Is $50,000 too much, or too little, for an entry-level Porsche?
Porsche Cayman – 2007 Review: The words "entry level" and "Porsche" are as much an oxymoron as "military intelligence" or "Microsoft Works." Yet here we are, behind the wheel of the lowest-priced Porsche coupe you can buy: the Cayman. After establishing its track credentials at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., we were anxious to try it out on the fashion-conscious byways of Los Angeles, and the physics-conscious mountain roads surrounding it. Our conclusion: While maybe not a value leader in terms of performance-per-dollar, we discovered that the Cayman is a true Porsche to its core.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
Our test car was a 2007 Porsche Cayman. The lack of an “S” badge means it was equipped with Porsche’s 2.7-liter flat-6, and the lack of a $60,000-plus price tag means that options were kept to a minimum. The only listed options on our test car were $115 worth of embroidered floor mats and $690 worth of silver paint. However, we also noticed that our tester had the larger 18-inch wheel and tire package, with 235/40ZR18 front and 265/40ZR18 rear Michelin Pilot Sport tires, a $1,235 option. Total for our Cayman therefore would come to $52,235 with the $795 destination charge.
With 245 horsepower and 201 lb.-ft. of torque to motivate its 2,866 pounds, the Cayman is certainly quick, but a number of less expensive cars can beat Porsche’s estimated 5.9-second 0-60 time. Raw numbers aren’t the whole story; we only found it lacking on the highway, where we wished for more torque (but liked the 18.6 mpg average). On our favorite mountain road, the revs stayed high and the Cayman had plenty of power. The five-speed shifter is beautifully weighted and the clutch progressive, but we think the extra money for the optional six-speed would add some needed off-the-line zip to the Cayman.
The Cayman’s Porsche heritage shows in its handling. This is easily one of the most balanced cars on the road today. Bend the surgically precise steering into a corner and the car responds as a whole; power out and the tail drifts just enough to align you down the straight. Stab the brakes and the Cayman slows like it dropped anchor. On the right roads, the handling allows the driver to leave more powerful cars in the dust without breaking a sweat. The highway ride is stiff of course, but the optional $1,990 Porsche Active Suspension Management smoothes things out for tenderbutts.
The Cayman’s visibility is compromised compared to its excellent 911 sibling because of the mid-engine arrangement. This, coupled with the hatchback design, requires more structure around the rear quarters, and consequently the view out the rear is difficult because of the thick rearmost pillars. The small windows back there don’t help, but at least the view directly to the rear is good thanks to the large glass. Out front it’s classic Porsche: The swelled fenders help you place the car on the road, the hood otherwise is invisible, and large outside mirrors more than make up for the small rear view.
Fun to Drive
If you can’t have fun driving a Cayman, then you’re dead inside, and you have our pity. Sure, the commute can be a little taxing after a while, but when traffic clears just drop the Cayman a few gears and let that engine wind out to redline once or twice, and you’ll be in love once again in no time.
This is a business office, not a luxury suite. The seats are made for a certain type of body, one that doesn’t mind being contorted a little at first to fit the Porsche seating philosophy. Side support is good, and so is the bottom cushion, but the lumbar is on the aggressive side and takes some getting used to. Tall drivers will find themselves squeezed against the firewall quickly, but at least there’s plenty of head room, and the telescoping steering wheel makes finding a good position relatively easy. Still, those who splay their legs during their daily drive will find it tight.
No car is without fault, and one of the Cayman’s is noise. This is a loud little beast, from the constant engine drone to the thump of the suspension and tires to some wind roar thanks to the lack of sound deadening. There was also an almost constant flutter, as if a sunroof was open, emanating from the rear. Maybe it’s the hatch itself, maybe it’s the body’s resonance frequency, but it was enough to give our tinnitus fits. Of course, noise has its benefits as well: There are few sweeter sounds than the Porsche’s engine right behind your head as it wails to redline.
The Cayman has two trunks – one in front, one in the rear – for a total of 14.5 cu. ft. of cargo space. That sounds good, but you still need small bags to make the most of it. We’re not sure if a set of golf clubs could even fit in either trunk. The liftover for both is low, of course, and there’s a small net on the shelf above the engine in the rear for holding smaller bags or a briefcase. It’s enough room for two light packers over a weekend, but drive the Cayenne for those Home Depot runs.
