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Meet the hoax of the century

First Drive: Porsche Cayman 2013

13/12/2013 14:22 |  Comments: 


As typical of a long-serving automotive journalist he worked at nearly all of the major printed automotive magazines in Hungary before ending up on the internet. More of the new cartester type, he’s also an automotive engineer by profession. Although he’s the editor in chief
of the mother magazine,, he loves doubling as a photographer – we sometimes
think he made a mistake when choosing titles. Has a wife and a small daughter.

This may sound disillusioning, but sometimes we get in a car and test drive it without knowing anything about it. At the famed Tannistest for instance – the grand driving convention organised for members of the Car of the Year jury, where we test and try two dozen cars within a few days – this is almost unavoidable. And sometimes this ends in comic situations, such as when I refused to believe I drove the 275 PS version of the Porsche Cayman. Could you double check that, sir?

I was really looking for excuses. This must have been a Cayman S, weighing in at 325 PS instead. Nope, that's the red car, the one fully booked for the entire event. No, this is a bog standard, entry spec Cayman, the vehicle this Jeremy Clarkson dude calls Gayman. Serves him right. And I tell you why. You start up the engine, and wow. I mean Wow! Even if you have just driven the menacing 500 PS Jaguar F-type V8 it's still: wow! Because of the sound, the force the engine shakes the entire car with, and because of the way the gearbox engages first gear.

And all this despite the fact that the Cayman is nothing spectacular. It's an old story that began with the concept of a more affordable Porsche Roadster - that was to be known as the Boxster. After ten years of manufacture Porsche thought they'd risk a hardtop version. They called it the Cayman. And today we meet the second generation coupé, with brand new technical content but an unchanged concept. People loved the first generation. They had every right to do so because hypothetically a mid-engine-RWD layout can give you more enjoyment than the rear-engine-RWD config of the 911. Hypothetically. Of course Porsche had to make sure this didn't convert into practical advantages so as not to ruin the business case for the 911.

And they managed to keep the Cayman a hypothetically great car. No matter how enthusiastically the engine roared, the car simply could not handle situations where you needed quick steering and a fully deactivated ESP. It could not handle, for instance, race tracks - I know because I tried. Basically, the Cayman was a showcar, a coupe built to generate emotions, and it sure delivered on that front.

But this new one, this is the car it should be. Of course it takes a little more than the base price to make it happen. You need to buy the Sport Chrono package, including the software that makes communication between the accelerator and the engine faster and more radical (€1594.60), you need the adaptive suspension (€1420) and the tuned exhaust (€2165.80) that comes with a button on the centre console: push it and the howl becomes louder. I am guessing you do because the tested vehicle came with all these extras from Porsche. Bereft of these, your €64K buys you a Porsche with so many blank switches you'd only expect in a super sale special Škoda Fabia.

As a side thought: can someone please tell me why Porsche accessories have to be priced down to the cent? I mean, would it stop people from buying the sports exhaust if it cost €2166?

I challenged our revered colleague and COTY member Zsolt to solve the mystery of what the Cayman was doing here at the Car of the Year pre-selection test event. You see, COTY is intended to honour cars that are widely available to the general public, have great price-to-value ratio and are the showcase of innovative technology. And the Cayman won't satisfy more than one of these criteria. Mind you, it was not the only one present not fitting into those categories. Both the Range Rover Sport, the aforementioned Jaguar F-type and the Mercedes-Benz S 500 Lang are seemingly odd ones out at this race, All through the history of COTY there have been only single instances when a Porsche (the 928 in 1978) or a Mercedes (the W116 in 1974) captured the title. Maybe there were not enough exemplary cars those years? Model life spans were definitely longer those days. But the year the 928 won the race, it beat the BMW 7-series! Can you imagine that happening today? Me neither.

The thing is, while a snot green Mitsubishi Space Star may have stellar price-to-value ratio, these motor vehicles give you authentic driving enjoyment. Especially the Porsche, and 'especially' is a gross understatement in that case. The fact is, the Porsche was head and shoulders above all of the 40-60 cars available for test drive. All of them!

