Porsche feels your pain. For 2006, the company is building a new sports car that leaves room for the mortgage and the minivan. The new 2006 Porsche Cayman S straddles the asphalt between the smaller and somewhat effeminate Boxster and the costly, high-powered 911 Carrera. And, with a starting price of less than 60 grand, it just might be the best Porsche ever for the money.
No, the Cayman S is not the most beautiful, nor the fastest, or even the most affordable Porsche in the stable, but in our measured opinion it is the most fun. Depress the accelerator when engine revs are up around 5,000 and the Cayman’s cabin is filled with the sweet music of Porsche’s tuned flat six, producing a surge of power that flattens your shoulders hard against the leather sport seats. You can take it all the way to 7,000 rpm before reaching redline, and all the while the Cayman is rocketing forward as composed as a Radio Flyer wagon on a freshly blacktopped driveway. It’s not all about spine-tingling speed, though. The 2006 Porsche Cayman S is equally happy rolling along city streets, soliciting jealous stares from other automotive junkies who assume you’re either rich or really creative.
Built to fill the huge price gap between the Boxster and the 911 Carrera, the 2006 Porsche Cayman S successfully fulfils that mission but also splits the difference in other ways, including performance, attitude and, believe it or not, practicality.
For now, the Cayman S is the only model offered, a coupe that is based on the Boxster S roadster. Standard equipment includes the regular mix of basic amenities, including air conditioning; cruise control; power windows and locks; and heated power mirrors. A nine-speaker stereo with a CD player; a tilting, telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, and partial leather seats complemented by leather on the shifter, the parking brake handle, and parts of the dashboard are also standard. Every Cayman S is also equipped with an on-board computer, 18-inch alloy wheels, red painted brake calipers, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and a bevy of airbags including dual front, side and thorax airbags.
If that’s not enough (and it never is) you can load the 2006 Porsche Cayman S up with all sorts of goodies. But it’s going to cost you. Metallic paint runs $825 for the basic hues or $3,070 for unique colors. And if you want to paint the Cayman S your favorite custom color, that’s $4,315, please. A package with heated seats and an auto dimming mirror is $2,190. Or, just buy the package with power seats, xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, and a six-disc CD changer for $4,995. Want sport seats with 12-way adjustments and memory? Fork over $3,055. Yellow or red seatbelts would be cool, and those are just $340. What the heck, while you’re there, you might as well add another $2,230 to have parts of the interior painted in the same color as the exterior, and why not accent that with carbon fiber dash trim at $1,650. You want natural leather upholstery? You betcha, and such a deal for just $3,605. A custom leather color is just $3,845, and we’re thinking the 19-inch wheels would be nice at $1,940. You don’t want to get lost, do you? No, ’course not. Navigation system: $2,970. And you also must have the Bose surround sound stereo. It might be $950, but it’s like immersing yourself in music instead of merely listening.
You just made your relative bargain cost more than a base 911 – not to mention a Corvette Z06. But wait, we haven’t even mentioned the ceramic composite brakes ($8,150), the park distance control ($530), or Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM – $1,190), which allows you to choose between a more comfortable suspension set-up or a sport mode which hardens the dampers and continually monitors and adjusts them for more dynamic handling.
All these options are nice, some are silly, and none are necessary to enjoy the car. And you definitely do not want the optional five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission ($3,210). It’s a Porsche. Have some self respect.
Nuts and Bolts
The 2006 Porsche Cayman’s only purpose is to provide pure motoring joy through fine engineering and machinery. Start with its 3.2-liter, six-cylinder, horizontally-opposed (flat, or boxer) engine that produces 295 horsepower and 251 pounds-feet of maximum torque. If the numbers don’t seem that impressive, consider that the Cayman’s relatively light 2,955-pound curb weight equals a power-to-weight ratio of 10 lbs. per horsepower. That comes within a cheeseburger of the 911 Carrera at 9.5 lbs., equals the BMW M3, and blows away the Audi TT 3.2 Coupe (13.7). It’s enough to launch the Cayman from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds on its way to a top speed of 171 mph.
