Cayman S – worth a punt?

My 911 GTS is in for a quick service at Porsche Tonbridge and as a courtesy car they were wonderful enough to drop off a Cayman S for a few days.

Prior to buying the GTS I was actually looking for a 981 Cayman S or Boxster S. I figured as a sports car it was the only car I would ever need. At least that’s what the press would have you believe.

But I was warned by many that the car would leave me potentially disappointed with its lack of power and image. I really didn’t believe any of this but it’s all moot anyway as the moment I saw the red 911 GTS I was hooked – the Cayman would be shelved for perpetuity.

When the driver from Porsche phoned me to tell me he was outside my office, I really had no idea what he’d bring but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the Cayman. It’s a damn fine looking car and the Cayman has grown into a very handsome sportscar. The early generation Caymans were extraordinarily ugly and as the unloved child of Porsche, it’s clearly been given the most impressive make over I’ve yet to see from Porsche.

Sleek and low, I especially love the way the car’s lines flow all the way up the side and nestle neatly into that chrome spoiler – such an original look, especially with the tail lights raised to meet the spoiler. And that front nose with the headlights is a wonderful reminder that the bloodline flows directly from the 918 Spyder.

The level of quality graced in this car is simply astonishing. From the moment you unlock the doors with the ultra-cool keyfob, shaped like a 911, to pulling the door lever and closing it behind you, there’s a quality thud that I’m simply not used to in 911s.

And then there’s that interior that simply wouldn’t look out of place in a £200k car. It’s amazing and a surprise to see Porsche suddenly place such value on ergonomics. The German manufacturer has normally been ultra reserved with its interior design, opting for function over form. This works to an extent as it often means their interiors do not date as they were never modern to begin with.

That plush steering wheel feels fabulous between the fingers with all your controls, including the absurdly complicated PDK controls, at easy reach. The centre console has been completely redesigned with a high resolution screen and neatly stowed away switch gear that feel a million dollars to control and execute. Connecting my iPhone to bluetooth was amongst the fastest I’ve experienced and playing your music from iPhone over the air was seemless – those Bose speakers are very nice and the Cayman doesn’t suffer as badly as the 997 with road noise, meaning tunes are a rare indulgence in a sports car.

Starting the car blurts the engine enthusiastically but drowning the wonderful sound is the visuals I’m greeted with. As the rev counter settles down pride of place dead centre, there’s a beautiful TFT screen on the right where, currently, a high definition map from your sat nav adorns the display. Use the scroller on the steering wheel and you can choose from a selection of cute toys to display, from G-Meter to the Sports Chrono and other important general information to relay. It looks amazing and I enjoyed having this delicately designed bonus on my dash.

Pulling away, the first thing I notice is the slightly stiff auto selector. It feels clunky which is in stark contrast to the rest of the car. It’s not a big deal as it’s rarely used – once you’re in gear you can choose from either manual gear changes with the awful selectors, or leave it in straight Auto mode. You can choose also the various programs by selecting Sport or Sport + mode.

Playing for most of the night with the manual mode, I simply couldn’t get the hang of pushing the bold selector forward to go up a gear and pushing from behind the steering wheel (towards yourself) to go down a gear. No matter how many miles I racked up from a combination of fast country roads to tight city driving over 90 miles, I could not get the hang of it.

I constantly found myself double checking the indicator icons to ensure I would eventually select the right gear. I had an awkward moment when I pulled out the office and I recognised a group of people I go to the gym with. They noticed me also, but as I attempted to go up a gear to casually drive away up the road, instead I ended up going from 2nd gear to 1st into about 7000rpm which made me look, respectfully, like a complete tool as I unceremonisously lurched forward in my seat as the gears struggled to match the engine speed. This nonsense continued as I left the city of London a good few times until I eventually got home.

However, when it worked, I was greeted with a wonderfully poetic teamwork of sound, chassis and steering finesse. The noise from that 3.4 sitting literally behind your ears is absolutely intoxicating. Its a unique sound and although a little robotic, it does an excellent job of encouraging you to enjoy that enthusiasm.

Even though it sports 325bhp, it does feel a little gutless. Gunning it up a slight uphill incline in 2nd gear, I was disappointed in the lack of any urgency in the build up to such an extent, I actually looked down to check what gear I was in. It’s not until you’re really flowing out in proper roads you eventually feel that the Cayman has a unique way of deploying its power.

It counters your disappointment early on by showing you speeds you had no idea you were close to. This disguised progress becomes quite typical in the Cayman through different reveals and before long you start to notice other foibles where had I not experienced top end electrifying 911s, I’d be none the wiser.

There’s a level of floatiness I wasn’t convinced by. Unsure as to whether this is due to the slightly duller steering or the placement of the engine – perhaps this is an alien concept to me having sworn by the rear engined 911 for so many years. It has divine chassis control make no mistake. Turn in is acute and crisp, the rear wheels breaking traction only when you want it to and then following the front wheels almost as though they have steering on their own.

With max torque at 5,800 rpm there’s very little incentive to wring the engine out with early gear shifts rewarding more with a better flowing power delivery. There’s a mid range sweet spot with both sound and power at its most enjoyable.

But I can’t help but feel it needs stiffer springs to stop some of that wobble of which I’m simply not used to in a 911. And I can’t help but notice that near 100 bhp deficit. It’s a huge gaping hole that is forgiveable for me whilst I enjoy that awesome chassis, but put me with another powerful car and I’ll start to get frustrated.

Have no doubt, the Cayman is an incredibly competent car. I don’t know of any other car that feels as lightfooted and agile as the Cayman. Tackling roundabouts became addictive fun and exit strategy was defined simply by the breadth of the turn off. Surgical precision or hooligan boisterousness, as long as you’d made a decision before you enter, they become adult playgrounds in this car.

I cannot get over the level of quality the car has to offer which is a sharp uppercut to the establishment. I know of no other car that can match the Cayman in this regard AND provide such a wonderful drivers experience.

Would I swap my 911 GTS for one? Absolutely not. There was a while where I was thinking this car was dangerously good. As a beginner it started to tick all the boxes. But dig deep and where the 911 provides beautifully rewards in bold endeavours, the Cayman appeared to be a little too easy. A little too accomplished.

Perhaps in manual, it would have been a more involving experience. I’m not suggesting I was detached, but I simply can’t wait for my car to come back – even if it does have a dashboard from the 90s.