• Jun 30th 2008 at 3:03PM
  • 39

2008 Porsche Cayman S – Click above for high-res image gallery

To many, the Porsche Cayman is just a look-alike twin to the drop-top Porsche Boxster. While it shares a platform, underpinnings, and even engine choices with its two-seat sibling, the Cayman performs a decidedly different role and delivers even more gratifying performance. Porsche dropped off a top-of-the-line Cayman S in the Autoblog Garage. It offers a more powerful engine and larger brakes over the standard Cayman model. Follow the jump to read our impressions on the Porsche Cayman S after we held the keys in our hands for a week.

All photos copyright Michael Harley / Weblogs Inc.

To understand the Cayman, you have to know a bit about the Porsche Boxster and the 911, as the relationship between the three is much deeper than the badge. In the early 1990s, Porsche penned a modern-day reincarnation of its first production car, the 356. Engineered from the ground-up to be a convertible, this all-new roadster (type "986") would offer a mid-engine design and seating for just two. Most importantly, much of the engineering work would pave the way for the first water-cooled mainstream 911 (type "996"). With the new Boxster and 996 sharing mechanicals, Porsche would save tens of millions in design, tooling, and manufacturing.

The first Boxster models arrived in 1996. With a 2.5-liter flat-six mounted seemingly inaccessible in the middle of the car, they were underpowered but offered world-class handling (in fact, with the prices of these early models falling, a new class of "Spec Boxster racing" has emerged). To the angst of many Porschephiles, from the A-pillar forward the early Boxster was indistinguishable from the new 911. That changed in 2005 when the Boxster was significantly updated inside and out (enough changes to justify a new type number, the "987"). It was that revised vehicle that formed the platform for the soon-to-arrive Cayman. Arriving in 2006, the closed-roof Porsche Cayman (type "987c") offered a more powerful engine, and a chassis that was 100 percent more rigid than the Boxster. This stiff platform allowed Porsche engineers the freedom to recalibrate the suspension for a sportier ride and even higher performance.

The placement of the all-aluminum engine not only differentiates the Cayman from the venerable Porsche 911, but it defines the vehicle's handling traits. Many will argue mid-engine placement is paramount for optimal handling, braking, and acceleration (witness the McLaren F1, Ferrari Enzo, and more recent Audi R8). With both passengers and the engine situated between the axles, weight distribution on the Cayman S is split 45% front, 55% rear. The curb weight, even with a full complement of safety equipment and six airbags, is listed at just 2,976 pounds. The Cayman S in our garage was lightly equipped (for a Porsche) with a base price of $59,100. A few select packages (Preferred, Xenon, Sport Chrono, etc...) and custom silver seat belts pushed it to a semi-reasonable $65,780, depending on your perspective.

Designed with a low center of gravity, the Cayman squats especially close to terra firma parked in the driveway. Once you climb into the two-seater and semi-fall into the driver's seat, the cabin is accommodating. Without the drop-top machinery found in the Boxster, the Cayman's expansive hatch adds an airy feel – especially at head level. However, the Cayman will never be confused for a large car. Even with the seat all the way back to the rear firewall to accommodate our six-foot two-inch frame, our left leg was a bit cramped on the dead pedal. During an overnight trip, our carry-on bag and laptop both fit in the front luggage compartment, but our camera pack was forced to the hatch. Space and storage is at a premium. As expected, when we started the car we quickly forgot about all of that.

Twisting the conventional key located in Porsche tradition to the left of the steering column, the engine springs to life. Modern engine electronics have tamed all rough-running personality out of the flat-sixes of yesteryear, so even when cold it settles down to a smooth idle. Located immediately behind the passenger seats, tucked under thick carpet, some insulation, and a steel panel, is a water-cooled horizontally-opposed "Boxer" six-cylinder engine with Porsche's VarioCam Plus. In the Cayman S we were driving, it displaces 3.4-liters and is rated at 295 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque (the standard Cayman makes due with a 2.7-liter 245-hp powerplant). Redline is a joyous 7,300 rpm.

As some real sports cars still thankfully offer an honest-to-God stick shift, the transmission on this Cayman S is a 6-speed manual with triple synchromesh in first and second, and double synchromesh on the other gears. With the precision of a surgical tool, the shift knob glides into position effortlessly. Around town, the Cayman is as docile as a Volkswagen Rabbit. However, when the tachometer needle is forced to the right side of the dial, the sprint to 60 mph takes just 5 seconds as the Porsche continues to a top speed north of 170 mph.

