Originally created 05/26/06

Porsche Cayman S is spirited, eager



Porsche officials decided about six years ago to create the Cayman S, sort of a hardtop hatchback version of Porsche's least expensive car, the Boxster roadster.

Engineers wound up using many Boxster mechanicals and marrying them to a body that looks similar to the pricier and iconic Porsche 911 Carrera.

The result has been a hit: the 2006 Caman S, a two-seat coupe with starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $59,695.

More than 2,770 Caymans were sold in the United States in the first four months of 2006, when sales began. Indeed, early sales of the Cayman S were outselling the Boxster, which starts at $45,795.

The Cayman's starting price positions it between the Boxster and the 911 Carrera, which has a starting price, including destination charge, of $72,095.

Cayman S competitors include other European sports coupes, such as the 2007 Jaguar XK Coupe, which starts at $75,500, and the 2006 BMW 650i, which starts at $73,795.

As any Porsche aficionado will attest, there's something unique about driving a Porsche.

The test car had the ignition key to the left of the steering wheel, instead of on the right, where it's found in most other cars. Coming to life, the engine - a "boxer" six-cylinder with pistons horizontally opposed - has the familiar sound that's found only in a Porsche. It's spirited, eager, yet raspy.

Porsche engineers started with the uplevel engine from the Boxster S and improved on it by expanding the displacement to 3.4 liters from 3.2 liters in the Boxster S. They added the 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 less than the 325 in the Carrera.

Torque - that get-up-and-go grunt power - almost feels like that of a turbo, but without the lag, at 250 foot-pounds of torque at 4,200 rpm. This compares with 236 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm in the Boxster S and 273 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm in the base 911 Carrera.

Factor in that at less than 3,000 pounds, this new Porsche weighs less than either the Boxster S or the 911 Carrera, and enthusiast drivers can start to understand why the Cayman is being viewed as a jewel.

The engine's efficient power moves this compact two-seater with verve. The 0-to-60-mile-an-hour time for the Cayman S with six-speed manual transmission is 5.1 seconds, which is 0.3 seconds more than that of the base 911 Carrera.

In the tester, the manual transmission moved quickly and accurately through the gears and had short, satisfying throws. Then, there's the Cayman engine's position, right at the driver's back, which results in a nice, sports car weight distribution tilted a bit - 55 percent - toward the rear.

The Cayman's rigid structure affords a firm and stable, but not 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 car, 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 in the Cayman from those big performance tires, and the engine sounds came on readily. For sporty drivers, the combination is like a symphony, though others might find it a bit too much.

The interior is compact for two, and I felt a bit confined at my head when I raised the power driver seat to a position that worked well for my short stature.

Passengers need to look carefully for the cup holders. They're slim things folded into the dashboard, just atop the glove box. Subtle, under-the-armrest storage spots on the doors also are easy to miss.

Unusually, there are two trunks. There is one under the front of the Cayman, and there's also a bit of room in a rectangular area at the back. Total trunk volume is a reported 14.1 cubic feet.

Fuel economy isn't that bad for a sports car, but Porsche calls for 19.6 gallons of pricey premium gasoline to fill up the Cayman S and get optimum performance.

There is no sunroof offered in this car because of the dramatic sloping of the roof.

Though there's an ashtray and cigarette lighter between the seats, the owner's manual warns drivers not to throw cigarettes or butts out the windows. They just might be sucked into the air inlets that are just aft of the doors and could cause a fire in the engine compartment.

SPECS

THE VEHICLE: 2006 Porsche Cayman S, a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports coupe

BASE PRICE: $58,900.

DESTINATION CHARGE: $795

PRICE AS TESTED: $71,860.

ENGINE: 3.4-liter, horizontally opposed, boxer six-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual

EPA MILEAGE: 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

TOP SPEED: 171 mph

LENGTH: 171.1 inches

WHEELBASE: 95.1 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 2,954 pounds

BUILT IN: Finland

OPTIONS: Communication management system (includes navigation system and computer), $2,970; preferred package (includes Bose surround sound audio, floor mats and heated seats), $2,190; active suspension management system, $1,990; power seat adjusters, $1,550; 19-inch Carrera S wheels, $1,550; bi-xenon headlamps with automatic leveling and washers, $1,090; metallic paint, $825