 2008

PORSCHE has widened the appeal of its 'more affordable' sportscar, the Cayman, with a new double-clutch automatic transmission as part of a significant upgrade that will become available here in March.

The Germany niche car-maker has also given both the Cayman and Cayman S a substantial engine makeover that lifts power and torque while driving down fuel economy.

The Cayman now runs a larger 2.9-litre six-cylinder boxer engine that can pump out 195kW, while the 3.4-litre flat six which benefits from direct-injection technology now manages 235kW.

Both cars come standard with a six-speed manual, while a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is now available as an option, replacing the five-speed Tiptronic auto.

Using the new quick-shifting gearbox optioned up with the Sports Chrono package with launch control feature, the Cayman S can dash to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds, breaking the five-second barrier for the first time.

Porsche has also given the Caymans a slight exterior tweak via new front and rear bumpers, new LED daytime running lights and redesigned LED tail-lights.

The Cayman was already a pretty impressive machine - so good that it comes close to equaling the pleasure of driving a 911. Close, but not quite.

That said, the Cayman is far cheaper than its iconic sibling, which makes it a convincing proposition it terms of its bang-for-buck ratio.

And for those in the market for an automatic Cayman, the introduction of PDK is a massive step forward.

We only drove the more potent and more expensive Cayman S models near Jerez in Spain last week, when all of the cars were also fitted with the new PDK double-clutch automatic. 'Our' test vehicle also had the optional mechanical rear differential.

The roads chosen for the drive were made up of twisty, hilly tarmac sections that could easily have hosted a world rally round, as well as some highways and narrow roads with surfaces as rough as those in some parts of country Australia.

While the thrilling handling and performance of the Cayman is what you will ultimately remember, it is remarkable that Porsche has made this car so compliant when it comes to ride quality.

You could happily run for hours and hours over some very bumpy roads and not be too flustered. Indeed, it's hard to think of another vehicle that is so quick and so comfortable.

Of course, driving on rougher surfaces creates a massive amount of road noise and the tyre rumble will no doubt make an impression on a longer drive in the country.

So it will be interesting to see how the tyres sound on Australian roads, but there's no doubt the performance upgrades make this a very fast car indeed.

25 center imageIt has enough torque that you can get along quite briskly without pushing the engine past 4000rpm or so. Of course, winding it up further unleashes the kind of performance that puts this car in the company of some serious supercars.

Just like the 911's boxer engines, the horizontally-opposed six in the Cayman S has no peaks and certainly no troughs. There is simply a seemingly endless supply of torque ready to be unleashed.

The engine generates a lovely meaty sound when you open up the throttle at lower engine speeds but starts to sound genuinely angry at about 4800rpm - all the way to the 7500rpm redline.

When the engine is screaming close to the cut-out you find yourself in an automotive nirvana. It also sounds terrific when you change down and the car's computer blips the throttle.

The Cayman has an electronic stability control system that is designed to allow for some slip, encouraging sporty driving before coming to the aid of the driver.

It does allow a certain degree of movement, but was still a little bit intrusive so we decided to switch it off to see how the new Porsche handled the slippery twisting roads of the region.

We found it is quite a controllable car, but you do have to be careful. Aided by a mechanical differential, the car was able to put an impressive amount of torque through its rear wheels, but a touch too much throttle and the back will step out.

You can feel it reach the point of adhesion and then press on past it. We will have to wait a while to test a car without a mechanical differential to see how much difference it makes.

The Porsche turns in sharply and maintains super-high corner speeds just as you would expect it to: brilliantly.

Like the 911, you feel like you are actually part of the car and able to pick up everything through the steering wheel and the vehicle's body.

As well as being precise, the steering system is so well weighted that you feel everything on the road ahead. The brakes are similarly phenomenal and never fade it is hard to imagine why anyone would go for the optional ceramic brake package unless they planned to do a lot of track work.

The PDK gearbox is a huge strength of the new Cayman and is bound to extend its demand. It is so much better than the previous Tiptronic automatic, which is comparatively slow to respond to your requests to change gears in manual mode.

Even in the more powerful 911, the Tiptronic auto was the weak point of Porsche sportscars. Now, choosing between a manual and an automatic gearbox is a much harder decision.

There were no manual gearboxes at the launch so it is difficult to make a comparison, but our initial impressions are that you would only opt for a manual if you wanted to save money or if you are one of those purists who feel a Porsche sportscar must be controlled by a manual.

They are entitled to their opinion, but the PDK automatic is faster than the fastest manual change a human could manage. And it works very, very well in automatic mode.

when you are done with a sporty run, simply flick the transmission across to Drive and it works as smoothly as any top-end automatic transmission.

In manual mode, you can select Sport mode for faster and crisper changes. Purchase the optional Sports Chrono pack, which costs $2980 in the 911, and you unlock a Sports Plus button which makes an even quicker change.

It bangs into the next gear with a harshness that may please some people after a racing feel, but can sound unpleasant to the mechanically sympathetic and the severity of the shifts gets a bit tiring after a while.

The launch control feature is impressive and easy to use, but it's unlikely many owners would use it all that frequently.

It's also a bit rich that Porsche charges extra for the Sports Plus shift mode and the launch control feature, when customers have already shelled out a considerable premium for the PDK gearbox.

Porsche has not yet indicated how much extra opting for the PDK will cost in the case of the Cayman, but it charges $7000 for the privilege in the 911.

The only other niggle with the gearbox in the car we tested in Spain was a slight driveline vibration that happened in manual mode when you lightly stepped off and then got back on the throttle.

Porsche engineers conceded this maybe something to do with the clutch. It is only a minor niggle and one that's noticeable only in certain situations, but small problems tend to stand out in a car as good the Cayman.

The revised Cayman interior is much the same as the last, although there is an upgraded centre console. While it doesn't have two small rear seats like the rear-engined 911, the mid-engined Cayman is still fairly easy to live with considering it is a sportscar.

There is luggage space under the bonnet, which would accommodate a shopping or overnight bag or two and, unlike the 911, there is also cargo area at the back, which is relatively shallow but still offers enough space for a few bags.

While we need to sample the entry-level Cayman before we have a complete picture of the upgraded range, the Cayman S is even more imprerssive as a bona-fide sportscar that you could happily drive every day.

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