Cayman comes of age

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 13, 2013

The latest 911 is without a doubt an extremely accomplished Porsche. But for a lot less money, driving enthusiasts can have as much enjoyment in a Cayman.

The differences between the two models are minute, if you discount the tiny rear seats and huge snob appeal that the 911 offers.

Dynamically, the Cayman is superior. Its relative compactness, lightness and mid-engined layout make it a formidable weapon for cutting great distances to size and carving up curves.

More so than its bigger brother. And more so than its predecessor, which was already a pretty nifty sports car.

Even in its basic form, a 275bhp 2.7litre flat-6, the latest Cayman is a joy behind the wheel. What it lacks in the low to mid ranges, it more than makes up for in the way it moves.

Steering is perfectly weighted, reasonably communicative and laser sharp. The car responds to every steering input with poise and promptness. Its chassis is more than able to cope. In fact, it is so unshakeable that eliciting a tyre squeal takes a huge amount of effort.

This makes the Cayman enjoyable at any speed. But to truly have a blast, you need to floor the accelerator with conviction. This sends the Boxer engine screaming past 7,000rpm, unleashing its full complement of horses.

This, in turn, transforms the Cayman from a fairly brisk car to a missile on wheels, complete with a high-pitched engine note that will rattle champagne glasses. Unfortunately, there are not many places here that will accommodate that kind of driving.

And even if there were, it is tiring to drive like that for long.

So it would be great if Porsche starts using turbocharged engines in its sports cars so that the power band below 4,000rpm is meatier.

As it is, the Cayman's wilder side is accessible only in short bursts, often with the driver's eyes glancing nervously at the rear-view mirror.

To enjoy the car at lower revs, seek out serpentine stretches, such as Old Thomson Road and South Buona Vista Road. It is along these that the taut and perfectly balanced Cayman overshadows others.

In Sport mode, gear changes are good enough for you to drive without having to bother with the steering-mounted shift tabs.

Drivetrain aside, the Cayman is engineered beautifully for driving. Take its dimensions: only 4,380mm long, but with a reasonably stretched wheelbase of 2,475mm. Width is 1,801mm without mirrors and distance between roof and road is merely 1,294mm. These alone make for a planted car.

Next, its weight. At 1,385kg (inclusive of 70kg driver), the Cayman is by most measures a lightweight car. It is roughly 30kg lighter than its predecessor.

Despite being so low-slung, sleek and wide, the car offers better- than-average visibility. That is, if you position the mirrors properly.

Porsche has in recent years perfected the cockpit of its cars, and the latest Cayman is proof of that. Instrumentation and switches are within easy reach and aesthetically laid out.

For a sports car, it offers a generous footwell, with a decent footrest that will shame bigger models from a fellow German marque.

The test-car is pretty basic, with manual air-con controls, no cruise control, no rear wiper and no keyless system.

You could pay more for a long list of add-ons, or you could fork out about $60,000 to buy the Cayman S - a variant with more oomph and options.

Either way, you get a car that is obssessively well put together and imaginatively styled. Without departing too drastically from the previous design, Porsche has managed to make the new car far more elegant and noticeably more atheletic.

It is broad-shouldered and better proportioned than the last Cayman, which had somewhat abrupt lines and a profile that is a bit juvenile.

The current car looks the part of a serious 21st-century racer. Its rear is probably the most attractive section - very wide and accentuated by a retractable spoiler and beautiful LED accents in the rear lamp clusters.

It is obvious the thought and attention to detail extends to the interior.

There is also something about the scent of a new Porsche that evokes quality and sportiness. Intangible but real. The Stuttgart manufacturer should bottle the fragrance.

And it is always pleasant to drive a branded sports car with build quality. Fit and finish rank high, right down to finer touches of the most minute part that you see and touch.

Ditto comfort, which is well taken care of by the ergonomic seats. The ride is firm, but seldom harsh.

It would be nice to have more storage space and better insulation against wind noise though.

But these are minor quibbles. The new Cayman is a focused driver's car above all else. While it is not as powerful or as well-rounded as the 911, it is youthful and playful, with incredible balance and road adherence.

On this front, it is clearly better than the Boxster roadster, its soft-top midengined twin. Its positioning has not changed, then.

Only this time, the Cayman is equally, if not better-looking, than the Boxster.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 13, 2013

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