The sound of the Cayman S at wide-open throttle is a triumphant symphony of exhaust, intake, and valve-train at full song. When the throttle pedal is depressed into the carpet, the intake initially snarls and then you hear the exhaust picking up its note. Once the engine spins above 3,500 rpm, the mechanical noise of the engine takes charge. Keeping in mind that the reciprocating engine mass is only about 18 inches away – the engine is entirely located within the passenger compartment under that cover – the noise emanates from within the cabin. The flat-six isn't the smoothest engine on the market, but it sings an enthusiast's tune. Frequent trips to redline are positively addicting.

The Cayman S wears four bright red four-piston monobloc aluminum calipers chomping down on cross-drilled and inner-ventilated rotors. Even when asked to perform stops that defy the laws of physics (off-camber, decreasing radius, with the outside wheel in a patch of gravel), the Porsche puts the correct wheel down and bleeds speed without any drama. If you need help, and you rarely will with sticky fat Michelins clawing at the ground, ABS is there to assist. The "Big Red" brakes can absorb tons of heat, so fade isn't even in the Cayman's vocabulary. Brake feel, modulation, and pedal position are excellent. Porsche does brakes perfectly.

Porsche does something else even better – steering feel. Even with the standard wimpy thin-rimmed steering wheel in hand (a thicker contoured wheel is optional), the feedback and response is exemplary. Porsche has fitted the Cayman with a variable-ratio rack-and-pinion system that alters steering ratios once they exceed 15 degrees off-center. On and above highway speeds, the car is perfectly stable and it needs zero input to hold a steady line. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the tightest curves only require the smallest bit of hand shuffling. The rack works exactly as advertised.

Tossing a Cayman S back-and-forth on a desolate mountain road is one of life's greatest pleasures. To ready the Porsche, hit the "Sport" button on the dash to change the throttle mapping. This also increases the threshold of "PSM" (Porsche's thankfully non-intrusive stability control). The most glorious roads will keep you busy flicking the gearshift between second and third, watching the engine pull towards redline, before falling off drastically under full braking. The steering wheel, weighted well under your fingers, will transmit subtle impulses from the front tires back to your hands as the road surface and traction changes. With nearly indiscernible body roll, the suspension absorbs the undulations and irregularities as it confidently keeps all four tires planted on the pavement, even as the rears strain to break free. Downshift, blip the throttle, and repeat over and over again. You will be spent before the Cayman breaks a sweat.

While this review of the Cayman reads like one long-winded accolade, we did uncover some tarnish. With the twisty roads miles behind us, we found the non-adjustable suspension fairly harsh (Porsche offers its multi-setting "PASM," but our Cayman did not have it). Matters only worsened when we were stuck in traffic on LA freeways. With our low stance minimizing visibility around us, the short wheelbase oscillating numbingly over freeway expansion joints, and with minimal sound insulation to keep the din at a palatable level... the Porsche was completely out of its element. We were suffering, and the Cayman S was, too. To avoid future misery, we made it a point to take the longer and more involving "scenic routes" on future excursions. The new approach kept man and machinery very happy.

After a week with the two-seater, it was perfectly clear to us. The Cayman wasn't designed to be a comfortable daily driver, a family transport, or a cargo hauler (your Porsche dealer will gladly sell you a 911 or Cayenne to fill those roles). It was never intended to be the quickest from a stoplight, the fastest car on the road, or capture the shortest stopping distances. The German engineers had something else in mind when they spawned the Boxster... Their objective was to create a vehicle that would evoke driving passion. A throwback to a lightweight, two-seat, rear-wheel drive, short wheelbase sports car. Damn the price, we were smitten by the Porsche Cayman S.

