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Despite the blazing sun, the first signs of autumn are in the air. Leaves are turning golden, while giant sunflowers droop, parched and lifeless. Workers weave through the vineyards, harvesting grapes for the Chianti that will grace tables next year. Of course, at the speed we’re moving, it’s all little more than a blur.
few places more fun —
and fitting —
to test the limits of a car than the narrow,
winding roads that bob and weave through
It might be easy to dismiss Cayman as little more than a closed-top Boxster. That would be doing Cayman — and yourself — a disservice. Inspired by Porsche’s classic 904, this is every bit a true sports car. As we’re about to discover during several long days driving, the new coupe will dig its teeth into you just like the long-snouted reptile it’s named for. The question Porsche might face is whether the Cayman is too darn close to the flagship 911 — for thousands of dollars less.
Jet lag be damned
As we arrive in Borgo San Felice, an ancient village on the outskirts of Sienna, we find a baker’s dozen Caymans lined in a semi-circle. Jet lag be damned, we commandeer the keys to a bright red one with the optional 19-inch wheels and ceramic brakes.
A brief walk-around inspires a sense of déjà vu. Based on the latest Boxster platform, the Cayman’s look is certainly familiar enough. There are some subtle but distinctive changes, two horizontal bars, for example, where the roadster’s air intake has four. And, of course, there’s the sweeping roof line that bears a clear clan resemblance to the 911.
The hardtop configuration has several distinct advantages. The chassis is twice as stiff as Boxster’s. There’s also real cargo space: 6.5 cubic feet, without obstructing rear visibility, 9.1 cubic feet if you pack it up to the expansive rear glass. Of course, you will have to forego the wind-in-the-hair joys of a roadster, and the large rear pillars do cut into visibility a bit, but not enough to be a real concern.
We slip inside and the seat enfolds us, as if to say, “you’re one with this car.” A brief moment of hesitation and we remember Porsche’s key is always to the left of the steering wheel. The horizontally-opposed, 3.4-liter flat six immediately lights up, a satisfyingly resonant roar emerging from the twin exhaust pipes. The short-stroke six-speed manual gearbox engages fluidly, and easing off the clutch, we launch out of San Felice.
Before you can say, “0-60,” you realize this beast is barely tamed. Though the engine is only a wee bit larger than the 3.2-liter in the mid-engine Boxster S, the VarioCam Plus system helps nudge the horsepower rating from 277 to 295; torque jumping from 236 to 251. The power band is long and incredibly flat, and as you launch out of a tight curve, you may start to wonder whether there’s something wrong with the tachometer.
According to the corporate spec sheet Cayman launched from 0-100 km/h (0-62.5 mph) in just 5.4 seconds, four-tenths slower than the 911 Carrera, but a tenth better than the Boxster S. Top speed is rated at 171 mph, compared to 166 for the roadster.
Tourists as cones
On the often blind and serpentine roads of
2006 Porsche CaymanEnlarge Photo
One disappointment was not having a Boxster S on hand to run comparison loops through Chianti country, but we’ve logged enough time in the roadster to feel it in muscle memory. And there’s no question that Cayman has a more refined road feel, especially on smooth pavement. Turn-in is absolutely uncanny. Steering is shared with the Boxster, as is the basic suspension, though Porsche has beefed things up to handle the extra power.
On smooth road, all the pieces come together in a smooth and consistent whole that will make an average driver will feel damned good, an experienced driver even better. There’s none of the classic twitchiness long associated with classic Porsches, like the 904.
None, unless you start pushing the limits on really rough pavement, anyway. We found that charging a corner near the ragged edge, the Cayman did have an unpleasant tendency to push a little too much. Nothing to leave us wary, but there’s a definite difference, especially if the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system is set to Sport mode.
Reflecting the higher price tag of the coupe, the interior is a bit more refined than Boxster’s. If we had any disappointment, after a long day’s seat time, it was with the car’s thick lumbar bolstering. Despite the way you sink into the seat, you can be tossed around more than you’d like in tight corners.
There are a couple other, admittedly very minor points to niggle over. The positioning of the rearview mirror makes it difficult to adjust. And we’d prefer a solid lock-out on the gearbox. More than once, we wound up starting out in reverse, rather than first.
But when it was finally time to turn back the keys, hop in the shuttle van and say goodbye to Borgo San Felice, any problems quickly slipped from memory — which is why a good reporter never gets behind the wheel without a notebook close at hand.
In today’s crowded automotive
market, there’s a niche vehicle for every possible need, yet buyers have also
come to expect that almost every product should be ready for daily driving. But
for the slickest snow days back home in
The final question we’re left pondering is not whether Boxster buyers might be tempted to trade up, but whether 911 owners will justify trading down to Cayman. Sure, Porsche’s top-line sports car is still a bit faster and more prestigious, but it’s also about $12,000 more, and measured on a dollar-per-smile factor, the automaker’s latest entry will be hard to beat.
2006 Porsche Cayman
Base price: $58,900
Engine: 3.4-liter flat six, 295 hp/251
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 170.9 x 70.9 x 51.4 in
Wheelbase: 95.1 in
Curb weight: 2955 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 19/27 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front, side and side curtain airbags; four wheel anti-lock brakes and stability control
Major standard features: Power windows, locks and mirrors; power seats; AM/FM/CD
Warranty: Four year/50,000 miles