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Is the Porsche Cayman a Boxster with a fixed roof, or a mini 911 with the performance and handling to rival much more expensive rivals?

Few people were surprised when Porsche announced in 2005 its coupé version of the mid-engined Boxster, the Porsche 718 Cayman. It was the expected progression of the model range in the way the Cayenne was totally out of the blue.

What did raise a few eyebrows was just how close to the final specification of an entry-level Porsche 911 Carrera the top-model Cayman, the S, actually proved to be.

Few people were surprised when Porsche announced a coupé version of the mid-engined Boxster

A niche too far for Porsche, perhaps? That's what this test aims to find out: after all, open versions of a coupé are usually more expensive, but this time it's the other way round with just a bit more engine power to justify it.

Little has changed here in the years since launch, although the Cayman range evolved both downwards (a 242bhp, 2.7-litre base model arrived shortly after launch to join the 291bhp, 3.4-litre Cayman S) and onwards with a new range of engines in 2008.

These direct-injection units give 262bhp as a 2.9 and 316bhp as a 3.4, unless it's the pared-down, firmed-up Cayman R with 326bhp.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Porsche Cayman twin exhaust

You can imagine that the temptation to ask “Will there be a convertible?” was too much for some people when the Porsche 718 Cayman was revealed. Sniggers aside, it would take a liar with Robert Maxwell’s front to deny that the fundamentals of the Cayman are anything other than pure Porsche 718 Boxster.

From the waist down it is structurally identical, sharing track width and wheelbase but not overall length; the Cayman’s longer nose adds 12mm to that dimension.

The Cayman's styling represents a break from Porsche's norm

Market positioning and identity were always going to be the most difficult aspect of Porsche’s job with this car.

The company insists that the Porsche 911 must always be the performance flagship, so the Cayman can’t offer more performance than a base 911 does, but it also needs to offer something tangible over a Boxster even though the performance difference between these two cars is relatively small.

The Cayman's styling is a contentious issue. The car looks unquestionably better in the metal than it does on the page, but there are confusing elements around the rear arches and those front fog lights aren’t integrated with quite the subtlety we might have expected.

Surprisingly, on the road the Cayman looks like no other Porsche. The differences are small beyond the obvious one of a mid-engined coupé's proportions, but it has a stance all of its own.

INTERIOR

Porsche Cayman interior

You only realise how useful the rear seats in a Porsche 911 are after using a Porsche 718 Cayman for a week. The two-seat Cayman hasn’t anything like the storage space.

Still, the tailgate works well and the misty-eyed will agree that there’s a certain 928-style clunk to the way it opens and closes. Neither front nor rear boot is especially large and owners would be well advised to buy the Porsche luggage set because it makes very efficient use of the space available.

Owners would be well advised to buy the Porsche luggage set

The cabin is familiar Porsche 718 Boxster. That means high-quality materials and excellent seats (ours were optional sports items, but the standard chairs are equally good) and driving position, pitted against a confusing array of buttons and switches and illogical speedometer calibrations (luckily there's also a digital speedo).

The optional PCM (Porsche Communication Management) unit for hi-fi, sat-nav and telephone becomes less intimidating over time and works very well, but other manufacturers integrate these functions more efficiently than this.

However, Lotus Evora apart, there isn’t another mid-engined coupé with an exotic badge that is as unobtrusive to use on a daily basis.

Graduate to the Cayman from, say, a Nissan 370Z and you will find its accommodation and storage space no better or worse, while the ownership and driving experience will be far more appealing.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Porsche Cayman front quarter

The Porsche 718 Cayman is offered with an engine linked to both the 911’s and Boxster’s. It is the usual flat six with, in the case of the Cayman S that is the most popular version, power between that of a Boxster S and an entry-level 911.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with the PDK dual-clutch automatic system available as an option.

The Cayman is a car whose performance is rendered undramatic by superior chassis engineering

BMW M3 drivers will have little to fear from a hastily driven Cayman, judging by the figures achieved by our original Cayman S test car. Despite a not-too-corpulent 1340kg kerb weight and excellent traction, it launches from rest to 60mph in 5.1sec (0.3sec behind the M3), posting a respectable 2.0sec 0-30mph time on the way.

It just doesn’t have the power to cut below the magic 5.0sec marker that separates the brisk from the genuinely fast. But the Cayman is a car whose performance is rendered undramatic by superior chassis engineering.

The 12.0sec sprint to 100mph, though quick by any standards, never feels especially physical; nor does its ability to shrink the crucial 30-70mph margin into a 4.4sec surge. At the Bruntingthorpe proving ground in Leicestershire, the Cayman managed a 155mph top-speed run with more to come, so the claimed 171mph maximum is entirely believable.

The standard Cayman clocks an official 5.8sec 0-62mph time, with the PDK version shaving off another tenth. It doesn't feel hugely rapid and certainly doesn't sound like it. Like the S, the Cayman is more about handling than outright pace.

High-speed stability is superb and noticeably better than the Porsche 911’s. On the road the Cayman’s powertrain borders on perfection. It offers just about everything you’d expect: speed, response, flexibility and, most important, character.