All photos copyright Michael Harley / Weblogs Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago

      Felt I should post a reply. I have had my 07 cayman since 08. Purchased with 10,000 miles, I now have 126,000 miles and counting. Average 26 mpg. As much as 35 hwy. Have driven it every day, as it is my only car ( make up reasons to drive, like a 100 mile run for milk). Service and repairs can cost $$$, but intervals can make it easy to budget for. Reaching a point where some repairs are downright expensive, but until recently (around 120,000), the car didn't need anything beside scheduled service. Now looking at pads and rotors, ball joint and tie rod ends, and maybe coils. That's it. After 7 years of constant driving, some spirited, none crazy, I've stopped justifying the car to myself and others. Other than the standard seats, I find very little to complain about. It's been amazingly reliable, only stranding me once (bad coil). It is still striking to look at, and while the new Cayman is gorgeous, it looks a little too much like a 911. The first gen Cayman has a quirky look about it, looks fantastic from rear 3/4 view (those hips!). Get lots of comments,from people on the street to others on the road next to me. Most aren't really sure of what they are looking at, but most seem to like it a lot, even with tired paint. That's nice, but the car is for me to enjoy. Their appreciation is just icing on the cake.

      As for the power issue, mine is a base car, 245hp, 17" wheels, no dodads. Goes plenty fast enough, as I don't engage in proving my manhood to some guy in a Mustang whatever or Joe Pickup Truck. My previous two cars were a 2000 and 2004 Corvette. Great cars to be sure, but speed isn't everything. Handling is. And again, so is reliability. Much more fun in the Cayman.

      Oh, and one last thing. I have driven the car in Ohio and New York after moving from Texas to back home in Upstate NY. Toss on a set of good snow tires and get ready! One of the best snow cars I've ever owned, including quite a few 4wds. No kidding, this thing is a joy in the winter. Keep it clean, and stay away from others and have a good time.

      Don't constantly compare whatever you drive to others, or lust after the latest and greatest. Learn to enjoy what you've got on it's merits and you'll be much happier.

      • 7 Years Ago
      wasn't the first boxer a revival of a 550 series car, not a 356?

      and typically Horizontally opposed engines are called Boxers, not Boxsers.

        • 7 Years Ago
        FYI, best car on a twisty mountain road... enjoy...

        • 7 Years Ago
        Technically, yes.

        The 550 and 718 series race/street cars (and others, as well) were mid-engined, rather than rear-engined, like the 356, and later 911.

        Very few of the porsche mid-engined cars were closed coupes. Most were open, like 550, 718 RSK, Can-Ams like 917, and even the mid-engined 70's 914 road cars had targa roofs, as does the Carrera GT.

        The 904/906, and some later closed-cockpit prototype race cars like 962 were mid-engined with closed roofs.

        Cayman really is something somewhat unique. Unfortunately it is hindered only by marketing, from getting the full benefit of Porsche's high-performance engineering, to keep it planted under the 997's role as flagship.

        Even with a non-turbo 3.6-3.8 engine, and a limited slip differential (neither of which are possible to buy from the factory, and have to be re-fitted aftermarket) make that car into even more of a sports car phenom.

        Cobalt blue with a dove grey tequipment-spec'd interior for me, please.

        It will be getting even better with the advent of Direct Injection and PDK, likely to be introduced for the '09 Model year, like the 997.
      Trae Washburn
      • 3 Years Ago
      The Cayman S is nice but just TOO EXPENSIVE. Apparently Porsche is coming out with a cheaper smaller sports car called the 550 in 2015 though which would be awesome because right now IMO they are overpriced. Unless you get to the Turbo, Turbo S. But there's an article written about the new 550 right here: http://www.ignitionspeed.com/2012/08/reasonably-priced-future-cars-porsche.html
      • 7 Years Ago
      Maybe nothing made today, but the early-mid 90's MR2 could EASILY hold more than the Cayman in a smaller package. I could take 2 sets of golf clubs in the trunk and a duffel or 2 up front. Not really a relevant comparator, but just sayin'.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Cute car, but given how close it is to the transaction price of a Nissan GT-R (once the speculators move on in a few months) I don't think you'll find any real men buying this car. Maybe a few gold rolex types and a lot of upper middle class moms to drive as a toy when not toting the kids around in their Range NaviCladeUrbans.....
        • 7 Years Ago
        The Nissan GT-R is a beast. It's also not my cup of tea. Give me a Lotus Elise, Exige, or a Cayman S any day of the week (not that I can actually afford any of the above).
        • 7 Years Ago
        Show me readily available Nissan GT-Rs that AREN'T sold out and in super-ultra-limited supply, and that statement will... still not matter given how different the two vehicles are.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Like the review mentioned, it's not about 0-60 times and stats on paper it's about the feel of the car and the fun you can have driving it. I guess it's less about WHAT the car can do and more about HOW it does it. Being a small sub 3000 lb naturally aspirated car it offers a completely different experience than the beast of a car that is the GT-R.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The GT-R isn't available with a stick shift.

