2006 Porsche Cayman S Road Test

2006 Porsche Cayman S Road Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2006 Porsche Cayman S Coupe

(3.4L 6-cyl. 6-speed Manual)

Not just a hard-headed Boxster

Cobalt Blue Metallic just isn't its color. The tone's all wrong. Not light enough or dark enough. Should be brighter, too. The arching undulations of the 2006 Porsche Cayman S, although hardly offensive in the hue, are better served by black or silver. No, red. Yes: red. Every Cayman S should be red. The fact that the Cobalt Blue Metallic is a $3,070 option only makes things worse.

Of course the above falls somewhere between "Don't Care" and "Who Gives a Turkey?" The crowds gathered at the freak show that is Venice Beach certainly don't. We park and are immediately inundated by onlookers spellbound by the Cayman's sexpot shape — the high arc in the roofline, the rear hatch tucked neatly into the car's rear haunches.

Although it's still a few weeks before the Cayman would make its North American debut at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, the car's pedigree is obvious to everyone. And we mean everyone — Midwesterners escaping the cold, local teenagers shredding the sidewalk, the steroid-suckers pumping iron at Muscle Beach. They all know what it is. Even the street performer who juggles meat cleavers atop a 6-foot ladder knows it's the new "Porsh." And they love it. Color and all.

More than a Boxster coupe
Spade a spade. The midengined, rear-wheel-drive Cayman S is a more powerful coupe version of the Boxster, Porsche's midengined, rear-wheel-drive roadster. Fact is, the two cars are so mechanically similar, the Cayman S could have easily been called the Boxster Coupe, saving Porsche all the trouble of coming up with another name, in this case one lifted from an alligator indigenous to Central and South America.

Other carmakers do it that way without reprisal. The hardheaded versions of Audi TT and the BMW Z4 are simply labeled "TT Coupe" and "Z4 Coupe." But Porsche is working hard to convince the world that the Cayman S is more than just a Boxster Coupe with 15 more horsepower and a $59,695 base price. The company's prepared literature for the media even includes this line, "To classify the Cayman S as merely the coupe version of the Boxster does disservice to both vehicles, each of which is unique with its own special characteristics."

Yeah, and Barry Manilow hasn't had any work done.

We're not saying the Cayman S doesn't taste differently than the Boxster, we're just saying it isn't an entirely new flavor either. If you're a connoisseur of Taco Bell, think Boxster S Supreme.

Not cheap or chintzy
Either way, it's a delicacy. Our Cobalt Blue tester was littered with extra-cost luxuries that spiked its sticker price over $70,000. Some we would pay for, like the 19-inch Carrera S wheels, but some we wouldn't, like the Sport Chrono package that puts a stopwatch atop the dashboard. It's been years since we clocked a trip to Cold Stone Creamery, so we'd rather put the $920 toward the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), which lowers the car 10mm and features two ride settings, "Normal" and "Sport." Of course we wouldn't pay for the paint.

Most everything you need is standard: six airbags, power accessories, bodyglove-fitting partial leather seats, ABS, even Porsche Stability Management (PSM), which is one of the best and least intrusive stability systems around. And the interior, although pinched from the Boxster, lives up to the Cayman's lofty price point. Build quality is exceptional, the materials feel right, and the control placement couldn't be better, although it's disappointing that the stopwatch on the dash doesn't light up at night.

As in the Boxster, the steering wheel's diameter feels overly large at first, but becomes perfectly sized quickly. You also rapidly acclimate to the low seating position and close-knit pedal placement. It's all rather comfortable during daily grinding, but absolutely spectacular and finely functional when the road is clear and your right foot hits the floor.

Our favorite part is the tachometer. Oversized and placed dead ahead of the driver, it could not be easier to pick up in your periphery when you're on it, and 4,000 rpm is straight up because that's where the Cayman's 3.4-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder really starts making power. Whoever designed it that way has driven this car like he meant it.

