(Pocket-lint) - "Would you like to drive a Porsche around the south of France?" is the kind of question which - like, "Would you like either a kick in the crown jewels, or this gold ingot?" - doesn’t require a lot of thinking about. "Yes," we replied, and a couple of weeks later we’re picking up the keys to a German fun wagon.
The Cayman is sort of the answer to the potential criticisms of the 911 range. For a start, it's a mid-engined car, which is arguably a lot less likely to try and kill you than a rear-engined one, and the number of options in the range is a lot less confusing than the 911 – four, as opposed to 21 for the 911. We drove the Cayman S, which costs around £48,000, but the vanilla Cayman starts at £39,000, only a little more than the Boxster.
It is, however, worth remembering that as with all German cars, the price is a fluid thing. While the base car is £48,000, you can spend an awful lot more on various bits and bobs for it. You can pay £90 for a aluminium "look" fuel filler cap. Or £5500 on ceramic brakes – overkill unless you're intending to use it on a track. There are also some very worthwhile additions. You can take an upgraded stereo for £2,137. Go for the Bose here, the sound quality is far better than the Porsche system. Also, we think the 3G option, and sat nav are must-haves. You can have a TV tuner, but why would you ever stop to watch TV when you could be out driving. It's probably worth getting parking assist too, for £348.
We configured a car to this spec, and included the Porsche automatic, double clutch gearbox and Sports Chrono package, and ended up with a price of £54,708. We do have some mixed feelings about the automatic gearbox. It is very good, but we're also lovers of manual transmission, and that gives us some conflict. The speed, flexibility and addition of launch control would probably win us over though. And, at least with the PDK gearbox, you never lose full manual control.
The interior of the Porsche is both the best, and worst thing about it. It is in every sense a luxury car. The leather is beautiful, the instruments clear and easy to read and everything is in a sensible place. It is very German indeed. But it's devoid of any personality. This is not the sort of car that needs nannying, nor is it poorly made or temperamental. Like all Porsche vehicles, you can drive it every day.
Externally, too, the Porsche Cayman doesn’t look as pretty as the 911, or even the Boxster. It’s not an ugly car, but it looks bigger and its huge wheel arches dominate the style. It’s a more distinctive look than the Boxster - which apes the 911, to some extent - but it won’t appeal to everyone. The long boot, with a sort of kink put us off slightly, but who are we kidding, it's still a Porsche, with Porsche looks, and we still think it's terrific.
The Cayman is also an easy car to get in to, and it's super-comfortable once you're in. The seats are grippy, and keep you in place when you're driving hard and you can see all the instruments, all the time. This is something that cannot be said for some other cars.
Boot space isn't a disgrace. You can store items behind the engine, and there's enough room for a couple of weekend bags here. But you also get under-bonnet storage too. And there's more capacity here for your various gubbins. The 911 might have fractionally more space, but while having the engine in the middle might deprive you of rear seats, there's still enough room for two people to have a nice weekend away.
Driving on mountain roads does make you appreciate just how wide the Cayman is. There were certainly times when we longed for a more traditional, narrow, sports car, even if it would mean that you'd be sitting almost on top of your passenger. Still, no matter how wide or narrow your sports car, you're always going to worry constantly about it, so the key is just to keep a watchful eye on other drivers and their nasty habit of driving to close to you.
Declare yourself a driving god
Porsche makes it easy to look good in the Cayman. It’s an easy car to drive, especially in automatic mode. You get manual control, if you need it, but you might as well not bother. The automatic box is so quick, that it makes driving the car a stop and go affair. On a straight stretch of road, you bury the accelerator in the floor, and the car roars in to life.
There are three modes to choose from in a car with the PDK automatic, double-clutch gearbox. In standard, the car is fast, but it changes up quickly and the engine noise is suppressed. For most driving, this is how you probably want the car set up.
Switching to the “sport” mode changes things, with the car changing up later and making significantly more noise in to the bargain. This is still an easy enough mode to drive the car in, however, and while it’s fast, you’re still getting a lot of help from the car to keep it on the road.
If you’re on a track – or just fancy hearing your car enjoy itself - then “sport plus” is where it’s at. Here, the car doesn’t change up until its near the red on the rev range. With all of the modes, you can get to the top speed in sixth, with the seventh gear being provided for economy. If economy isn't too laughable a word to use in conjunction with a sports car.
Of course, all of these modes really just make up for the fact that you're driving an auto, rather than a manual. There is no trick this automatic box can pull off that you can't with some driving experience. So it's a tricky one. Certainly, saving £2,000 is worth considering, especially if you invest the money in some Porsche driving days, to get the hang of your new car...
The Cayman is a little bit slower than both the Boxster S and the 911 Carrera, in both acceleration and ultimate top speed, but we really doubt you'll notice. It is, very fast indeed. It's also solid and feels rigid when you're throwing it along country lanes or around French mountains.
With Sport+ engaged, you can make use of launch control too. Put your left foot on the brake, push the accelerator down fully, then release the brake and the car will propel you forward with the maximum speed it can muster. It's handy for getting off the lights, but it's probably more useful if you're a fan of track days.
So, what happens when you put your foot down? Well, there's noise and lots of it. The Cayman isn't shy about yelling about how good it is. But it has the rasp of a 40-a-day smoker, it's a metallic croak that seems too harsh at first, but then becomes something you want to hear as often as possible. Tunnels will become your very favourite place to be.
And in terms of comparison with the 911, the Cayman holds up well. It's only a modest amount slower than Porsche's flagship model – at least, the lower end of that range – but the money sayving is significant enough to make it worth considering.
There's no doubt about it, the Porsche Cayman is a delight to drive. It's properly bolted together. The cabin is a nice a place to be as any luxury car, and it's comfortable too. Switches, buttons and controls all fall in to your hand, and the stereo/sat nav combination works better than many built-in systems.
The mid-engined nature of this car means you get less boot space than in a 911. There, you at least get the notion of a rear seat. And while you lose the "boot" that you find in the Cayman, you do get the under-bonnet capacity. Although, none of these cars are going to set the world alight with their ability to haul cargo.
What the Cayman does brilliantly though, is offer amazing performance for thousands of pounds less than a 911, and significantly bettering the handling of the convertible Boxster. But for a modest price increase. It's bundles of fun, noisy and stylish and if you've got the cash to spare, it's almost a no-brainier.
Normally, we wouldn't struggle so much with the choice of auto or manual transmission. Annoyingly though, the Porsche double-clutch double-gearbox arrangement is so good, and so fast, that it muddies the water. Drivers who love driving will, almost certainly, want to go for the manual car.