By now you should know all about the wonders of the dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, a version of which is now offered for the 2009 Porsche Cayman and 2009 Porsche Cayman S. This box of wonders (and also gears) has variously been credited with raising the dead, changing the world of transmissions forever and ever and making a heavenly crème brulée.
That's pretty high praise for what is essentially just two gearboxes packaged into one box — one shaft full of gears is connected to clutch A, and the other shaft of gears is connected to clutch B. The magic comes from the way those two clutches swap drive power between them. Think of it like tossing a ball back and forth between your two hands — except that there's no ball or hands and no delay going from one to the other.
The dual-clutch automated manual transmission typically supplants a conventional automatic, and it delivers the convenient action of an automatic with the fuel-efficiency and drivetrain response of a manual. Also, dual-clutch systems tend not to embarrass their operators like the herky-jerky automated single-clutch transmissions do (we're looking directly at you, BMW SMG).
Predictably then, we will use the rest of this story to sing our hosannas to the Cayman's seven-speed dual-clutch unit, which we find easy to use, responsive and all-round excellent even if we'll never, ever, ever be able to pronounce its German name: Doppelkupplungsgetriebe.
All right, Porsche won't make you pronounce the name when you order it up (for a hefty $3,420 charge). In fact, with sports car sales at subterranean levels, it'll probably be happy if you call it anything at all. Even Porsche shortens the name to "PDK" in casual conversation.
Here's the headline for the PDK-equipped Cayman S: It's the quickest Cayman of them all. It's quicker from zero to 60 mph by a full second than the 2008 Cayman S equipped with the old Tiptronic automatic (4.8 vs. 5.8 seconds). In fact, the 2009 Cayman S PDK is fractionally quicker to 60 mph than either the 2008 or 2009 Cayman S equipped with a manual transmission.
So we can see you're not surprised that the seven-speed PDK car is quicker than the old automatic. That's because the dual-clutch doesn't waste any time with upshifts, and there's essentially no interruption in torque delivery. Also the PDK incorporates launch control as part of the $1,320 Sport Chrono package. No special protocol or incantation required; just press the stability control button on the center stack, hold the brake pedal down and mash the throttle. A telltale "launch control" message lights up in the gauge cluster and you're off.
Like all dual-clutch transmissions on the market, the PDK can be set to either manual or automatic mode. To shift gears, you use the lever on the center console or the buttons on the spokes of the steering wheel. If we have one complaint about the PDK, it is these buttons — essentially rocker switches, really. Press the top portion of either the left or right button and the transmission upshifts. Press the bottom portion of either button for a downshift. We never got used to this and were saved the embarrassment of blowing up a motor a couple of times only by the electronics, which knew we didn't actually want a downshift to 3rd when we were topping out the engine speed in 4th gear. Shift paddles would be better.
While the arrival of the PDK option is the biggest headline grabber for 2009, Porsche has also substantially updated the engines of both the Cayman and the Cayman S.
There are hundreds of detail changes that start with the simpler, stiffer block and include new intake and exhaust systems. While it will get little attention, the camshafts are now driven directly from the timing chain for less weight, the bucket-style tappets save 10 grams each and the oil pump varies output with load to reduce pumping losses.
The most compelling result of all these ministrations is, of course, more power. The Cayman's horizontally opposed six-cylinder increases its displacement from 2.7 liters to 2.9, and it pumps out 265 horsepower at 7,200 rpm (up 20 hp) and 221 pound-feet of torque at 4,400-6,000 rpm. The extra horsepower comes pretty high in the rev range, so the Cayman doesn't feel like an all-new car in day-to-day driving, yet a version with a manual transmission will sprint to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds compared to 5.8 seconds for last year's car.
The 3.4-liter flat-6 in the Cayman S gets a direct-injection system, and this helps raise peak power to 320 hp at 7,200 rpm (up 25 hp from last year), while peak torque increases to 273 lb-ft at 4,750 rpm (up 22 lb-ft). Again, since the horsepower and torque peaks arrive at higher engine speeds, the car doesn't feel transformed when you're just trundling around town.
For our drive across southern Spain, we had only a 2009 Porsche Cayman S with PDK at our disposal, and we likely wouldn't have chosen our little Smurf Blue number with the little fixed wing on the back. That's because our Cayman S PDK — loaded up with ceramic brakes, "sport design" 19-inch wheels, PASM electronic damping control, navigation system, carbon-fiber trim, a TV tuner (not available in the U.S.) and the Sport Chrono package among other items — would list at just short of $1 billion, give or take. (We don't have all of the pricing for the options, but we'd estimate our tester would be actually somewhere in the range of $90,000.)
Is it worth it? Yes it is, assuming you have $90,000 to fritter away on a two-seat coupe. Once inside the cabin, the Cayman S PDK feels exactly as we remember every previous Cayman S feeling, which is to say fantastic. It still has utterly telepathic steering, a rousing engine note and an achingly beautiful rear end.
Porsche says that it has lowered the recommended tire pressure in the rear to soften the ride and also retuned the springs, dampers and antiroll bars. It's hard to feel much difference, although we'll say that the Sport setting for the dampers is very sporting indeed, and makes the Cayman a handful on undulating roads.
Other Unnoticed Things
Porsche calls the '09 Cayman the second generation of the model. OK, sure. But true to Porsche form, it takes a Porsche fanatic to notice the differences to the body. The headlights are of a different design, although their surrounds look essentially the same. The front fascia has a more pronounced sucker-fishlike mouth. And LEDs now find their way to the taillamps. Otherwise, the car looks like, well, a Cayman.
Porsche is also proud that it has simplified the button-crazy navigation system — now with only 16 buttons! There are a few new entries for the options list, but the only performance one is the mechanical limited-slip differential.
Porsche's competitive soft spot has always been its premium pricing. You can almost hear the Nissan fanboys furiously doing the performance vs. price equation as it relates to the Cayman and 370Z. It's a battle Porsche can't win, of course, and everyone knows it.
What a buyer gets with the 2009 Porsche Cayman S (which starts at $61,150 with destination charge) is the most focused, pretty, nimble, purely enjoyable Porsche on the road today (excluding specialty models such as the 911 GT3). None of the updates made to the 2009 model change that basic fact.
And given that the PDK replaces the automatic transmission and not the conventional manual, the Cayman has become fractionally more focused on its sporting mission than the outgoing model. We'd probably still opt for the six-speed manual and spend our $3,420 on some of Porsche's other options.
What the PDK Cayman represents, though, is the perfect Porsche for Southern California. It's involving enough when you get to thrash the car on a canyon road, but it won't work you over on the hell that is the 405 freeway.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.