Regardless of what it manufactures, no company can be a one product wonder. Not even the world’s most profitable car maker.

Porsche is synonymous with the 911 and the 911 has been synonymous with Porsche. But that is not the model that has brought in the ‘Deutsche’ for the company over the last few years. If the German company had sat smug with the success of the iconic 911, it would probably not be where it is today.

Instead, despite the criticism, Porsche launched the Cayenne, its luxury sports utility vehicle, more than a decade ago. And, in many markets, the Cayenne has been the best selling model of the company over the last three years. Porsche’s performance has seen a remarkable resurgence, and it has been setting a new sales record consecutively over the last three years. Much of that spike in sales was contributed by the Cayenne’s popularity in markets like the US, China and even India.

Over the last decade, Porsche also flanked its product strategy with less pricey models such as the Boxster and the Cayman. These were models that were just right for buyers who couldn’t afford the 911 and its variants or for whom the 911’s performance was too much to handle. Relatively easier to drive and less edgy, but with the trademark design and performance characteristics of a Porsche, the Boxster and then, the Cayman, have built themselves a unique set of fans.

For the Cayman - the two-seat sports coupé named after the stealthy reptile - it is now time to move in for the kill! Though luxury seems to be largely recession-proof, the current global slowdown could see more buyers looking for more affordable options. It is said that the Porsche 911 buyer is fixated, but for the others who still want to own a Porsche that gets really close to the original, the new, more advanced Cayman is a great option.

The Cayman was first launched for the 2006 model year. Based on the same mid-engine platform as the Boxster, the Cayman started off the block being as much as a Porsche as the 911, and clocked a competitive timing lap on the Nurburgring. So, race-grade performance runs in its genes.

The third generation Cayman has been rolled out in the key markets in a phased manner starting late last year. And, just from the numbers it is obvious that Porsche has taken the task of upping the Cayman’s performance seriously. So, does the Cayman feel as impressive to drive as it looks on paper? To test the Cayman on the track and the road, and confirm that claim, I travelled to Dubai and joined a media drive organised by Porsche Middle East & Africa.

Performance

Porsche has approached the whole issue of improving the Cayman’s performance in its own inimitable style. “Cut down weight, increase engine performance and increase efficiencies”. Remember this is a company that made the air-conditioner an optional fitment in one of its cars. So, weight reduction is a big deal for Porsche.

The new Cayman is 30 kgs lighter from the previous generation, and much of that comes from the 47 kgs ‘shaved off’ thanks to the new composite aluminium-steel body-in-white. So, the new Cayman’s kerb weight is just 1,310 kgs. Just for comparison that is only a little over 100 kgs more than the Volkswagen Vento petrol. But the engine in the Cayman is about 3 times more powerful than the Vento’s 1.6-litre mill.

The new Cayman’s wheelbase is up 60mm compared to the previous generation and it has shorter overhangs. The sports car’s overall height is lower by 10mm, the front track is also wider by 36mm (40mm in the CaymanS) and the rear track is up 12mm. All those changes point towards the aim of pumping up performance. The Cayman was always meant to be more practical and that apparently means that its buyer will look for luggage room too. So, Porsche engineers have given a total 425 litres of storage (275 litres at the front and 150 litres at the rear).

But, if you are a 911 fan and you thought that the Cayman is a bit of a softie, you’d be very wrong…certainly with the new Cayman. It is a full 11 seconds quicker at the north loop of the Nurburgring than the previous gen. If that makes no sense, let’s just say that the Cayman’s timing is now straying close to the 911.

On the track and the road

The new more masculine design and the lowered, longer roof and the larger wheels are the visual hints to the more powerful new Cayman. But under the skin, not only is the all-new chassis lighter, but its torsional rigidity is also up 40 per cent compared to the previous model. This mid-engine concept also improves balance and agility by achieving a weight distribution of 46:54 (front:rear).

Together this translates into a remarkable amount of poise for the sports car under the most demanding of conditions. At the Dubai Autodrome, Porsche had organised a shorter, tighter section of the 5.4 km long track. Our section had about 13 turns and a mix of slow speed u-turns and a few swooping high speed bends.

The new Cayman was in its element at the track, and it agility comes shines through. Since the Cayman is meant to marry a bit of everyday commuting to race-bred performance, the best part about its performance is its self-composure. It is not until you look down at the speedo that you realise the high speeds that the car is doing on the straights. And I am talking about some serious speeds. The Cayman S’ speed is limited to 283 kmph and under the controlled conditions there were sections where we were very close to that limit.

Behind me the screaming engine powering the rear wheels is sheer music to the ears, with the characteristic note of Porsche’s flat-six engines. The best part of the track experience and the on-road drive, from Dubai to Fujairah, the next day was of course tackling the turns. Porsches are built to decimate challenging turns and the new Cayman opens your eye to its potential.

While I am thinking that, much of my reactions at the turns – brake, shift down, turn, straighten and accelerate out of the apex – are borne out of instinct. The Cayman almost seems to learn and pre-empt the moves. I was driving in sport mode and shifting it to Sport Plus elicits and even more eager response and in this mode the

PDK gearbox (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe) makes sure that it grabs your attention (at your waist actually) every time you shift up or down.

Power in your hands

I drove both the Cayman and the Cayman S over two days. The Cayman is powered by the new high-revving 2.7-litre flat-six cylinder that generates a peak power of 275 bhp at 7,400 rpm (up 10 bhp). The Cayman S is powered by the 3.4-litre flat-six engine that delivers 325 bhp of peak power at the same engine rpm level. That is a power to weight ratio of 1 bhp for every 4.5 kgs!

Both the engines have seen considerable changes, including a reduction in displacement in the case of the 2.7-litre. Both are naturally aspirated engines still, now with forced induction from the door scoop intakes. The changes make sure that more power is also delivered consistently at every stage of the rpm band, though the engines are also said to be about 15 per cent more fuel efficient.

The new Cayman gets Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) for the first time. There are a bevy of other technologies that are employed in addition to this and the PDK gearbox, and they include PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) and the new, more precise electromechanical power steering. But it is the way that all of these come together that grabs your attention.

Bottomline

The new Cayman’s package of course doesn’t stop with all that performance hardware. There is enough of soft-ware too inside the cabin. Soft touch, leather-clad dashboard, double stitched, perforated leather seats and the rest of the works.

The cabin is classic Porsche with the vertically stacked buttons and controls, the driver-oriented layout and the quality of materials used. The only eye sore is the ‘auto start-stop’ button, thankfully it can be switched off manually if you are driving in comfort mode (it is automatically switched off in sport and sport plus modes).

The new Cayman S (3.4-litre engine) will be launched in India soon. The Cayman with its 2.7-litre engine will not be launched due to the current legislation (sub-3-litre engines are not allowed for import). The Cayman is offered with 18 and 19-inch wheels, but I am sure that the smart 20-inch alloys (and possibly the wider 265/35 ZR rated radials) you see in these pictures will also be available as an option. There will of course be a huge range of customisation options available too.

If you have been planning a Porsche but have been intimidated by the 911, the new Cayman will be the next best option. Expect the price to be north of Rs 90 lakhs, ex-showroom.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 8, 2013)
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