The induction noise has been tuned to yelp a touch earlier in the rev range and there’s a hint of coarseness over the last 1500rpm that actually works in the car’s favour. It adds a rawness that, in conjunction with the intake noise, goads you into using all the available revs more often.

A fine gearshift action and six forward ratios well judged for British roads enhance that feeling even more.

RIDE & HANDLING

Porsche Cayman cornering

By adding a roof to the Boxster platform, Porsche has obviously created extra stiffness with the Porsche 718 Cayman. Having said that, the key to this car’s handling balance remains in the basic positioning of the engine.

Typically, Porsche is coy on specific numbers, simply stating that the Porsche Porsche 911 and Cayman bodyshells offer near identical torsional stiffness, and that the Cayman is twice as stiff as the roadster on which it is based. This has allowed firmer springs and dampers all round, a thicker anti-roll bar at the front and, interestingly, a smaller bar at the rear compared with a Boxster S.

The key to this car’s handling balance remains in the basic positioning of the engine

An adaptive damping system (PASM – Porsche Active Suspension Management) is an option and was fitted to the test car. Off the record, all Porsche engineers agree that, in the basic disciplines that combine under the blanket term ‘handling’, the Cayman is the best sports car Porsche currently makes. And that includes any 911.

Having driven the Cayman on road and track, wet and dry, snow and ice, we agree. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. The Cayman has an engine ideally placed for roadholding and agility, and Porsche wrote the suspension damper handbook – but the aspect that exceeds expectations is just how accessible the car’s treats are to the average driver.

Where a 911 can feel intimidating, the Cayman simply doesn’t. And this isn’t simply a case of speed or potential danger. Both cars have Porsche’s delicate stability system (PSM) that is as unobtrusive as you could hope, but the intervention comes much later on the Cayman because it doesn’t suffer the same extremes of oversteer or understeer.

What sets the Cayman apart is its steering, and specifically the amount of reassurance it offers in being so accurate. Of course, there’s a safety window of understeer at work, but it’s never an issue and grip from the optional 19-inch tyres is excellent.

You can take liberties with the Cayman. It is a car willing to allow a driver a second chance. It is so agile, so keen to change direction that adding steering inputs through the middle of a turn is entirely acceptable. This isn’t possible in a 911. 

Where mid-engined cars can prove less satisfactory is on the fringes of grip levels. Not so the Cayman; it doesn't have the power to slide at will, but it’s a mid-engined sports car that can be driven with a degree of predictable, enjoyable slip within the limits of its open differential. Traction is mostly good but there were occasions, on both dry and wet surfaces, where a lone wheel was left spinning. But then had Porsche offered an LSD the car would have lapped the Nürburgring track quicker than a standard 911 Carrera, and that isn’t allowed.

Our test car was fitted with optional PASM adaptive damping, and in Normal mode the car has well judged damping for UK roads. It’s never overtly comfortable and equally never harsh. Switch the dampers to Sport and the ride deteriorates considerably, so this setting is best left for occasional track outings, where it is very good.

Braking has long been a Porsche obsession and the drilled and ventilated discs, gripped by four-piston calipers front and rear, do everything that could possibly be asked of them on the road. The pedal is always solid and the anti-lock remarkably unobtrusive. With the optional Sports Chrono pack fitted, it is possible to limit the anti-lock’s intervention still further, making the system almost feel like it isn’t there at all.

That the Cayman will stop from 60mph in 2.7sec means nothing compared with the manner in which these brakes will handle sustained abuse.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Porsche Cayman 2005-2013

Our test Porsche 718 Cayman S returned 24.7mpg overall and 29.1mpg on our touring route. That's against Porsche's claimed figures of 29.7mpg for the manual and 30.1mpg for PDK-equipped models.

The standard Cayman clocks in at 30.1mpg and 31.0mpg for the manual and PDK respectively.

All Caymans hold their value well

PDK models reduce CO2 emissions slightly for both models, but it makes little difference to private motorists, because all models are in tax band K. The DI engines have improved things here, with all current Caymans apart from the R snicking under the 225g/km watershed.

All Caymans hold their value well, although the buying public tends to regard it, unfairly, as second-best to the still bigger-selling Porsche 911.

An entry-level 2.9 is under £40,000, but it remains hard to see why it still costs more than a Porsche 718 Boxster, given the latter's more expensive roof construction.

VERDICT

4.5 star Porsche Cayman

The Porsche 718 Cayman is an everyday sports car that will teach the novice and reward the experienced driver.

The chassis is accessible and competent in equal measure, the engine is both enticing and powerful, and the interior is practical, if short on standard equipment.

Any Cayman deserves a space in the Porsche model range

If there were some questions over the original version's ultimate pace, they were answered with the new engines and trampled into the ground with the Cayman R, which is one of the most entertaining driving machines you can buy.

However, any Cayman deserves a space in the Porsche model range and on the list of anyone with around £40,000 to £50,000 to spend.

Porsche Cayman 2005-2013 First drives