Few new cars in recent memory have inspired as much wild speculation as the Cayman, a new, relatively lightweight, fixed-roof coupe based on the Boxster's mid-engine, rear-drive configuration. For years, 911 purists have been screaming that the Carrera's subsequent iterations have been too big, too heavy and have kept their drivers increasingly isolated from a pure, visceral driving experience amid myriad electronics and related safety parameters. The Cayman, it was argued, would be the classic Porsche sports car reborn, and the cynics among us speculated it might cannibalize Carrera sales and eventually represent that car's undoing.
If you'll recall, they said the same thing about the Boxster S, and in reality, Porsche has carefully positioned the Cayman between the Boxster and 911, in effect creating a new segment within its model range. The Carrera is still billed as the top performer, and despite rumors that the Cayman trounced the 911 around the Nrburgring, there are no official numbers I'm aware of that verify this. Porsche marketing anticipates only 3% (or less) of current 911 owners will jump ship and replace their Carrera with a Cayman S.
Visually, the Cayman is about two-thirds Boxster, sporting a similar snout and identical rear flanks, but incorporates its own unique design cues and, of course, the fixed roof that helps increase flexural resistance by a claimed 100% over the Boxster, putting torsional stiffness nearly on par with that of the 911. Its engine is based on the Boxster S's 3.2-liter flat six, imbued with the Carrera's enlarged bore of 96mm to displace 3.4 liters. Combining the bore with the Boxster's short 78mm stroke required a new, unique set of engine internals-crankshaft, main bearings and pistons-that further denote this car as a new link between the Boxster and Carrera. The cylinder heads and related equipment are derived from the Carrera S, no less, and help push power output to a peak of 295 bhp. The manual transmission is derived from the Boxster S, but features a revised shifter mechanism and shortened first- and second-gear ratios for slightly crisper response.
On the road, the Cayman carves through corners; twisted mountain roads are what it loves best, and it will allow its driver to cut through hairpins and switchbacks with great confidence. Porsche reported that the Boxster's basic suspension setup has been tweaked further on the Cayman to give it exceptional lateral acceleration, also citing the mid-engine configuration as imparting "unparalleled neutrality." Still, perfect weight distribution is not absolute (45/55 front to rear), and the drive wheels will step out if prompted to do so. The brakes are suitably impressive, with 12.5- and 11.7-inch vented rotors fore and aft and four-piston calipers all around. The PCCB package will be available as an option, incorporating carbon-ceramic discs at all four corners and six-piston calipers up front. They don't make a whole lot of difference under normal driving conditions, but rather suit the track-day enthusiast interested in repeated heavy use.
The interior is similar to the Boxster's, but like the exterior offers slightly revised design cues, as well as additional rear storage space. When combined with the space up under the hood, the Cayman offers a total of 14.4 cubic feet of space, about 4.5 more than the Boxster. As a passenger, one thing I wished for was a grab-handle somewhere on the door, like on the Carrera, as passengers tend to be slung around enthusiastically if the driver is in a particularly sporting mood.
Overall, the driving experience behind the Cayman's wheel is distinctively Porsche, from its smooth, rapid acceleration to its superbly bolstered seats and world-class shifter mechanism. Like its 997 and 987 brethren, it is a finely honed instrument engineered for a specific purpose: spirited driving. The 2006 Cayman S is slated for arrival on American shores in early January.
2006 Porsche Cayman S
Base Price: $58,900
Longitudinal mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
3.4-liter flat six, dohc, four valves per cylinder
Six-speed manual; five-speed automatic w/ Tiptronic S optional
Optimized MacPherson design, independent transverse arms, longitudinal arms and spring struts, conical stump springs with inner damper, twin-sleeve gas dampers
Twin-circuit system split front to rear, four-piston aluminum monoblock calipers, cross-drilled vented discs, PSM 8.0; PCCB optional
Length x Width x Height (in.): 171 x 71 x 51
Wheelbase: 95 in.
Curb Weight: 2,955 lb
Peak Power: 295 bhp @ 6250 rpm
Peak Torque: 251 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.4 sec.
Top Speed: 171 mph
With the official introduction of the Cayman S, Porsche acknowledged another new-car project has finally been approved by its supervisory board. Called Panamera, it will be a front-engine, rear-drive sport coupe distinguished by four doors and a four-passenger capacity. The new car's name is derived from the legendary Carrera Panamericana long-distance race. Production will be based in Leipzig, Germany, where Porsche already builds the Cayenne and Carrera GT. Total investment in the new model line, including development, will likely be more than 1 billion euro and will come entirely from the company's own funds and resources.
While further details are not available at this early stage, the Panamera is tentatively scheduled to enter the market in 2009.