The Cayman is an excellent car. It has been since it was first revealed back in 2005, and historically, this reviewer has actually preferred the Cayman S to the 911. This is positively heretical to many (including some at this very title) who view the 911 as the culmination of everything that is great about Porsche and sports cars. So much so that the Cayman has never really shaken off the image of being a Porsche for those that can’t afford the genuine article.
This hasn’t really been fair. The Cayman is a different beast to the 911 – still obviously a Porsche, but with a different engine layout and different price point it’s appealing to a subtly different crowd.
But wait. I’ve postulated before that the Cayman S – the more powerful ‘standard’ Cayman – is so technically accomplished that it represents a threat to the entry-level Carrera 911. Originally, we wanted to put the brand new Cayman S up against the base 911 to see if that was the case, but so far we haven’t been able to make it happen. Porsche, understandably, are reluctant to let us pitch two of their own products against each other, and attempts to find an owner of a base-spec Carrera that would let us borrow it haven’t resulted in any success. It seems most Middle Eastern buyers opt for at least the Carrera S.
So, for now we’ll have to appraise the new machine on its own attributes. The previous car was great. Surely Porsche can’t mess its replacement up? No, of course it can’t. You can stand easy – the new Cayman is really, really good. Genuinely, I never had any doubt.
For a start, it’s better looking than its forebear. There was nothing really wrong with the visuals of the 987-generation Cayman, but it was always rather functional, competent, acceptable. The new 981 has had just enough subtle tweaks to complete its transformation into a genuinely sexy, desirable machine. The purposeful stance is the most obvious draw on our Guards Red test car, sitting perfectly on 20-inch Carrera Classic wheels. It looks almost concept-car like, being a small machine on massive rims, and I have reservations on how well this will translate to ride quality, but it looks simply brilliant. The proportions are similarly well sorted – there’s no angle from which the Cayman looks anything other than slick and ready to go. There are some nice touches too – I particularly like the sculpted rear lights that sweep into the profile of the rear spoiler.
Inside, the same story continues. The Cayman continues the Porsche interior design philosophy first seen with the Panamera, which means a rising centre console and a generally enclosed, cockpit-like feel. It’s not claustrophobic though – the space inside is larger than before and with the driver’s seat dropped into the floor pan I still have at least an inch of headroom despite being six-foot tall and long of back. The materials and feeling of quality inside is top-notch – it’s a classy, non-flashy but good-looking design in front of a classic Porsche view over the raised wings either side of the bonnet.
The Cayman is a strict two-seater, with the engine sitting right behind driver and front-seat passenger. Not that you’d know it – it’s well covered by sound deadener and carpet, and only two stylised covers for adding fluids give away its location beneath the glass tailgate. Well, that and the big air vents in the car’s flanks.
Our test car has been specced by Porsche Middle East with a select few options. As well as fripperies like parking sensors and folding outside mirrors, it has Porsche Torque Vectoring with a mechanically locking rear diff, PDK transmission and PASM active suspension, all of which are designed to make the new Cayman faster and more stable from point-to-point. It’d be a shame not to see if they work…
Our route is nothing particularly noteworthy – a few hundred kilometres across some of our favourite UAE desert and mountain roads, to see how well it compares to the countless other cars we’ve driven here. But first, a cruise through and out of town, and a chance to appreciate the Cayman’s luxury. If the Cayman is half the car we expect it to be, then it has little right to be as downright liveable-with. Cruising at 120kph the road noise is minimal and the ride supple. Photographer James and I manage easily to have a conversation without needing to raise our voices even slightly, save for general insults. Which is nice to know – should I ever be able to afford a Cayman, perhaps the wife won’t kill me for being an impractical fool.
Out into the sticks and the motorway gives way to a fast, open and quiet road, sweeping between golden sand dunes at the foot of a mountain range. It’s the first proper chance to open up the latest Cayman S engine. The familiar 3.4-litre flat six has more power, up to 325bhp from 320, and a wider power band, which means that more power is available more often. In addition, the car’s weight has been slashed thanks to extra aluminium usage in construction. The S now weighs just 1320kg, 30kg less than before. These ingredients make up a recipe for an already-quick car having a decent amount more punch than before.
I start my assault on the tarmac leaving all the sport settings off, but the results are still thoroughly impressive. The gearbox continues to be a marvel, so fast to react on kickdown and with almost instant changes, but there’s plenty of torque from the engine so it doesn’t need vast amounts of stirring. That said, the peak power starts to arrive from around 5000rpm and tops out at 7100rpm, so it pays to keep needle rising all the way to the rev limiter.