2011 Porsche Cayman Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 6, 2011

Fantastic handling, comfortable seating, and better-than-average cargo room make the Porsche Cayman a success in the segment.

If you like the Porsche Boxster but aren't convinced a convertible is the fastest way to get around in life, Porsche has your alternative: the Cayman, the hardtop version of the same architecture, and in many ways, a perfect substitute for the bigger, more expensive 911.

It's changed very little for the 2011 model year, and that's great news. The Cayman looks the part of a Porsche, from its sexy, pert rear end to the classic fall of its roofline, up to the raised profile of its front fenders and headlamps. The cockpit's less heritage-sprinkled than it could be, but it works well, and can be dolled up in your choice of colors and trims.

Performance is stunning. Either with the adaptive suspension or without it, the Cayman grips the road tenaciously, and charges with the same urgency of the 911. There's a reason for it all, of course, since the flat six hammering away behind your ears is related to the bigger engine in the 911. The Cayman's steering is just as precise, its brakes bind with a direct feel that's hard to find outside the Porsche brand, and the ride doesn't go to pieces even with optional 19-inch wheels. A Cayman S with the PDK transmission and Sport Chrono package unfailingly generates one of the most vivid sportscar experiences you can find anywhere.

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Bluetooth and a universal audio interface are now standard, but the Cayman isn't exactly plush, in stock form. Cruise control is an option; we recommend the adaptive sport seats for superior back comfort, and they're complemented by the adaptive headlamps. Porsche's navigation and audio controller has dozens of maddening little buttons, but the LCD screen is crisp and the maps render beautifully.

Not every driver can afford a Porsche 911 in a lifetime, but if you're on the bubble, the Cayman is the perfect no-compromise compromise.
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2011 Porsche Cayman

Styling

It's like the 911, only leaner--and that makes the Porsche Cayman's styling nearly perfect.

The profile instantly reads Porsche, and to our eyes, it's almost easy to confuse the Cayman two-seater with the bigger 911.

The iconic teardrop of the 911 melds with the Boxster's fenders and stance in the Cayman's profile, just about effortlessly. It's gorgeous from most angles, with the clearest distinction from the 911 in the wider air inlets, the angle of the arc moving up its flanks and resolving into the rear quarters. The roofline's actually a bit prettier than that on the 911--it's thinner and lighter, more like what the 911 was a few decades ago. The corners are more voluptuous, too.

The Cayman even looks the part of a junior 911 inside, with the same clutter of buttons on the center stack and the same trim and color options to make them recede into the background. Big oval air vents and the huge centrally sited tachometer are the most pleasing pieces on the dash; they're framed usually in black plastic, which is why Porsche's fitted leather dash is such a highly recommended option. There's a cheap-looking, cheap-feeling piece of plastic across the passenger space that flips down to reveal a pop-out cupholder--it's one of the only jarring notes inside a well thought-out cockpit, and one of the things you don't get used to over repeated exposure.

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2011 Porsche Cayman

Performance

The 2011 Porsche Cayman pits its ninja reflexes and race-ready acceleration against any and all comers--even against the 911.

Spectacular performance is the whole reason the Cayman exists--it's not the slinky spyder the Boxster is, but it's nearly the performance equal of the bigger, base 911.

The Cayman punches out 265 horsepower from its 2.9-liter flat-six engine, and the power ripples with that classic Porsche engine note--sonorous, omnipresent, mechanically refined. Thrust is always available whether you're using the six-speed manual transmission or the "PDK," or Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. With the PDK, the Cayman will accelerate to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, reaching a top speed of 165 mph, according to Porsche. The optional Sport Chrono package twiddles with fuel delivery and shift timing to drop 0-60 mph times to 5.2 seconds; in the other direction, opting for the manual gearbox puts 0-60 mph times at 5.5 seconds.

But that's not all. Porsche will boost the engine's displacement to 3.4 liters and add direct injection, which results in 320 horsepower. Porsche rates the Cayman S's acceleration at 4.9 seconds to 60 mph with the manual transmission, and 4.8 seconds for the PDK Cayman S. Top speed for the S model is a heady 171 mph with the PDK--but one mile per hour higher with the manual. Adding the Sport Chrono package on the Cayman S delivers 60 mph in 4.6 seconds.

These numbers can't hope to convey the sheer pleasure of pushing a Cayman through its gears, and to its limits. The fundamental chassis is brilliant, and the Cayman has the sharp, easy, predictable responses of the most confident roadgoing sportscars--not to mention deeply capable braking. You can try to improve on its reflexes with an optional Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), which lets you tailor driving feel from Normal mode to Sport for city and spirited driving, respectively. It does little to fluster the Cayman's direct, communicative feel, though it can make the ride feel a little more brittle.