The Cayman’s six-speed manual requires some effort to navigate its short throws, snicking into place with a satisfying and reassuring feel. The optional five-speed automatic tranny comes with a manual shifting mode, dubbed Tiptronic in Porscheland, so you can elect to do your own clutchless shifting. Tiptronic is easier to operate perhaps, but 0-60 performance climbs to 5.8 seconds, which is a good indicator of its dulling effect on the driving experience.
Variable ratio rack-and-pinion steering adjusts its sensitivity for greater response at slower speeds and less at high speeds, making the Cayman S agile on city streets or twisty roads and stable on the freeway. Contributing to that agility and stability is a four-wheel independent MacPherson strut suspension, which is based on the Boxster but includes springs, dampers and stabilizer bars that have been tuned for greater performance.
The Cayman’s braking system is also a hand-me-down, borrowed from the 911 Carrera with vinyl LP-sized 12.5-inch discs in front and 11.8-inch discs in back, clamped by four-piston, red painted calipers and charged with bringing our test car’s optional 19-inch alloys to a halt. Shod with Z-rated Michelin Pilot Sport tires, the Porsche Cayman S enjoys an unnaturally close bond with the earth during hard driving but features a compliant and quiet nature when cruising.
Greatly adding to the Porsche Cayman’s performance is its high degree of stiffness. Thanks to its fixed roof and added middle crossbeam, the Cayman is twice as stiff as the Boxster S on which it is based, and nearly as stiff as the 911 Carrera coupe. And generally, the stiffer the car, the better it steers, corners and brakes.
“There are lots of beautiful cars,” says Matthias Kulla, who led the 2006 Porsche Cayman design team. He admits that the Cayman S isn’t one of them. The roof’s profile seems a little too thick, the rear fenders too high and the functional vents just fore of the rear wheels a little awkward. “But,” he says, “we weren’t trying to build the most beautiful car, but the most emotional…the most memorable.”
In that he succeeds. Once the initial shock of this unusual Porsche has worn off, the Cayman takes on its own identity. It grows on you, especially when you watch it move. It, like a skilled athlete in top form, becomes beautiful.
Kulla says his objective was to make a car that would catch light and cast shade in different ways in different places so that with every look it appears new and fresh. Not wanting to merely mimic past Porsche design, he aimed to create distinctive elements, like those high rear fenders, which, incidentally, make the 2006 Cayman the only car with fenders higher than its deck. And, because the Cayman’s greenhouse sweeps well over the rear wheels, the whole effect is one of tensed, explosive energy.
The 2006 Porsche Cayman’s interior is largely borrowed from the Boxster, with the exception, of course, of the large rear cargo area. In our well-optioned tester, the cockpit was like a leather-lined room, with high-grade hide stretched on every surface. Bits of aluminum trim provided nice contrast and the switchgear was solid, well-marked and arranged in an intuitive manner. The sport seats hugged like a prom date, but, unlike that overbearing person, didn’t become uncomfortable after a few hours.
Back to that large cargo area, and the Cayman’s surprising practicality. Between its two cargo spaces, there’s 14.4 cubic feet of volume for carrying your favorite leather luggage – up to 9.1 cubic feet under the rear hatch and a 5.3 cu.-ft. well up front under the hood. All together, that’s just a briefcase less than a Toyota Camry. Indeed, there aren’t many true sports cars with the capacity for you and someone special to escape for a long weekend plus room for your golf clubs.
Safety and Technology
What makes the 2006 Porsche Cayman fun to drive may also save your life. Its super-stiff body enhances performance but also provides a tough passenger compartment that acts like a turtle’s shell. Porsche also includes six airbags as standard equipment for further protection.
Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system takes care of the Cayman’s active safety features. An alphabet soup of technology, it employs ABS (antilock brakes), ASC (anti-slip control), EDC (engine drag control) and ABD (automatic brake differential) to keep the Cayman between the lines and shiny side up, pointed in the direction you want to go. But now for the disclaimer: As good as PSM is (and it’s good) it’s important to remember that it cannot overcome the laws of physics. If you do something reckless or stupid, it will not save you.
Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) are available as an $8,150 option. Yes, it’s a helluva price tag, but, made from NASA-grade materials, they are a whopping 50 percent lighter than regular metal brakes. This reduces unsprung mass (weight not supported by the springs), which greatly improves handling. The material is also more durable, provides more consistent braking performance, and braking power will not fade due to extreme use. Is it cool? Of course. Do you need it? No, not unless you plan on racing your Cayman regularly.
You cannot help but whoop like an American Idol winner when you drive the 2006 Porsche Cayman S hard. The engine sings like Barry White, the steering wheel melds to your hands and it seems as though your nervous system’s rapidly firing synapses are directly connected to the road. Did we mention that the Cayman carves turns like Bode Miller?
Interestingly, the Cayman S has a tendency to understeer when entering corners, but by lifting off the brake the tail rotates a bit and then you’re ready to hammer the throttle at the apex. Unlike Porsches of old, which had a tendency to slash back and forth in an alarming fishtail under such conditions, the Cayman’s back end breaks free just a little bit and then the tires grip and you’re tearing up the road again. Just like that, you’re a Formula 1 stud. Of course, this behavior is available only with the stability control system disengaged. But you don’t need to switch PSM off for good times. The system allows a modicum of oversteer as well as some slippage at launch so that you can thrill to driving by the seat of your pants without worrying whether your life insurance premium has been paid.
Between 5,000 and 7,000 rpm, the 2006 Porsche Cayman S seems to have almost limitless acceleration. We routinely took it to 70 mph before shifting into third gear. Even during a very unofficial speed trial we managed to find plenty of torque in fifth while exceeding 125 mph. The Cayman was composed the whole while, illustrating a major difference between it and the more expensive Carrera 911. When you drive the bigger Porsche fast, it’s hard to feel totally in control and you’re aware that at any moment things might go very wrong. But the Cayman isn’t so threatening. It feels more manageable, adding greatly to its appeal.
One of our favorite things, however, is the Cayman’s engine note. It produces goose bumps, and because the Cayman’s large glass hatch and cargo area work like a speaker cabinet, you’re surrounded by the engine’s music and further immersed in the driving experience. It’s like a THX version of the racing sounds you made as kid, which sums up the Cayman’s greatest attribute: It makes you feel like a kid with the coolest toy on the road.
When can I get a 2006 Porsche Cayman S?
The 2006 Porsche Cayman S goes on sale in the U.S.A. on January 14, 2006.
Is the 2006 Porsche Cayman S a viable substitute for the 911 Carrera?
Absolutely, unless you need to have the top-of-the-line Porsche. The Cayman S provides all the thrills of its big brother, without compromise and at a better price.
What’s with the 2006 Porsche Cayman’s name?
We agree that the caiman (a small, South American crocodile) is not a particularly distinctive or admirable reptile. Porsche’s PR spinners tried to say the car possessed all the animal’s aggressive quickness and agility, but then also admitted that A.) it was one of few unregistered names left in the world and B.) it offered another “C” name for the automaker’s growing fleet (Carrera, Cayman and Cayenne).
Test Vehicle: 2006 Porsche Cayman S
Estimated Price Range: $58,900 to $80,000
Engine Size and Type: 3.2-liter six-cylinder horizontally-opposed (flat, or boxer) engine
Engine Horsepower: 295 at 6250 rpm
Engine Torque: 251 lb.-ft. from 4400 rpm to 6000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual or Five-speed Tiptronic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 2,955
Length: 170.9 inches
Width: 70.9 inches
Height: 51.4 inches
Wheelbase: 95.1 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Two
Max. Cargo Volume: 14.4 cu. ft.
Competitors: Audi TT 3.2 Coupe, BMW Z4 3.0i, Cadillac XLR, Chevrolet Corvette, Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6, Honda S2000, Lexus SC 430, Mazda RX-8, Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class, Nissan 350Z, Porsche Boxster, Porsche 911.
Photos courtesy of Porsche