You slide into the seat that leans back just enough to make you snug and secure. You have the steering wheel in front of you, the engine behind. And the drive shaft tunnel to the right. Except there is no drive shaft running down there. Not even an exhaust pipe. Nothing. Obviously the tunnel is only there to enhance the structural rigidity of the partially aluminium body. The Cayman has two luggage compartments. One in the front where regular cars have their engine, and one in the back - because the engine is not there either. It is in the middle, just over the rear axle. This means the Cayman is strictly a two-seater but judging from the rear seats of the 911 this is not such a huge loss.

Porsche interiors are always straightforward. No design frills here, this is an orderly and well groomed place. No rattle, no cheap solutions, just loads of


. You would not expect anything less for your money, mind you. For some strange reason I feel that everything is just the way it should be, whether it's the weight of the buttons or the sound of the audio system. But all of this becomes irrelevant as soon as you start the engine. Because at that point it's time for your daily dose of Wow!

In retrospect the reason I loved this little car was probably that it took strength to operate it. Coming from today's bleached out automotive world it is a revelation to work the clutch and the gearbox in the Cayman. Because you need to work them hard, just like the steering and the brakes. It makes you feel alive. You are not just a ghost in a self-operating machine.

Add to that the sound. I cannot describe it but I can show it to you. Here, enjoy.

It was really surprising that even the base engine is quite loud on the Cayman, both on the inside and outside. You cannot help but keep flooring the pedal because you want to hear the engine roar. That loudness button really doesn't make much of a difference, maybe adds a bit of bass.

All the while I had the sensation I was going at ultrasonic speeds, but it became suspicious after a while.

The engine is pretty feeble under 2000 rpm, no matter what you do with the Sport Plus button. Help it over the bump, though, and it will make up for the loss, revving all the way to 7800 rpm. And yet you can feel it's only a 2.7-litre unit. It's not the 275 PS that is amazing, that kind of specific power is no biggie these days. But the way the engine responds to the accelerator, you no longer find that in today's atmospheric engines.

Golf-sized hot hatches will offer you this much power or more, sometimes even combined with all-wheel drive, such as in the Audi S3, the Golf R and so on. What's more, these vehicles drive as fast as the Porsche. Depending on the type of gearbox (manual or dual clutch PDK) the Cayman reaches 100 kph in 5.4-5.7 seconds. The Sport Chrono package brings an improvement of about 0.2 secs. From 80 to 120 kph I measured 9 seconds in fifth, 11 in sixth gear. Even the electric BMW i3 can top that at 8 seconds.

Is that all this Porsche can do? What is the big deal?

The big deal is the sensation that is becoming outdated in the auto industry. It's not enough to lazily put your foot on the gas like in any other vehicle, you need to work the car to get up to 100 kph. In return you get the sound and the incredible balance only a mid-engine layout can give you. And the Cayman won't easily lose that balance. And then, the sensation I really missed in the first generation model: an ultra quick steering. It won't fight you, it won't go too light on you. It just turns without hesitation. No matter how fast you turn the wheel, the car follows through. And when it's time to brake, it stops. Although the rotors are sized regularly, a mere 315 mm up front, deceleration sends your internal organs swinging.

And then you push Sport Plus which deactivates the start-stop function, opens up different passageways in the exhaust system, cancels ESP (almost completely) and makes shock absorbers harder. Driving against the clock will reveal the actual difference in performance is minimal, but it sure feels faster. The best part of Sport Plus is the automatic throttle blip at downshift which allows you to shift back a gear with lightning speed and no resistance. Brilliant!

It is no small feat reaching 100 kph in six seconds. Or 130 kph in second gear. Or being the fastest in an elk test. There are plenty of cars who can do this or better and they are often way more powerful than the Cayman. And yet, while those make you yawn as you complete the drive, this underrated little Porsche will give you bucket loads of enjoyment every metre of the way. The way the Cayman performs it feels like it has 500 PS, not 275. I would be hard pressed to find a car of similar standings in today's marketplace. The Toyota GT86 comes close as regards its philosophy of not aiming for the highest numbers on the spec sheet. If that was the only thing that mattered sports cars would soon be accelerating to 100 kph in zero seconds. But it's not. What matters is giving a great toy to those who still have a bit of a child in them. The Cayman is this great toy. And as for the hoax? Nobody would suspect it is. Not even me, not until now.

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