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2011 Porsche Cayman

Comfort & Quality

Noise is a delight or a burden, depending on your point of view, but the Cayman provides more interior space than expected, and good fit and finish.

The Cayman's a compact two-seater, and a real sportscar--so if you're looking for six cupholders and acres of leg room, you may want to consider the Cayenne instead.

Ample headroom reminds Cayman drivers of the bigger 911--it's like a speed cathedral inside--but the base seats don't give the kind of bolstered grip you'll need when exercising the Cayman at its limits. For enthusiastic track driving, the optional adaptive sport seats are probably a better bet, even though the inflatable action during cornering can be more of a distracting gimmick. Either way, the Cayman is comfortable enough for long drives.

The Cayman also has more usable cargo space than its near-twin, the Boxster, since it doesn't have to stow a convertible top. Because the engine is mounted amidship, the Cayman can stow gear both in front and in back, and Porsche even offers fitted luggage to take advantage of every possible nook. The cockpit doesn't have as much space, but small objects like phones can be hidden in the console. 

Noise is ever-present in the Cayman, whether it's a little wind noise or a lot of engine note. To us, it sounds like music, but it might be draining after a few hours unabated. Porsche's build quality is top-drawer, and only a few pieces of interior plastic don't quite make its grade.
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2011 Porsche Cayman

Safety

No safety ratings are available, and visibility is an issue, but the 2011 Porsche Cayman gets credit for plenty of safety gear.

With all its standard safety gear, the 2011 Porsche Cayman gets credit for protecting passengers in an accident. It hasn't been crash-tested yet, though.

Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has put the Cayman through their sled tests. It's more likely that the Cayman's high price and its limited sales are the reason, not the reshuffling of the criteria by both agencies for the new model year.

Safety features are abundant in the Cayman: it has dual side and side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control with performance tuning that allows some wheelspin in sporty driving. The Cayman S can also be ordered with ceramic composite brakes, which have better fade resistance, and all models can opt for an upgrade to dynamic cornering lights to help see what's coming when the road ahead isn't straight.

Visibility can be an issue in the Cayman. Available parking sensors mitigate the lack of clear sightlines to its rear corners, but a rearview camera is not available.

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2011 Porsche Cayman

Features

It's fairly well-equipped out of the factory, and the 2011 Porsche Cayman lets owners pick and choose colors, trims, and finishes.

The 2011 Cayman doesn't have an overwhelming set of standard features, but it covers the usual bases and has Porsche's typically long list of options--which can boost the price of the two-seat hardtop by a significant margin.

The Cayman comes with standard power windows, locks and mirrors; an anti-theft system; leather-trimmed seats; and an audio system with a CD player and this year, a universal interface for portable music players. Bluetooth is another addition to the standard-equipment list for 2011.

On the options list, Porsche offers a Bose Surround Sound speaker upgrade; automatic climate control; cruise control; a heated steering wheel; sports seats; heated and ventilated seats; bigger alloy wheels; sport exhaust; the Sport Chrono Plus package; and the Porsche Communications Management system, which groups controls for navigation, audio, and communications on a large LCD screen.

Though the base price of the Cayman starts around $52,000, Porsche has a long list of custom trim pieces, like a leather-upholstered dash and aluminum trim, that can be fitted. Those options can push the Cayman's price into 911 territory, if you're not careful.
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2011 Porsche Cayman

Fuel Economy

You expect the Cayman's revelatory handling prowess, but are you ready for its compact-car fuel economy?

Porsche's sportscar probably take the EPA by surprise, since their ground-ripping performance doesn't get in the way of great fuel economy.

The 2011 Cayman comes in base and S versions, and both have highway gas mileage that nears 30 mpg. The base Cayman gets an EPA-rated 20/29 mpg with its dual-clutch transmission, which the agency rather oversimplifies as an "automatic." With the six-speed manual instead, the Cayman sags a bit but still finishes with a 19/27 mpg rating.

The Cayman S is more powerful, but with the PDK dual-clutch gearbox, it carries the same fuel-economy rating as the base car. The manual Cayman S loses one more mile per gallon, with its 19/26 mpg score.

Porsche hasn't said hybrids or diesels are in the Cayman's future, but the sportscar maker is dabbling in gas-electric drive with its Cayenne SUV--and with its staggering 918 concept supercar.
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