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Reader test: Porsche Cayman S

2009-09-25 09:01

Philip Higgo, Cape Town

This was intended to be a comparative evaluation in response to a question which, as a complete petrolhead, I have often been asked with regard to my three recent consecutively owned "babies", namely 2005 BMW M5 (E60), 2006 Porsche Cayman S and BMW M3 (E92), in that order. How do they compare? That would however require a lot more space than what is allowed - the other two will just have to wait for another day.

On my collection from Porsche CT, resplendent in its seal grey (with stone grey leather) spec, I was not even 1 km down the road when the striking feeling of being so completely integrated with the car in a manner so different from the M5 became apparent.

There is probably no other car in the world in which the authoritative motoring journos are so unanimous in their praise of the handling, but, even having read everything there was to read about it, it was still remarkable how it is not just all facets of handling that it is so good at, but rather a somewhat unquantifiable specialness in the manner of its interaction with the driver.  

Not easy to describe

To put this in words is difficult and can best be demonstrated by the following: as we all know, there are only three points of the driver which are in contact with the car (hands, feet and last, but not least, seat of the pants).

In the case of the Cayman S, it is this “feel” of precision in everything you touch which makes it so truly special. I have yet to drive a car where the steering feel is so phenomenal in its clarity of communication  (It not only tells you exactly what the wheels are doing, but you can actually sense the grip and any pending warning signs – virtually as advanced telepathy).

The brakes are absolutely phenomenal, not just in their reassuring powerfulness, but more importantly, the extent of feel (there is that word again) which you experience through the middle pedal.

The feeling

The 'box and the way the tactile short shifts slot home with rifle-bolt precision is an absolute joy. And then, of course, you still need all this not to be unnecessarily unhampered by the laws of physics – weight is the arch enemy, as we all know, and here 1 340 kilograms (versus M5’s 1 830 kilograms) obviously plays an important role, coupled with the perfect weight distribution from the mid-engine layout. It all comes together in its remarkable agility, taut rigidity and composure. It seems to pivot around its centre (which feels to be just behind the seat of your pants!)  

Although "only" 217 kW pales when compared to the 373 kW of my just-departed M5, I think that on my favourite twisty roads I have not driven anything that would really be able to get away from it.  It is so confidence-inspiring that at my first Porsche track day at Killarney, each one of my four hot laps allowed was in the 1 minute 28s, with a best of 1 minute 28.25 seconds (significantly better than even anything in the class above!)

The engine’s characteristics, with a roaring wail from 5000 r/min, is great and suits the car (albeit that it’s not quite the dominant masterpieces driving the M5 or M3).  The practicality is also amazing. Yes, a very strict two-seater it may be, but the combined front boot space and rear under hatch luggage area never came up short in 12 000 kilometres of daily use for all manner of transport.  

The fuel consumption in accordance with my detailed log book for the entire period equated to 15.7 l/100 km – pretty good given that a very high percentage was what some would probably call indecently fast driving.

The "but"...

Negatives?  The clutch position (the pedal sits very high) is not very comfortable or conducive to heel and toeing. The other "negative" aspects are slightly less tangible. Although it’s a brilliant fast "cross-country’"cruiser, there is a slight element of boomingness in the cabin (a 911’s refinement is, for instance, better in this regard) and, if one had to be super critical, its true strength only comes to the fore when you really drive it and push it quite hard. If you are a slower driver, it can end up feeling not quite so special (but now I’m really nit-picking).

The Cayman S is, simply put, really truly brilliant… It feels like putting on a finely tailored suit that becomes an integral part of you. 

Now comes the “but”… Already during the first three weeks of the running-in period, I had noticed and reported what I perceived to be unreasonable oil consumption.  All kinds of explanations and justifications as to it being "normal", "within the norm" et cetera followed in the months thereafter… And the oil consumption just kept on increasing.  

It got to a stage where, in the course of a whole file of correspondence addressing my concerns to Porsche South Africa, Porsche Middle East and Africa and Porsche Germany, I could not drive anywhere without having a litre of the required Mobil 1 with me.  The Cayman was using in excess of 2.5 litres per 1 000 kilometres (leave aside the fact that at over R100 per litre, this was starting to add up!)  

Fast forward through a very long saga of threatening correspondence (over a one year period), the engine was removed and opened (after I had insisted that their various tests were obviously wrong).  Following a full investigation and technical report, I quote from Porsche’s own report: “… the oil scraper ring for piston no. 5 was not fitted …”!

Thanks for nothing, Wendelin

Yes, I know, completely unbelievable – it had left the factory without an oil ring! What was more unbelievable however was the fact that Porsche head office insisted that they were nevertheless not prepared to do the obvious and install a new engine, but that they were rather going to repair and machine the relevant one cylinder only!  

Needless to say, this was completely unsatisfactory and after months of a complete stand-off, Porsche Cape Town (that, I must add, had always wanted to support me in this ridiculous saga – but they were over-ruled by head office!), ended up facilitating an agreement whereby they bought the car back from me (at the equivalent of a fair market value of a used Cayman without a "defective engine").  

I am, to this day, still awaiting a response from Wendelin Wiedeking to my comprehensive letter addressed to him personally in desperation, detailing the background. (You will therefore forgive me my wry smile with the recent developments as to his come-uppance due to profit-driven power hungriness).

All of this obviously soured the experience of ownership, but let’s be fair: it wasn’t the Cayman S’s fault. It remains an absolutely brilliant drivers’ car and will always be sorely missed for exactly that reason.

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