Test Drive: 2010 Porsche Cayman

Porsche has been in the news a lot lately with the latest versions of ultra-fast and ultra-expensive models like the 911 Turbo S and the 911 GT2 RS, but to find out how good a carmaker really is you sometimes need to drive some of their least expensive models. If you want a Porsche sports car that costs less than $58,000, there are only two cars you can consider – the base model versions of the Boxster cabriolet and the Cayman coupe. To find out for ourselves how good the least expensive Porsche sports car with a roof is, we spend a week driving the Cayman. Does it stir the soul and deliver the joie de vivre of the more expensive 911 models? Read on.

You’re no doubt familiar with the Cayman S, which is the higher horsepower Cayman offered by Porsche and is the model used in most of the tests and comparisons that have been published. That car has a price starting at $61,500 and puts out 320hp. The Cayman uses a smaller displacement six-cylinder engine than the Cayman S (2.9-liter vs. 3.4-liter) and puts out 265hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. It also costs over ten grand less than the Cayman S, with an MSRP of $51,400. For handling, the Cayman relies on a McPherson strut suspension with anti-roll bars front and rear and puts power to the pavement on 205/55-17 front and 235/50-17 rear tires.  Our test car also had the optional PDK dual-clutch transmission, which we were very impressed with in an earlier drive of the 911 Carrera S model see: Previous Aritcle

Porsche moved away from the traditional 911 shape when they designed the Cayman, but there’s no mistaking it for anything other than a Porsche, as it evokes the spirit of earlier mid-engine Porsches like the RS 60 and 550 Spyder. Besides the design, the placement of the engine is also a key differentiator that distinguishes the Cayman from the 911. While the 911 has always used a rear-engine layout (with the engine mounted behind the rear axle), the Cayman and the Boxster both have mid-engine layouts, with the engine mounted in front of the rear axle. This moves the cars center of gravity closer to the center and to the driver, which gives the car a much different feel than driving a 911, where much of the weight is hanging at the rear of the car. We wish we could see the engine itself, but it’s hidden under the floor of the trunk area with no access besides filler openings for oil and coolant. Unlike the 911, which has a small back seat, the Cayman is strictly a two-seater. We love the look of the car from every angle, even in the Macadamia Metallic (aka Brown) paint that our test car came with, though it wouldn’t be in our top five color choices.

Inside, the cockpit of the Cayman is pure Porsche, with supportive seats, good fit and finish and the large tach positioned front and center in the gauge cluster. The PDK transmission can be used with either the gear lever or the steering-wheel mounted buttons. At 6’5”, I fit pretty well in the Cayman cockpit, but do have some trouble finding room for my right leg between the steering wheel and center console. PDK makes driving the Cayman easier for me, since I don’t have to worry about movement of my right leg for heel-toe downshifting. My only real complaint with the cockpit is that Porsche really needs to get with the program and install some real shift paddles for PDK, instead of the buttons (they’re not really buttons, but we’re not sure what to call them).

Enthusiast drivers almost always wish for more power, but the base model Cayman has all the horsepower you need for almost any driving situation, though we could understand why track-day regulars would want the added power of the Cayman S. In action, the 2.9-liter engine provides very strong pulling power from a standstill and really comes alive once you get past 5,000rpm, where the exhaust emits a howl that is pure Porsche. Throttle response is excellent in this car, as it no doubt benefits from the VarioCam Plus system, which controls valve timing and lift. It’s also pretty impressive that the Cayman can deliver nearly 30mpg on the highway, which is becoming more important for even enthusiast drivers these days.

The true beauty of the Cayman (and the Boxster) is in the driving experience and it’s hard to find fault with the driving dynamics, as this is one of the most enjoyable cars on the market to hustle through a sequence of curves. After the initial touch of understeer on turn-in, you can just squeeze on the power and the car quickly adjusts to a very neutral stance. Push harder on the throttle, and the Cayman takes a set and provides an incredible amount of grip when powering through a corner. It takes a great deal of effort to activate the PSM (Porsche Stability Management) or get the rear to step out. When it comes time to stop, the  brakes are excellent and did not exhibit the slightest hint of fading after sessions of spirited driving.

With a low center of gravity and a low polar moment of inertia, the Cayman feels exquisitely balanced on twisty roads, particularly in fast sweepers. Pushing the Cayman hard on a scenic and deserted backroad is one of the most enjoyable automotive experiences you can have, as this car involves the driver completely in the process of driving. While the suspension is firm, it’s also fairly compliant for daily driving and is comfortable enough to drive for hours on the interstate. Overall, the Cayman is simply one of the best driver’s cars on the market today regardless of price and will go down in history as a true Porsche.

Our only wish is that Porsche would put their efforts into racing this car. As it stands today, Porsche has put no development into the Cayman for racing and offers no support for any teams that wish to race it, though there are teams racing the Cayman S in both Europe and the U.S. (in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge). We understand Porsche’s wish to keep the 911 as the primary racing car in the lineup, but we think they could keep the 911 GT3 Cup and GT3 RSR for higher-tier series, while using the Cayman for series like Continental Challenge and Speed World Challenge.

More info:

MSRP $51,400
Engine 2.9-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder with VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift and dry-sump lubrication
Power 265hp @ 7,200rpm
Torque 221 lb-ft
Suspension McPherson strut with anti-roll bars front/rear
0-60mph 5.5 seconds
Brakes 12.5” front/11.8” rear vented/cross-drilled rotors with 4-piston monobloc aluminum fixed calipers
Fuel economy 20mpg city/29mpg highway (with PDK)
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