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Basic Instinct

2006 Cayman S giving big brother a run for its money

Jul 25, 2005 SHARE
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The Boxster is the best handling mass production road car Porsche have ever made. With its mid-mounted engine and 45/55 weight distribution, it has a poise and delicacy in its handling that the rear-engine 911 cannot hope to match. Structural rigidity has always been a strong suit and goes a long way toward helping its handling and grip. Now imagine that you could increase that rigidity by 250% in torsional stiffness, and by 200% in bending resistance to further sharpen the claws of this incisive driving machine. This is precisely what the new Cayman does, and thus promises to be the perfect mount for Porsche driving enthusiasts and track-day addicts.

I recently attended a very thorough technical briefing at Porsche's high-security Weissach R&D facility. During a most enlightening day, we were shown the technology that goes into this Boxster-derived hatchback coupe. The chassis and much of the structure is pure Boxster and is thus also shared with the 997, as are the supporting electronics, although chassis settings and software have been recalibrated for the Cayman's more hardcore role in life. A variant of the Boxster (Code 987, hence its internal code of 987 C7S), the Cayman is not the fourth Porsche model range. That privilege will be given to the super-saloon, on which the Board will make a final decision this summer.

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The Cayman looks good in the metal. Initially you might get the impression its roof is short and rounded, but then so is the Boxster's soft-top and winter hardtop, as indeed they need to be to provide adequate headroom for tall people. The teardrop-shaped roof is aerodynamically efficient however, and together with a extensive wind-tunnel work to ensure minimize lift at high speeds, the Cayman has just 55kg of total lift at its top speed.

Porsche told us the 295 bhp Cayman will be pitched between the 280 bhp, 3.2-liter Boxster S and the 325 bhp Carrera, sitting between them in both power and price. Closer to the Boxster than the Carrera in power, though, its market positioning is particularly interesting because as the 911 has become larger, more powerful, heavier and more expensive over the years, Porsche enthusiasts have been crying out for a cheaper and more minimalist car to replace the earlier variants.

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The Boxster and Carrera already share many components, especially forward of the front bulkhead, and it makes economic sense for the Cayman to continue this trend. That said, the Cayman shares around 40% of its components with the current Boxster, major obvious parts in common being the bonnet, front quarters, headlamps, doors and taillights. The rakish roofline and the rear wings are all new and Porsche told us the concept was inspired by the 904GTS racecar from the 1960s.

The front bumper section is new, giving the Cayman a different enough "face" to be instantly recognizable from its two siblings. Distinguishing features include the larger air intakes on either side and the round foglights mounted on horizontal strakes in each intake. The side intakes have vertical rather than horizontal color-matched strakes. At the rear, an electro-hydraulic spoiler rises at 75 mph and represents the top half of a small, angled bib spoiler while retracted.

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The Cayman also shares the Boxster's wheelbase and track dimensions, although at 171 inches, it is 12mm longer thanks to a longer rear overhang. The more bulbous roof also raises overall height by 13mm to 51.5 inches. That said, the more rigid hatchback Cayman does not need the reinforcements that the open Boxster does, so the extra metal and glass from its hatchback layout only add 11 pounds to the overall weight, and the Cayman S tips the scales at a reasonable 2,950 pounds.

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As a hatchback, the Cayman offers a high degree of practicality. Working around the mid-engine configuration, which obviously puts a big lump aft of the seats, Porsche has provided two luggage areas, a shallow one above the engine cover and a deeper one in the natural boot area. These areas provide a combined 9 cubic feet of storage space. Add the front luggage bay to the equation and you have a generous (for a two-seater sports car) 14.5 cubic feet. Rather than just carpeting this area as most manufacturers would have done, Porsche has made it a design feature, visually separating the change of deck height with silver-painted mounding. Bearing in mind the high lateral g-forces the Cayman can produce, the manufacturer has also thoughtfully provided tie-down nets in both areas to prevent stowed items from flying around. A parcel shelf built into the hatchback ensures that items stowed in the lower, deeper compartment remain hidden when the car is parked.The rest of the Cayman's cabin is the same modern, high-quality interior we have become used to recently in the new Carrera and Boxster models. The full interior on the silver show car was trimmed in an orange-caramel hue, which contrasted nicely with the aluminum details on the steering wheel, dashboard and console. Fit and finish were really excellent and the detailing delightful.

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We were shown the Cayman S only, the first variant to roll out this fall. Porsche admits there will be an entry-level Cayman that will likely use the 3.2-liter motor from the Boxster S, but the top down strategy of launching the Cayman S before any other variant establishes its credentials as a performance model above the Boxster S and below the Carrera from the word go. A lightweight, track-oriented version is also a possibility, and this would be the perfect replacement for the old Carrera 3.2 Clubsport from the '80s.The suspension is standard Boxster, but with uprated springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and firmer bushings. In line with its mission statement as a serious driver's car, the Cayman has had the parameters for its ABS and PSM stability control systems tweaked so that they intervene later, allowing the keen driver to push harder before being reigned in. Since all these systems operate together, communicating along the CAN-BUS system, the optional PASM active damping has been likewise adjusted.

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As with the Boxster and Carrera, PCCB Brakes will be a Cayman option. Following much adverse publicity in recent months concerning their rapid deterioration in track-day use, the PCCB brakes have come in for a major redesign. The latest discs use a modified composition and their involute cooling fins have been redesigned to pull more cooling air. The brake pad material has also been adjusted accordingly.

With 295 bhp at 6250 rpm and 250 lb-ft of torque from its 3.4-liter flat six, the Cayman has a power-to-weight ratio of 10.1 pounds per bhp. The 3.4-liter motor is not the early 996 Carrera motor, since that is a taller engine than the Boxster's. Rather, it is a development of the Boxster S engine with larger barrels and pistons. In addition, it gets the latest Variocam variable valve timing system with electro-hydraulic tappets as used on the 997 Carrera. It's enough for a 5.1-second zero to 60 mph elapsed time, a 171 mph top speed, and an 8 minute, 11 second lap time of the Nuerburgring Nordschliefe in the hands of Walter Rohrl. Porsche states this is 13 seconds faster than its nearest rival. More significantly, that time is also 7.0 seconds faster than the Boxster S and a stunning 4.0 seconds faster than the Carrera 3.6. These numbers were gained with the six-speed manual, although the five-speed Tiptronic will be an option. Rumors of Porsche using its own version of the VW/Audi DSG gearbox have been rife in recent months. The Porsche engineers I quizzed about the possibility would not be drawn on its adoption, but the fact that they were willing to claim it is the best gearbox of its type speaks volumes.The highlight of my visit was a dynamic demonstration of the Cayman's handling prowess by one of Porsche's test drivers. The obvious ease with which he was able to initiate and hold a long, lurid powerslide illustrated just how controllable this car is. When he finally pulled back into the holding area, we asked him to describe how it felt. He admitted that as good as the Boxster is, the extra power and torque afforded by the larger Cayman engine, coupled with the greater rigidity of the body shell, is two extra layers of icing on an already incredibly delicious cake--though maybe not in those exact words. We're all looking forward to the driving launch this fall.


Porsche Cayman S

MSRP: $58,900

Drivetrain

Longitudinal mid-engine,rear-wheel drive

Engine

3.4-liter flat six, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing

Transmission

Six-speed manual;five-speed automaticwith Tiptronic S optional

Suspension

MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bars

Brakes

Four-piston calipers, four-wheel vented and cross-drilled rotors; PCCB optional

Performance

Peak Power: 295 bhp@ 6250 rpm
Peak Torque: 250 lb-ft@ 4400 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.1 sec
Top Speed: 171 mph

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