A recent automotive diet of silver German coupes (Audi TT Coupe 225 and E46 BMW M3 Coupe) had convinced me of the merits of Teutonic build quality and engineering excellence, and I had continually been impressed by the passion that the sporting divisions of the premium German marques seem to imbue into their most focussed models.
I had also owned a Vauxhall VX220 Turbo concurrently with the M3 for pure driving pleasure both on the road and on trackdays. Now you may be thinking “that’s not a coupe”, and you’d be quite right – but mine came equipped with the hardtop which I never, ever took off. And the Exige S2 had not been launched at the time of my purchase, otherwise it may well have been a different story.
So when rumours of a Boxster-based coupe began to circulate, I couldn’t fail to be excited by the prospect. I thought that it may be the car that combined the integrity and noise of cars like the M3 with the feedback and finesse of cars like the VXT. A house-trained Exige, if you like. Consequently, in October 2004 I submitted a letter of intent to my local Official Porsche Centre in Swindon, relating to “the forthcoming Boxster Coupe”.
Further details began to leak out over the next few months, with the C7S moniker being mooted before the Cayman name was confirmed. The UK order books officially opened towards the end of May 2005, at which point I was invited to stump up the required £3,000 to keep my place in the queue.
The car was launched to the motoring press during late summer and early autumn, garnering extremely positive reviews. It was just a shame about the price in relation to the Boxster! Base spec and option prices had also been confirmed by Porsche UK, so it was time to start thinking about personalising my own baby croc.
After setting myself a strict budget of £50,000 (which ruled out the ceramic brakes straight away), ticking a few personal must-haves (Xenons, climate control, heated seats, BOSE stereo with CD autochanger, sports seats, sports steering wheel) and dismissing items such as the leather interior, sat-nav and telephone, there were three key decisions to be made from the driving viewpoint: should I specify 18 or 19 inch wheels; to PASM (the active suspension with two modes) or not to PASM; and should I say yes or no to Sport Chrono?
The test-drive absolutely convinced me of the merits of Sport Chrono. This option increases the throttle response for a given amount of pedal travel, whilst also backing off the PSM stability control threshold. I hadn’t been a fan of the ‘Sport’ button in my M3, as I felt it made the car much harder to drive smoothly. But the Sport Chrono on the Cayman S transforms the car’s responsiveness in a positive way. It’s definitely a must-have for the keen driver, despite the unnecessary zit of a stopwatch that protrudes from the top of the dash if the option is specified.
Since Walter Rohrl is on record as preferring the 18-inchers from a handling and feedback perspective, his recommendation was good enough for me, although sadly I couldn’t find any back-to-back comparison tests in the magazines. Ideally I wanted to understand the differences between all six wheel/suspension combinations by reading detailed driving impressions of both the 18″s and 19″s with the standard passive suspension, PASM in normal mode and PASM in sport mode. After reading everything I could find on the subject, I opted for PASM as well. I reckon it’s essential if you’re speccing the 19-inchers, but with the 18″s I wasn’t sure.
Finally, I added two ‘vanity options’ of coloured crests for the wheel centres, which I think really give the car a visual lift, and the Porsche crest embossed on the seat headrests (well, it’s my first Porsche after all). Colour-wise for me, Arctic Silver with a black interior was both the obvious and classic Porsche choice. Total cost was a savings-sapping £49,564 – plus £80 for the cherished transfer.
Changeover day finally arrived on 3 March 2006. I had sold my VXT in October 2005 and didn’t particularly miss it. Since then I had been really enjoying the M3, and after nearly 3 years and 20,000 miles the car was in the rudest of health. I remain a huge fan of its considerable repertoire of abilities. The engine is fantastic, endowing the car with prodigious overtaking ability and its corner-finishing balance is superb. But the devil is in the detail, and the way the car pogoed at the rear over bumps (even on the standard 18″s), coupled with slightly numb steering and slightly mushy brakes had been enough for me to realise that it wouldn’t be a long-term keeper. After a very thorough and comprehensive handover from Porsche Centre Swindon, Day 1 of my Porsche ownership had begun in earnest…
So now after two months and 2,000 miles, how do I feel? Well, having been spoiled by the M3 experience, the car could do with a bit more power. It doesn’t have the brutal overtaking shove of a wrung-out M3. Mid-range grunt is very good, but it does lack some top-end firepower. Adding 40-50 bhp to the flat-six engine’s quoted output of 291 bhp would be perfectly sufficient for me.
But almost everything else about the car is just brilliant. The ride in my PASM-equipped car is uncannily smooth in normal mode, and yet there is virtually no roll, dive or squat when you’re pressing on. Activating the sport mode only makes sense if you’re on a seriously committed drive on smooth twisty roads or taking part in a trackday. For the rest of the time, even on the 18″s, the normal mode is both faster and much more comfortable.
The car rewards smoothness and commitment, working with you, encouraging you to brake later and get on the power earlier and earlier, especially with Sport Chrono engaged. The PSM stability control system is very unobtrusive, tidying you up only when absolutely necessary and hardly cutting the power at all.
The brakes are as good as their reputation suggests with a progressive action, huge reserves of stopping power and very late triggering of the ABS. Best of all, the car is very keen to change direction and you find yourself pouring on the power, flowing down the road and revelling in its poise. A house-trained Exige indeed.
What’s next? Well, I am soon to go on my ‘free’ (well, free if you buy a Cayman S) Porsche Driving Experience at Millbrook Proving Ground, where I will be receiving one-to-one tuition in Porsche’s own Cayman S cars from a Porsche Driving Consultant. I look forward to putting into practice what I learn!
Photos: Irene Bujman: