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We drive the Porsche Cayman

2005-11-30 09:09

Egmont Sippel

Imagine sitting in a capsule traveling at warp speed through a deserted desert landscape. Imagine also, a rise in the road, now shooting straight over a hill rimmed by the great blue yonder. In Oman, just a short drive from Dubai, it's going to carry on like this forever, not so?

Well, imagine then a ribbon of black tarmac veering off into a whole new direction - like an elbow bending back onto itself - just as you crest that hill.

Okay, it's not quite a hairpin. And you're not quite doing 300 km/h. Porsche's new Cayman S, to tell the truth, is only powered and geared for a top speed of 275 km/h.

But you're nevertheless barreling into the danger zone at a surplus that should impart the shudders, even to a sports car.

What to do?

First you have to survive the massive cardiac shock. To die prematurely now would not reflect well on your nerves. Then you should pray. But mostly you should just stay calm, hit the brakes and turn in.

Easy. At least in a Cayman S. The car doesn't even shudder, neither from a metaphorical fright or fear, nor from a vicious middle pedal assault.

Anchors on the S are outstandingly good, see - and we would have said phenomenal, if it wasn't prudent to save such-like praise for Porsche's optional PCCB ceramic composite brakes.

Our test car, riding on 18"-alloys instead of the 19"-option, nevertheless slaughters speed like a wild dog feasting on a duck.

Which is almost the word that flashes through your mind as the Cayman crests that hill. Duck! Here comes the horizon. Except that you are almost on opposite lock now, the Cayman just hinting at oversteer as you plant the throttle again, blazing out of harm's way through the negatively cambered downward-sloping exit of a corner called surprise.

Or should it be desire? This is Porsche country. This is what Cayman was born for, to hang it all out, to be on the edge and slightly over. A cardinally charged expletive rings around the tight tan leathered cabin. The S has negotiated the impossible with aplomb. In this S-like twist on an Arabian road, it has passed a supreme test.

True blue

The Cayman then, is a true blue Porsche.

Not that anybody ever doubted its credentials. From the moment Stuttgart announced an intention to fill the void between the Boxster roadster and 911 coupe, the fear was rather that Cayman could Packman the 911. Gobble it up, spit it out.

For imagine a Porsche engineered, mid-engined coupe, a torsionally and flexurally stiffer car than the already excellent Boxster it is based on, but also a smaller, lighter and more agile little rocket than 911, inherently better balanced with a lower polar moment of inertia and therefore a sharper turn-in.

Imagine no more. We put the Cayman S through its paces in the desert landscape fringing Muscat, and it is exactly what Porsche intended it to be: a perfect balance between Boxster and 911. Stuttgart has been very careful indeed, to engineer Cayman to fulfill this brief to the T.

And the simplest way of tackling such a project, would of course be to:
1. use the Boxster platform as a foundation, and
2. slot an engine into the capacity gap between Boxster S and 911.

Boxster S, for instance, turns out 206 kW from a 3.2-litre flat-6, compared to the 911 Carrera's 239 kW from a 3.6-litre flat-6.

That leaves a tidy little hole into which a 217 kW 3.4-litre watercooled VarioCam Plus flat-6 could nestle quite nicely, thank you. Which is exactly how it turned out to be. Even peak torque of 340 Nm/4400-6000 rpm slots straight into the gap between 320 Nm (for Boxster S) and 370 Nm (for 911 Carrera).

It is apparent then, that 911 is still a very different animal when it comes to performance and dynamics. With a flat-6 fastened to its tailbone, and churning out more power to equally fat and flat rubber (235/40-ZR18, 265/40-ZR18), the 911 Carrera delivers better traction and a livelier performance out of the blocks - 5.0 secs for 0-100 km/h, vs 5.4 secs.

The Carrera, after all, scales a power-to-weight ratio of 5.8 kg/kW, against Cayman's 6.2 and Boxster's 7.4.

Which is not to say that Big Brother's speed-to-sleep ratio is better. With similarly-sized discs all round, Cayman has a weight advantage (1340 vs 1395 kg) and actually stops a tad quicker. What with blind hills throwing up nasty denouements, it needed to, in Oman.

So, how is it done?

Super dynamics

Well, apart from 4-piston aluminium monobloc calipers clamping down on big, cross-drilled inner-vented discs, transferring a lot of weight from the rear's 265/40-ZR18s to the front's 235/40-ZR18s, Michelin's latest Pilot Sport2 rubber clings to tarmac as well, as Jacob Zuma does to controversy.

No good, though, if the helm fails to pick out a trajectory to balance speed, grip and centrifugal forces. Which is exactly what the new small coupe does. Lifted from the Boxster, which in turn borrowed it from 911, Cayman steering works off the same loads, weights and ratios, providing a sharp turn-in and true tracking with real feel and precision.

Likewise, the wheel then tends to lighten up at very high speeds, reflecting a tiny bit of nose float borne from minimal front axle lift, as heavy Porsche components are all stacked together at the back of the car.

Or in the Cayman's case, just behind the driver, guaranteeing mid-engined balance, of course, but also close-up aural enjoyment of the most wonderfully tuned musical scores. And plural it is; all Porsches peel off layer after layer of sound, from idle to full chat.

Thus, the new 3.4-litre flat-6 whines with a similarly smooth and solid turbine-like hum at low speeds as the 3.2- and especially 3.6-litre flat-6. And pedal-to-the-metal it livens up the cabin with an even better sounding wail than 911, a cracklingly wholesome scream rising from the nether-regions to punch from behind, straight through the cranium into the pleasure plug.

So, if the Cayman cabin indeed happens to be your time capsule on a desert road - or make that any deserted road - then the magnificence of the 3.4-litre score will be one of your mightiest reference points once the ride is over.

For in digesting the experience - the performance and dynamics, the structural solidity and build integrity, the depth of engineering and cutting-edge technology - in digesting all of this, the process is constantly accompanied by the aural magnificence and visceral penetration of that sound.

Unrelenting it is, so that it fills one's soul until the last brilliant moment behind the wheel has been re-lived.

Cayman then, is exactly what it was supposed to be. It slots in above Boxster - but under 911. Except on two counts: that sound; and the long sleek elongated tailgate between two of the most sensually rounded rear wheel arches ever. Merc's 300 SL of the mid-50's could barely whip up more lust.

Cayman therefore not only plays the part, but looks it as well. It is, in short, the complete package, with character, presence, performance, spirit and soul in abundance.

Or shorten it even further still: Cayman S is a phenomenon.

  • The Porsche Cayman S will be launched in South Africa shortly, on Saturday, 3 December 2005.

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