Zero to 60 mph in 5 seconds
Every Cayman is a Cayman S, so the 24-valve 3.4 is the only engine available. Although based on the 3.2-liter six that powers the Boxster S, the Cayman's engine wears the same cylinder heads and uses the same VarioCam variable valve timing system as the 325-hp, 3.6-liter six in the Porsche 911 Carrera. It puts out 295 hp at 6,250 rpm and 251 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.

Before being modified with shorter 1st- and 2nd-gear ratios, the Cayman's standard six-speed manual gearbox was also borrowed from the Boxster. Our tester was equipped with the manual, which just might have the best shift linkage this side of a Formula Ford racecar, but a five-speed automatic that Porsche calls "Tiptronic S" is optional.

At the drag strip, the Cayman S blows the doors off a Boxster S, and nearly keeps up with the 355-hp 911 Carrera S. Zero to 60 mph takes just 5 seconds and the car covers the standing quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at 105 mph. It also proved to be indestructible, shrugging off 6,000-rpm launches like it was being driven to church by Miss Daisy.

An engine for the ages, the flat six storms toward its 7,200-rpm redline as quickly as the rev counter can count, growling more like a living beast than a man-made machine. At full throttle the 84 decibels of intake roar penetrate the closed Cayman, which may be a new record. We found the snarl worth the volume, but we also just ordered a compilation CD of hair band ballads from the 1980s.

100-percent stiffer structure
Porsche says the Cayman's coupe body offers 100-percent more resistance to flex than the structure of the open-topped Boxster. It feels like 200. It's as if the car were carved from billet.

Because of that solid foundation, Porsche was able to tune the Cayman's underpinnings to a higher level of "dynamic dimension." All the suspension hardware and geometry is shared with the Boxster, but the Cayman S uses firmer rear springs, stiffer dampers and a slightly smaller rear sway bar.

The result is an astonishingly athletic machine that delivers exceptional ride comfort on 19-inch low-profile tires. Body roll is never an issue, turn is tight and midcorner bumps get soaked up without drama. Chassis balance is extraordinary. This is a car that can be driven cross-country in complete comfort or as fast as you dare on a mountain road with complete confidence.

Toss it around and the Cayman feels glued to the road but light on its feet. This is due to its very sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tires, its wonderful variable-ratio steering plagiarized from the Boxster S, and its relatively light weight. At 2,954 pounds, the Cayman S is no Lotus Elise, but it is 11 pounds lighter than a Boxster S, 80 pounds lighter than a Carrera, and a whopping 225 pounds lighter than a Chevrolet Corvette Coupe.

In our slalom test it carved its way through the cones at an incredible rate of 72.2 mph, which is one of the fastest slalom speeds we've ever recorded. Its 0.98g performance around the skid pad is equally impressive.

Brakes are the same big ventilated discs and four-piston calipers used on the Boxster S and Carrera, and they're arguably the best brakes in the world. First of all, they stop the Cayman S from 60 mph in just 106 feet, they are impervious to fade, and pedal feel and effort are exceptional.

Roof good, very good
Back in Bohemia by the Sea, the crowds continue to swarm the Cayman like fire ants. "You should see it in red," we say. "Or black. It really looks good in black." But they pretend not to hear us. It could be olive drab for all they care. To the shirtless guy with the dirty beard and the women selling strawberry incense from a folding table, the Cayman S is a "Porsh" and that's all that matters.

To the rest of us, however, the 2006 Porsche Cayman S may be the best all-around Porsche ever. It's 75-percent pure sports car, 15-percent luxury car and 10-percent grand tourer, a recipe that makes it more livable than a Boxster, faster than a Boxster S and more affordable than a Carrera.

One guy got it. He arrived on the scene obviously inebriated and unbathed. With little hesitation he walked right up to the Cayman and said, "I didn't know 'Porsh' made a Boxster Coupe. How about helping a guy out with some spare change?"

You know, if he had said "Porsche," we may have tossed the guy a buck.

