The Good, The Bad and The Annoying

 

caymans4_3_4946560849037-lightboxSo now that I’ve lived with my Stuttgart (well, Finnish really) crocodile for a few months, it’s time to remove the rose-tinted spectacles and try as dispassionately as possible to report on what I like and dislike about the car. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

The quality and tactility of the column stalks: They aren’t exactly a pleasure to use, which is a shame, because all the other primary controls are spot-on. Their action is a little too stiff, they aren’t particularly nicely shaped, and they feel brittle and cheap in comparison to Audi and BMW stalks.

The location of the PASM and Sport Chrono buttons: They are sited right down at the base of the centre console, directly in front of the gear lever. You have to fiddle around to find them when you’re on the move, preventing you from concentrating fully on the road. The buttons are even harder to deploy if you’re in first, third or fifth gear because the gearstick’s in the way and it’s hard to get your hand into the gap between gearstick and centre console. It would make much more sense if the buttons were positioned towards the top of the dashboard, perhaps between the two central air vents.

The limited range of seat adjustment: I chose the optional non-adaptive sports seats, but if I was doing it again I would order the adaptive sports seats, even though they are a villainously expensive option even by Porsche standards at over £1,900 more than the standard chairs! The adaptives offer a far greater range of adjustment and support, whereas my main gripe is that you cannot adjust the angle of the seat base on the non-adaptives and I’m forever fidgeting around in my seat.

The slight shortcomings in the grunt department: The car is a tad lethargic below 3,000 rpm, and equally it’s a bit breathless right at the top end. Mid-range is grin-inducingly excellent though.

The bloody fuel economy: Moving from the M3, I thought I’d see better figures in the Cayman. Oh no. Despite it being about 150kg lighter and having a less stressed, lower-powered engine, I’m getting about the same mpg as before. That is, high teens or low twenties depending on my level of self-restraint, and if anything the fuel economy has been getting worse! Compounding the financial misery, I have been feeding the Cayman exclusively on super unleaded in order to maximise its performance potential, whereas I just gave the M3 the normal stuff. It drinks like a corporate freeloader at Royal Ascot.

The pricing strategy for the Cayman model range as a whole: As well as the anomalous coupe-versus-roadster pricing position, what I’m doubly miffed about is that Porsche has now put the same engines in the Boxster models. To an early-adopter owner, it seems more than a little disingenuous that Porsche had initially gone out of its way to market the Cayman (S) as a separate model to the Boxster range, chiefly by virtue of its different engine.

The cars share a chassis and interior, but the 3.4 litre Variocam Plus engine was sufficiently different in power and delivery to the 3.2 litre non-Variocam engine in the pre-2007 model year Boxster S for there to have been a teensy bit of clear air between the two models. A Boxster S now appears terrific value (for a Porsche), and for anyone other than coupe-loving handling junkies it’s by far the more sensible ownership proposition.

So after all that fault-finding, why did I buy the thing?

Real-world blastability: It is stunningly quick across country, makes a terrific noise, involves the driver, offers playful and adjustable handling, forgives hamfistedness and inspires a bucketful of confidence. You can see out of it pretty well, too.

The way it feels with the optional Sport Chrono sport mode switched on: The car becomes much more lively and agile.

The ride on the PASM-equipped chassis: I am continually amazed by how well the car copes with all kinds of surfaces and undulations, enabling me to put the power down in places where I would have backed off significantly in the M3 or VXT. It’s an impressive balancing act, as the car feels really supple and yet it is neither remote nor wallowy. PASM in sport mode is pretty harsh though. I’d only recommend this setting when you’re driving in a spirited manner along a flowing, reasonably-surfaced road – or at the track.

The engine note: At 2,000 rpm it sounds like an air raid siren. In fact, it reminds me of the intro to War Pigs by Black Sabbath. At 4,000 you get a full-on boxer blare and the car just takes off. At 5,500 it morphs into a chainsaw as the induction sucking kicks in. At 7,000 you stutter into the rev limiter!

The steering: It’s weighty, super-accurate and gives you enough feedback without going all hyper on you. A predictable mention for the brakes as well. They are absolutely fantastic on the road; I really cannot fault them so far.

The digital speedo display, housed within the central tachometer: Whilst the analogue speedo on the left is close to useless, the digital version is clear, legible and immediate. Noticing your corner exit speeds quickly becomes an addictive pleasure! At night, the optional Xenon headlights are the best I’ve experienced, and the illumination of the instruments is classily-executed.

The looks: Beauty’s in the eye of the beer-holder, of course, and some think that the Cayman looks a bit awkward from certain angles or that the designers have just lazily rehashed the generic Porsche template. I wasn’t even totally convinced myself when I saw the early photographs.

However, when I went to the launch evening back in November 2005 and saw a Cayman S and a 997 Carrera side-by-side, it was definitely the Cayman that seemed like the sports car of the two. It was lithe, low and muscular by comparison to the brawny, big-bottomed 911. Even my 911-loving mate concurred. Importantly too, the car is a sensual pleasure to clean, drawing your attention to the quality of the paint finish and design of the alloys.

Putting purchase price to one side, it’s a thoroughly satisfying car to own and extremely easy to live with. Track report from Castle Combe and Bedford Autodrome next time. Will the croc bite me?

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Dan Duke