        Chick Car
        • 7 Years Ago
        Almost no one would actually think to cross-shop a GT-R against a Cayman S. They're about as far away from each other in character as you can get while still occupying the same sports car spectrum.
      • 7 Years Ago
      To me the Cayman S is the spiritual succesor to the 911 of the 1970s and 1980s. Small, nimble, fast driving experience. The 911 is a GT car in altogether another category IMHO.
      Talking about 7,300 revs, I was out in my 1993 RX7 today. With a nicely run in new engine, 2000 spec turbos and 3 inch stainless exhaust system i.e. no major mods just to the last generartion Japanes specs +. Nicely run in now I estimate the HP to be 295/300 and weight just under 3,000 lbs like the Cayman S. I haven't driven the new S, but I fancy the driving experience is similar because of the similar dynamics. I was hitting 8,500 revs though:) B4 anyone com plains, yes I agree the quality of materials in the S is much higher than my RX7, I am talking rather about power, weight distribution and handling as well as the enjoyable driving experieince.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I recently traded in my 2005 Boxster S for a 2006 911S. The 911 certainly has more power, but the Boxster was far more fun to drive. The Cayman is even more fun to drive than the Boxster.

      Anyone who says these cars are no fun to drive has clearly never driven one.

      • 7 Years Ago
      The Cayman's negatives grabbed me on the first drive. It was much slower than my M3 and this was a dealbreaker right away. Also it was much more expensive and loud than my M3.
      Mark Quinzi
      • 4 Years Ago
      The 911 has grown bigger over the last 47 years, to the point that it feels like a GT car, NOT the raw sports car of days gone by. The Cayman is the new 911 for those of us who want a pure sports car. Its smaller, lower, more raw like the great 911's of the 70's and 80's. I bought a Cayman because I wanted the small sporty historic 911 experience, while still buying a brand new car. And when it comes to HP, I like to push a small engine, the base Cayman at 265hp is fun because you can use the entire RPM range and feel fast at speeds below 120mph. (One of the worst things about today's perfectly engineered high HP German and Italian cars, is they are so stable that you need to go over 120mph to feel the thrill of speed). I was looking for fun over stopwatch data... and I found the perfect car with the Cayman.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The Cayman was designed to fill a revenue gap. It could be better then the 911 if they allowed it.
      • 7 Years Ago
      No such word as 'addicting'.

      Makes you sound like a ditsy valley girl.

      The word you're looking for is 'addictive'.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I didn't know about that distinction between "addictive" and "addicting". It looks like "addicting" is moving form the colloquial to normal usage, though. Perhaps now the language has evolved to make "addicting" a real word.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Addicting or Addicted or Addictive: "To cause to become physiologically or psychologically dependent on a habit-forming substance"
      • 7 Years Ago
      the boxster was never underpowered.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I agree 201 HP is terrible..... The Solstice costs 20K less and has 260 Horses. That's much better.
        • 7 Years Ago
        You don't call 201hp underpowered? FOR A PORSCHE!?
        • 7 Years Ago
        The Boxter wasn't underpowered for its mission. Just like the Miata. One does not need 300hp to have fun. (though it helps)
        • 7 Years Ago
        It's not really fair to compare horsepower figures for a 1997 Boxster (201 hp) to a 2007 Pontiac Solstice (260hp).

        For example: My 2007 Audi S4 has the same horsepower (340hp) as the then-top-of-the-range 1976 Ferrari 512 BB Boxer. And I have A/C, room for 5 + luggage, navigation.... Those Ferrari Boxers really sucked.

        Instead, compare the 1997 Boxster to the then-new 1996 BMW Z3 with 138hp. Or perhaps to the soon-to-be-released 1997 BMW Z3 with the more powerful V6 engine -- 189hp.

        All of a sudden, 201hp doesn't seem so bad.

        Even the 911 only had 282hp in 1997.

        • 7 Years Ago
        The 2.5 Boxster has plenty of power, it just needed a 6 speed stick.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Some may disagree with you, stating that 201hp isn't enough for a Porsche.
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