Second Opinions:

Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
On paper the Cayman S looks good. Ten grand cheaper than a 911 and it doesn't skimp on the hardware. On the road, the Cayman is even better. The shifter? Perfect, probably the best in the business right now. The engine? Usable power at any rpm and a sound that needs no explanation. The handling? Loads of grip and a stability control system that knows when to show up and when to leave. Steering? Faultless. Brakes? Same as the steering. Oh, and it looks pretty good, too. Better in person than in the pictures.

Biggest problem with the Cayman? It's not a 911. As distinctive as the Cayman looks, it will never have the look. And it will never have the aura either. And let's face it, that's what a majority of buyers want when they buck up for a Porsche. They want people to know that they bought one of the best sports cars in the world. The 911 makes that statement the minute you pull up. The Cayman needs some explanation to make the same point. If that kind of stuff makes no difference to you, buy the Cayman S, you'll never miss the 911.

Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot says:
It's easy to find merit in most every Porsche. Whether you're a fan of the brand's all-conquering engineering and speed or its near perfect balance of luxury and performance, Porsches have no shortage of redeeming qualities. But in only one night, I managed to develop a love/hate relationship with Porsche's Cayman S.

Love: Cayman's haunches — the bulging bodywork stretched tightly over its rear wheels.

If styling is all that matters the Cayman holds its own beautifully, its trim bodywork striking the perfect balance between the purposeful shape of a chiseled athlete and the magnetizing signature lines that define the current generation of Porsches.

See it in the right light and there's an uncommon subtlety to its beauty. Search its angles — my personal favorite is the rear-three-quarter view — and you're certain to find an irresistible line, curve or flare. It is, to say the least, a striking car. Love it or hate it, you're going to see it differently after you drive it.

Hate: Realizing that the Cayman is far more car than I am driver.

That's the problem with getting older. As cars keep improving, I keep slowing down. And when I come across a car as capable as the Cayman (0.98g, 13.2-second quarter-mile) I begin to feel like a real has-been. I love it, but I don't deserve it.

With steering just this side of perfect, it goes where it's pointed with the cunning speed of a Jedi mind trick. Think about it, and you're there. Suggest, and the Cayman executes. It's as fast, comfortable and easy to drive as it is beautiful. And no matter how slow I get, how much I suck, or how good the car, I'll always be certain of one fact: I love Porsche's Cayman.

Consumer Commentary:

"This is by far the best car Porsche has made. The performance and handling is utterly amazing. I own a Porsche 911, and personally I believe the Cayman looks and handles much better, for a much better price. However this car is not as fast as my Ferrari 360 Modena." — charles III, 09/24/2005

Stereo Evaluation:

System Score: 8.0

Components: Our Porsche Cayman S came equipped with a Preferred Package that adds $2,190 to the price and includes an upgraded audio system. The package also includes other features like heated seats, floor mats and rain-sensing wipers, so the price reflects more than just the cost of an upgraded stereo. You can opt just for the Bose stereo alone; it will add $950 to the price.

The Bose package includes the addition of Bose surround sound with Centerpoint technology that gives stereo recordings (normal CDs are stereo recordings) the feel of 5.1 surround sound. There are 10 speakers, an active subwoofer and a seven-channel digital amplifier. The system also features AudioPilot noise compensation technology which automatically adjusts tone and volume based on speed and ambient sound.

Performance: We typically like the sound of Bose audio systems and this optional system found in the Cayman is no exception. The sound quality is not perfect but does provide a rich listening experience for those rare days when you don't want to hear the music of the flat six.

The bass is rich for the most part, and deep as well, but it does lack a super-aggressive kick — that can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. The high notes are clear and sharp without sounding shrill. Vocals sound very good and sound separation equally impressive. The clarity of the sound is the most impressive feature of this stereo. Also, the stereo can get very loud with little distortion.

Our only real complaint with regard to the stereo is the head unit itself; some of the buttons are too small which makes it hard to adjust some features while driving.

Best Feature: Sound clarity.

Worst Feature: Small buttons on the head unit.

Conclusion: We haven't heard the base stereo in the Cayman but suspect it's pretty good to begin with. Still, audiophiles will like the Bose system's technology-driven sound quality that gets a lot of sonic depth from a small cabin. — Brian Moody

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