Build quality on the Cayman is generally very good, but not without fault. Outside it’s virtually flawless, with not a panel misalignment or paint ripple to be found. Inside we were disappointed to find a couple of things. One of the speaker grilles on the dash was ill fitting, and the plastic trim on the ceiling behind the driver was partially popped off, and wouldn’t pop back on no matter what we did. Otherwise things inside are tight, but we wonder if the Cayman’s body integrity will hold up in the long run; a 911 Turbo we recently drove had become a rattle trap after only 10,000 miles.
One of the things your $50,000-plus gets you is a beautifully appointed interior. The leather on the seats is firm but luxurious. The carpeting on the floor and lower part of the door panels is thick. The adjustment for the seat height is a big solid aluminum handle. Everything feels substantial and expensive in this car, as well it should. The lone exception is the cheap plastic sun visors that look like they’re out of a mid-90s Hyundai.
The Cayman has its advocates and detractors, but all agree that it’s one of the most distinctive cars on the road. Not quite 911, but distinctly Porsche, the Cayman’s lines are elegant from most angles, beautiful from some, and a little awkward from others. The profile is probably the least attractive; the small greenhouse and dramatically sloping roof emphasizes the Porsche frog-nose look. However, one of its best angles is from directly behind, where that sharply sloping roof plunges below the rear fenders, giving the Cayman a muscular, meaty stance on the road.
There’s not a lot of storage space in the Cayman for commuter-type junk. Two flimsy cupholders are hidden behind a panel above the small glovebox. The armrests on the doors double as small pockets. The center armrest has a small (notice a pattern here?) storage compartment underneath. That about does it. You can throw plenty of stuff directly behind you under the cargo net, and there are two small cubbies on either side of the platform behind the seats, but they’re awkward to reach from the passenger compartment. Travel lightly.
Porsche spends so much time making its cars drive well that they relegate audio system duty to the guy who got Cs in his engineering courses. That’s the only explanation we can come up with for its consistently confusing infotainment controls. The presets are a row of look and feel alike buttons below the display, which perform other functions depending on what mode the system’s in a the time. Switching between modes is easy enough at least, thanks to the function buttons above the CD slot. Upgraded systems, including navigation, are available for extra Benjamins, of course.
Compared to the audio controls the climate functions are simplicity itself. However, the monochrome graphics of the system make it a little hard to get used to; there’s no blue for cool or red for warm, for example, just a horizontal bar graph on the display. Our car had a manual system, and we found that we had to leave it on “freeze” a good chunk of the time; residual heat leaking in from behind the seats, maybe?
Porsche marches to its own ergonomic beat, so there’s an acclimation period for the uninitiated. The ignition key goes on the left, of course, but beyond that the window switches on the door are awkwardly placed, the four stalks sprouting from the steering column to control turn signals, wipers, the trip computer and cruise control are confusing at first, and the power seatback clashes with the manual slider and seat height adjustment. Additionally, the key fob has a single button to lock and unlock the doors, without any visual or audible cue. We’d prefer a system that gave us greater peace of mind.
The Cayman is either in a class by itself or in a crowded field, depending on your point of view. If hew to the latter, then the competition ranges from the Honda S2000 at the budget end to the Chevrolet Corvette and BMW M Coupe at the high end, with virtually every other two-seat sports car in between. We think the BMW comes closest to the Cayman in terms of price and performance. Both are German coupes, both are a blast to drive, and both have their limitations. The BMW is more powerful and ultimately quicker, but the Cayman is the better balanced handling car.
2ND Opinion – Beamesderfer
Porsche’s “don’t need a second mortgage” model is something of a contradiction. It’s too expensive if your primary concern is how fast it gets to 60 mph. But that paper stat is practically useless because that’s not what this car is about. Neither is it simply a “cheap” way to get the emblem on something that you drive. Were it possible to have put me in the driver’s seat blindfolded and take a spin around the block, I would have known it was a Porsche.
MyRide.com Road Test Editor