2006 Porsche Cayman
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Porsche aficionados don't have to shell out upwards of $71,000 anymore to buy a new Porsche coupe.
The Porsche Cayman mixes outer styling cues of the pricey 911 Carrera with the underpinnings and engines of Porsche's lowest-priced car, the Boxster roadster—all for a starting price of around $50,000.
But the two-seat Cayman, introduced in the 2006 model year, is more than a merger of vehicles. It's authentic in its Porsche-precise steering and handling.
For example, it felt as if all I had to do was glance at the point on the road where I wanted the Cayman to be, and the car moved there, almost instinctively. The steering was that quick to respond.
All I had to do was touch the brake pedal in the Cayman S and braking started. There was no waiting to feel the car slowing until the pedal went closer to the floor as you experience in lesser cars.
The Cayman also can satisfy drivers with its ready power, especially in the S version, where a Boxster six cylinder is updated and enlarged to deliver nearly 300 horsepower and what can feel like amazingly strong torque.
Helping the spirited ride is the Cayman's weight, which at less than 3,000 pounds is lighter than either the Boxster or the 911 Carrera. And the quick 5.1 seconds it takes the Cayman S with six-speed manual to go from 0 to 60 miles an hour is just 0.3 second less than that of the base 911 Carrera.
Perhaps this helps explain why the Cayman is being viewed as a jewel.
Filling a spot in the lineup
Engineers wound up using many mechanicals of the rear-wheel-drive Boxster and marrying them to a hardtop body that looks similar to the 911 Carrera.
But there's that lower starting price for the Cayman—about $20,000 less than a 911 Carrera. It's also less than some competing European sports coupes, such as the Jaguar XK Coupe and the BMW 650i, both of which start at more than $70,000. So there's something to be said for Porsche pricing the Cayman in a sweet spot in the market.
Indeed, the Cayman appeared to be an immediate hit when sales began in the U.S. in early calendar 2006. In its first four months the Cayman—offered at the time only in the up-level S version—was outselling Porsche's Boxster.
A footnote: The Cayman can rise to the 911 price range if a buyer gets the upscale Cayman S, which has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price around $60,000 and adds some costly options such as stability control package, special dashboard trim, a navigation system package and a preferred package with Bose audio. There's also the option of ceramic brakes for the Cayman. They're priced at more than $8,000.
Experiencing the Cayman
And you know what? I didn't even think about the Boxster as I gazed at the Cayman. The styling is so much more "upscale Porsche" than that. Turning the ignition key to the left of the steering wheel, instead of on the right where it's found in most other cars, I started the Cayman and instantly heard the familiar Porsche engine sounds—eager and raspy.
Coming to life, the engine in the S test car was a "boxer" six cylinder with pistons horizontally opposed. Porsche engineers started with the up-level engine from the Boxster S and then improved on it by expanding the displacement to 3.4 liters from 3.2 liters in the Boxster S. They also added the Porsche 911 Carrera's cylinder heads and made sure to include Porsche's VarioCam Plus variable valve tuning.
The resulting 295 horsepower is more than the 280 horsepower in the Boxster S and, appropriately, less than the 325 in the 911 Carrera.
Torque—that get-up-and-go power—almost feels like that of a turbo, but without the lag, at 251 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. This compares with 236 lb-ft at 4700 rpm in the Boxster S and 273 lb-ft at 4250 rpm in the base 911 Carrera.
In the test Cayman S, the manual transmission moved quickly and accurately through the gears and had short, satisfying throws.
A base Cayman—sans the S designation—with a lower-powered 245-horsepower 2.7-liter boxer six cylinder from the base Boxster is in the mix, too. Torque peaks at 201 lb-ft between 4600 and 6000 rpm, so both power figures are about on par with the base Boxster.
Other differences between the base Cayman and the Cayman S include smaller standard wheels—17-inchers vs. 18-inchers on the S—and a standard 5-speed manual transmission vs. the standard 6-speed manual in the S. Drivers are quickly aware that the Cayman's engine is positioned right at their back, which results in a nice, sports car weight distribution tilted a bit—55 percent toward the rear.
I found the Cayman's rigid structure affords a firm and stable, but not harshly stiff, ride, and a suspension borrowed from the Boxster is updated with more aggressive tuning of the springs, shock absorbers and stabilizer bars.
Frankly, the test Cayman S, with optional 19-inch wheels and tires, felt like it was riding on rails no matter if it was darting out on the highway to pass other cars or galloping through mountain curves.
There was incessant road noise, though, in the Cayman from those big performance tires. And engine sounds were constant. For sporty drivers, the combination is like a symphony, though others might find it all a bit too much noise.
Formed seats look good, though, and provide excellent support for long drives.
Passengers need to look carefully for the cupholders. They're slim things folded into the dashboard, just atop the glove box, when not in use. Subtle, under-the-armrest storage spots on the doors also are easy to miss.
And, unusually, there are two trunks. The one at the front of the Cayman is identical to that in the Boxster. But there's also a bit of room in a rectangular area at the back of the Cayman. Trunk volume is a reported 14.5 cubic feet altogether.
Of course, you have to figure out how to pack items so they'll fit into the various trunk areas. No big roller suitcases can be accommodated.
Note there is no sunroof offered in this car, because of the dramatic sloping of the roof.
And while there's an ashtray and cigarette lighter between the Cayman's seats, the owner's manual warns drivers not to throw cigarettes or butts out the windows. They shouldn't in any event, but with the Cayman's design, these cigarettes, cigars or butts might be sucked into the air inlets that are just aft of the car doors and could cause a fire in the engine compartment.
Decent fuel mileage rating
Even with all the performance it offers, the base Cayman is rated at a commendable 23 miles a gallon in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway. This is the same rating as the 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle with a five-cylinder gasoline engine and an automatic transmission.
The up-level Cayman S has a lower rating of 20/28 mpg, which is the same rating as the 2006 Nissan Altima midsize sedan. During my test drive of the Cayman S I recorded 24.6 mpg, with 60 percent of my driving done on highways and country roads, not in city traffic.
Note, though, that Porsche calls for 19.6 gallons of pricey premium gasoline to fill up the Cayman—either model—and get optimum performance, so a fill-up can easily cost more than $50.