BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Back in 2005, rarely had we seen a car arrive that dominated its class as comprehensively as the original '987' series Porsche Cayman. Before this purposeful coupe was launched, all sorts of manufacturers were making very good money with very mediocre offerings in the sports coupe segment. Afterwards, they either shaped up or shipped out. Tracking down a decent used Cayman can be a little more problematic than you'd at first think given the rate of take up. Buyers often aren't keen to sell and those that do often want silly money. Here's what to look out for.
Rumours of a 'Boxster coupe' had been circulating for some time before this car's 2005 launch, after some suspiciously malformed looking 911 test mules were seen pounding around the N??rburgring in Germany. What appeared to be holding Porsche back was a realisation that this could be the car that torpedoed the company's bottom line. The 911 had long been the goose that kept on laying golden eggs for Porsche and to introduce a cheaper and more capable alternative was dangerous business indeed.
Think about it. When they set out to build a no compromise supercar - the Carrera GT - it didn't sling its engine out back as the 911 does, instead using a mid-engined layout akin to the Boxster and Cayman. Any chassis engineer worth their salt will be able to expound at length on the compromises such a rear-biased weight distribution forces on handling dynamics. Whispers that the Cayman S has lapped the Nurburgring in 8 minutes and 11 seconds - a full 4 seconds quicker than a 911 Carrera - were denied by Porsche and the company then fuelled a whole series of additional conspiracy theories by refusing to fit the Cayman with a limited slip differential, a useful tool for very committed driving.
The first Cayman model to arrive in the UK was the 3.4-litre S, landing in dealerships in December 2005. Although there were some grumbles over its pricing, which was significantly higher than a Boxster S and which Porsche played off by pointing to the Cayman's larger capacity engine, sales went stratospheric. Early doubts that the car looked a little gawky were dispelled once customers had the chance to walk round one. In May 2006 the entry level 2.7-litre Cayman filled out the range, and later that year Porsche fitted the Cayman S 3.4-litre engine to the Boxster but continued to charge more for the fixed-head coupe.
What You Get
The Cayman shares some 40 per cent of its componentry with the Boxster in order to share development costs between the two product lines but aside from that roof, there are some notable differences. Although track and wheelbase is the same as per the common platform, the suspension was modified to endow the Cayman with a sharper feel. Firmer springs, stiffer dampers, meatier anti-roll bars and beefier bushings all combined to give the Cayman a more focused agenda. There were also changes to the stability control system and the anti-lock brakes to give keen drivers a little more margin for experimentation. Built alongside the Boxster at the Valmet plant in Finland, Porsche has suggested that most of the Cayman's conquest sales came from Audi TT owners looking to trade up to something a little more hardcore, but Nissan also rushed a more powerful 350Z through development to stem haemorrhaging sales.
While the Cayman looks great from the front and rear, the three-quarter aspects of the car can occasionally photograph a little gawky given the domed rear haunches and low bootline. The Cayman shares the Boxster's bonnet, headlights, front wings, doors and tail lights but beyond that the steel metalwork is all custom (expect to see some jealous vandals modifying the 'C' in the rear badge). The front bumpers were modified with bigger air intakes into which beady fog lights are indented. The tapered engine intakes on the side of the car don't look quite as elegant as those on the latest Boxster although the rear hatch design is a very neat piece of styling. This opens remotely via a button on the key fob and offers up a reasonable amount of space. Some storage space behind the seats gives a total of 260 litres which, when added to the 150 litres up front, means the Porsche is more practical than it has any right to be. Slightly longer than the Boxster, the Cayman is also 13mm taller, yet the width remains unchanged at 1,801mm.
What to Look For
The Cayman's 2.7-litre engine is a reliable and charismatic unit which has yet to show up any significant problems. The 3.4-litre lump is a little more temperamental and some have developed cooling issues all of which will have been sorted under warranty. Check the tyres for wear and also have the rear axle and suspension inspected as heavy acceleration from a standstill on a dry surface leads not to wheelspin, but to quite severe 'axle-tramp.' This is a condition where the rear of the car judders under the torque of the drive going to the grippy rear tyres and is a potentially damaging and uncomfortable sensation. A whining axle or drive shaft will bear testament to this.
Check the condition of the alloy wheels for kerbing damage. Check the bodywork, especially the bonnet and bootlids, as these can easily be damaged by owners slamming them onto protruding items from the front and rear boots. Caymans are quite colour sensitive, and dark blue and green cars are harder to shift than ever-popular silver. White is becoming quite a hit on the continent. Otherwise insist on a proper Porsche main dealer service history and buy with confidence.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2.7 Cayman) Cayman spares are predictably quite pricey, although they never cross the border into exorbitant. A clutch kit is £175, while front brake pads are around £60 with rears weighing in at about £75. The Cayman is equipped with two radiators, one on the right and one on the left, and these cost around £110 each. A new alternator is around £350, while a new headlamp is in the region of £160. A new exhaust muffler and oxygen sensor will cost around £360. Not bad at all, really.
On the Road
Forget what you've read about mid-engined cars being snatchy and tricky when the limits of grip are exceeded. We took a Cayman S to play with a bunch of performance car rivals at a private test track and it aced the lot of 'em. If the Nissan 350Z wasn't out to play, the Porsche would have won the award for best drift car, proving easier to balance on the throttle than the BMW M Coupe, despite the fact that it lacks a limited slip differential.
It might well be an urban myth that Porsche failed to fit such an LSD to the Cayman S to prevent it lapping the Nurburgring quicker than a 911 Carrera but having sampled the junior sibling at full chat, I wouldn't bet against it. Yes, it lacks the drama, heritage and sheer definitive feel of the 911 but if you subscribe to the 'history is bunk' mentality, you might well decide that the cheaper car is the better car. Our test car was fitted with the optional Sport Chrono pack, satellite navigation, uprated seats and virtually every other option Porsche could throw at it bar carbon ceramic brakes, so it's worth considering how well a more standard car would fare. Considering done. It would still have won.
Porsche hope that the Cayman S is the sort of car that will build lasting brand loyalty, acting as a stepping stone to 911 ownership. If the price tag is a little on the high side and you don't need nearly 300bhp, try the 2.7-litre car with 245bhp. It's just as sweet but lacks the 3.2-litre engine's concussive punch.
If you want the best performance coupe this side of, well, a Porsche 911 GT3, from the 2005 to 2012 era, then look no further. The Cayman is as close to perfect as it's possible to get when it comes to fulfilling its requirements. You can ask no more than that. Unfortunately, used car sellers know this too so you won't find any outrageous bargains. We'd pick an early Cayman S and would probably keep it for a very, very long time.