The new Porsche Cayman S is the thinking person's Carrera
"Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!" Last night, outside a Portuguese restaurant, Markus Baumann was doing his best impression of Porsche's flat-six engine, his right hand quickly moving back and forth as he uttered those sounds. He was talking, rather excitedly, about the manual gearbox in the new Cayman, and his enthusiasm was both contagious and entirely understandable.
Earlier that day, after a tortuous series of flights from the UAE to Portugal, where this car is being launched for the international media, I got to drive a Cayman S from a Porsche dealership to our hotel on the coast. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to pilot a pure sports car along truly mind blowing mountain roads. Within five minutes I knew, without a single nagging doubt, that this is the very best driver's car available today. And I don't say this sort of thing lightly.
Baumann is the man in charge of engine development, and the manual transmission now benefits, in Sport Plus mode at least, from an automatic blip when performing downshifts. It's an unnecessary feature but it's fun. And that, more than anything, is what the new Cayman is about: the one f-word we love to say, but rarely get to, when describing the driving experience on offer from a new car.
It's improved in every possible way over the outgoing model. It looks stunning, like a diminutive Carrera GT with a roof. The wheelbase is 60mm longer and its track is wider, for improved handling. The engines (2.7L for the normal one and 3.4L for the S model) are more powerful, lighter and drink less fuel. And yet they sound utterly intoxicating, especially when you hit Sport Plus and the trick exhaust kicks in. It's pure race car and, when you lift off the throttle, the pops and bangs and gurgles that pour forth are sonic heaven. I'm struggling to think of any aspect about this car that doesn't delight me.
So I have accepted what I already knew deep down. This is the perfect car - something I was close to saying about the new Boxster last year after driving one for a few days. But the Cayman is stiffer, more focused on delivering a better hit, better able to unleash that enthusiastic driver you know you are - if only you had the right wheels and the right roads at your disposal.
I don't often take the opportunity to talk cars with the people I meet at launches who are responsible for developing them, but last night I couldn't help myself. I just had shake their hands and congratulate them on doing the very best possible job.
But today is the real test. As blindingly brilliant as a car can be on public roads, it's the racetrack that sifts the wheat from the chaff. Today, the weather is just right - cool, free of wind and the sun is shining. And the track, one I had assumed would be little more than a glorified karting circuit, is nothing of the sort. The Autodromo Internacional do Algarve is one of the best I have ever had the privilege of experiencing: extremely long, with a flawless surface for plenty of grip and loads of blind crests to be taken flat-out- if you're brave enough.
I climb into an S model with Porsche's excellent PDK dual-clutch transmission (tellingly, not a single car here is blighted by the infernal toggle switches that normally ruin the experience - they're all either manual or fitted with proper, beautifully engineered alloy paddle shifters) and adjust my seat. As I wait for the lead car to give us the nod to head on to the track, I take a moment to look around the cabin, and it's as though the previous model never existed. Everything is intuitive, tactile and lovely to look at. The seats (sport bucket items yesterday, regulars today) are wonderfully comfortable, supportive and easy to position for just the right posture.
It's time to go and the lead instructor doesn't hang about. He's in a new 911 Carrera S and immediately guns it out of the pit lane - even on the first, familiarisation lap it's scarily quick. I have my car in Sport Plus mode for increased punch and a stiffer chassis set-up, and it doesn't disappoint. For five glorious laps, this car provides the most incredible adrenaline rush, exhibiting perfect poise and balance and more than enough power to keep on the tail of that wailing Carrera up front.
The grip from the Cayman's front tyres is sensational, allowing the tightest corners to be taken at speeds that would have most other cars struggling to maintain the chosen line. It's staggeringly quick, eminently chuckable through the bends and inspires huge levels of confidence in the driver, rewarding them with the drive of their lives, time after time. In fact, as I write these words, my legs are still shaking - it's that exhilarating.
Jaguar, your F-Type has a new benchmark - the Cayman S has just set the bar higher than it ever was. And, if you're in the market for a new Porsche, take off those 911-shaped blinkers, because this is the thinking person's Carrera.
The Cayman will hit showrooms in the UAE at the end of next month.
Base price to be announced
Engine 3.4L, mid-mounted boxer six cylinder
Transmission Seven-speed DSG
Power 325hp @ 7,400rpm
Torque 370Nm @ 4,500rpm
Fuel economy, combined 8.0L/100km
Updated: February 22, 2013 04:00 AM