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Porsche Cayman


A cynic would find it too easy to dismiss the Cayman without turning the ignition key.

Porsche makes such a point of saying that despite the shared platform, the Cayman is not just a Boxster with a roof. It carefully points out that the Cayman's engine capacity, its power, its price - even its Nurburgring times - sit smack between those of the Boxster and the 911.

The Cayman is not a cynical spin-off of an existing car, says Porsche. Yes, we needed They admit the company needed to fill the gap between its two sports cars: the financial leap was to great, and it was losing potential sales.

But, says Porsche, there are limits to our marketing manipulations and this really is a new car, honest.

But let's forget the cynicism for a moment, and put the Cayman to the test. Let's clamber aboard, and join a high-speed Cayman freighttrain heading into the twisty roads outside Adelaide, South Australia.

Turning into the first tight set of bends I snick down a gear or two and floor the throttle. Immediately the 3.4-litre six-cylinder boxer engine sitting just behind my back answers the call, smack into the meat of the torque, the engine note singing, then soaring, the car dancing on the throttle, the torque spread so broad you barely need to touch the gear lever.

The tyres are singing, too, at the limits of grip as you realise this car is stiffer than the Boxster, firmer, more focused. But like the topless model it's got a beautiful balance that lets you dance round corners which would send a 911 spinning into next week.

It didn't take long for the cynicism to drop away in the pure joy of driving a car that seems to take as much pleasure from the road as I do. So how has Porsche done it - and done it in a vehicle that's arguably the most useful in its sporting line-up?

Talk to Rolf Frech, Porsche's director of complete vehicle development, and you talk to a man who loves to drive, whose office, for 12 days of the year, is the legendary Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

He said Porsche wanted something really special - something to "infect" people with Porsche. But he admits the company had to do it with some sort of budget in mind. That's why the Cayman's interior is so similar to a Boxster's - money spent here wouldn't be spent on the engine and chassis, or on the body.

At first glance the Cayman's roof-line can look bulbous - a dissonant note on an otherwise elegant car that integrates some truly lovely design touches.

Look at the way the sharp crease of those buttress lines defines the curve of the muscular haunches, or the way the foglights create aggressive gun sights from the front air scoops, for example. It's not in-your-face, but it creates a subtly snappier flavour from Porsche's otherwise understated sporting recipe.

 But as you'd expect on a Porsche, the design flourishes aren't just for show. For example, the right side scoop cools the engine compartment, the left leads straight to the air intakes.

Though its lines are new, the Cayman's dimensions are similar to the Boxster's with which it shares a platform. What is markedly different is the body's strength. It is much stiffer, both torsionally and flexurally, and that has not only meant that the chassis and suspension remain uncorrupted by road bumps, but that Porsche had more latitude in setting the car up.

It has the same basic suspension equation as the Boxster, but has considerably firmer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. Porsche focused particularly on the lateral dynamics, to make the most of the body's rigidity during hard cornering.

Also different is the aerodynamic equation. The underfloor is almost completely sealed, for example, and the rear split spoiler that rises at 120km/h reduces lift at 270km/h by 14kg on each of the four wheels when compared to the Boxster.

Combine all that with the natural balance imparted by an engine mounted just ahead of the rear axle, and you've got a potentially intoxicating recipe.

But this has to be the most practical Porsche, too. There's no pretence of rear seats. Instead there are luggage boots fore and aft that offer 410 litres of space in total. There's a bootlid that lifts high to ease access to that space; a luggage net atop the engine cover to slip your handbag under; you can even get a roof rack that can carry 60kg. Indeed so sensible is this car that it's the first Porsche sportster you can take to play golf - provided you have a slimline bag, that is.

It'd be a brisk trip to the links. This 3.4-litre six is the first engine outside the 911 stable to use Variocam Plus.

The engine is billed as an inspired mix rather than a parts bin special - the Boxster block getting Carrera heads, a Boxster stroke but Carrera bore, so the crankshaft and pistons are also unique. The result is 340Nm of torque on tap from 4400 to 6000rpm, with the 217kW power peak available just 250rpm later.

Accessed via the six-speed manual gearbox filched from Boxster - albeit with altered gear ratios - it will take you from zero to 100km/h in 5.4 seconds, or to 200 in 18.6.

The engine sounds fantastic too. Frech admits it was tuned to do so, but sitting just ahead of the engine, with the tacho needle hovering at 5750, the engine's battle song travels straight down your spine and hums in your gut; a vibrant call to arms.

The Cayman's combination of balance, grip and dynamic ability is only enhanced by an engine torque band so broad you can select a gear, then steer on the throttle - barely adjusting the steering wheel as you lift off into bends then floor it and out, the tyres whining in protest as you hurtle forward, laughing as the tacho needle arcs and the speedo numbers climb.

Story by Jacqui Madelin. Photographs by Jacqui Madelin and Porsche.

Who will buy it?
Check out the Cayman's lap times around the Nurburgring racetrack's northern loop.

The Boxster S managed a decent 8 minutes 18 seconds. The Cayman shaves seven seconds off that, and is only four seconds behind the 911. But despite its speed and the sort of sure-footed agility 911 drivers can only dream of, they won't switch to a Cayman. The drop in status is too large.

The Cayman will appeal to people who don't want a drop-top car, and those taking a step up Frech's stairway to heaven. But it will also appeal to people who love its agility, who can appreciate a driver's car that almost makes a decent fist of the everyday grind.

It's a shame, therefore, that Porsche NZ will only get 35 this year - part of a move to keep sales down, demand up, and the value of used Porsches high.

- Jacqui Madelin

 Cupholders and compromises
Like the Boxster, the Cayman hides some rather neat cupholders that pop from a slim insert along the dashboard.

They're part of the dumbing down of the brand that old-school 911 drivers hate. Cars like the Cayman which are less demanding to drive than the 911, attract more sales, some of them to people after image, not function: people who care about features and fittings.

Thus Porsche now has to build cars that not only appeal to the hard-core minority, willing to compromise comfort, but also has to please people for whom the search for a rigid body isn't worth a squeak in the dash.

Thus Rolf Frech says those cupholders gave his team nightmares, because of the difficulty of stopping them from rattling in this rigid car but without making them so solid they couldn't slide out of sight.

Specifications of the Porsche Cayman
Engine 3386cc six cylinder aluminium horizontally opposed (boxer). Water-cooled. Maximum power, 217kW at 6250rpm. Peak torque, 340Nm from 4400 to 6000rpm.

Transmission Rear-wheel drive. Six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic (automatic with manual shift program) gearbox. Wheels. 18-inch alloy.

Tyres Front, 235/40 ZR18. Rear, 265/40 ZR18.

Performance (Porsche figures) 0-100km/h, 5.4 (manual); 6.1 seconds (automatic). 0-160kmh, 11.7s (manual); 13.5s (auto). 0-200km/h, 18.6s (manual); 21.6s (auto). 0-400 metres 13.6 (manual).

Fuel economy (Porsche figures) Urban cycle, 15.3 litres/100km. Hughway, 7.8 litres/100km. Combined, 10.6 litres/100km (manual). Auto figures are: 16.3 litres; 7.9litres and 11.0 litres/100km.

Dimensions Length, 4341mm. Width, 1801mm. Height, 1305mm. Wheelbase, 2415mm.

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