Best Driver’s car? Try a Porsche Cayman S
“That’s your car there sir,” said the salesman at the dealership.
“Really?” replied my friend (and soon to be owner of a 2006 Guards Red Porsche Cayman S) in an astonished tone, because it looked like new, not eleven years old with 67k on the clock.
“But it’s not orange,” he whispered to me.
“Yeah that’s what I thought. Sunburnt orange, that’s how it looked in the photo,” I retorted.
Buying a car, sight unseen, is not recommended, but when there are so few options available, even less if you want a manual, then I guess you need to move quickly. That said, in red and beautifully prepared by the dealership, my friend’s new car looked spectacular.
Rocking up to the Porsche centre in Brisbane to check out his new wheels for the first time was still an unnerving experience. For him that is. Not so much for me. It wasn’t my hard earned flying out of the window after all. I was more interested in watching him actually climb into the thing. You see he is almost six feet five and the car is barely 1300mm tall. Funnily enough the thought had not actually occurred to him that he might not fit.
But fit he did, and with plenty of head room to spare.
“Now, before you head off, I’d just like to introduce a few things to you, some of the Porsche idiosyncrasies. What sort of engine does it have?”
I almost stuck my hand up, much like a primary school kid trying to gain the attention of his teacher.
“A flat 6 horizontally opposed boxer,” he said, ignoring my impassioned puppy-like appeals to please him, before continuing, “meaning oil is continuously lubricating all of the cylinders and valves. Unlike a straight or V6 in which the oil sits at the bottom of the cylinder. So while this helps reduce wear, oil can leak through the seals if the car is left idle for a while. So don’t be afraid if you see a puff of smoke when turning the ignition. It happens.”
“But can’t it also suggest premature cylinder bore wear?” I eagerly yapped.
“Yes, it could, ” he said, almost dismissively, “but normally this is evident on cars that are rarely used. So drive it, it likes it. And drive it hard.”
We shared a look, a look that said we liked the cut of his jib and that we were enjoying the symphony now playing in our ears.
He showed us the neat little cubby holes and storage pods, how the lights worked and how to get the most out of the after-market in-dash screen. But you’d think spending the best part of sixteen grand on options would include an engine chip or maybe some shiny exhaust pipes. Not so, for the previous, and obviously discerning, owner had other ideas. His focus had been on areas that Cayman buyers had most to moan about – the look of the wheels, the slipperiness of the seats and the size of the steering wheel that was obtrusive enough to catch your knee when depressing the clutch. He’d wisely plumped for black 19 inch rims, uprated sports seats and a smaller, thinner, leather bound tiller that harked back to the ’70’s but only in the best possible way. And the car is instantly the better for all of them.
After listening to a new Panamera’s throaty bauble whilst waiting for the paperwork to be signed, I was somewhat disappointed by the rather normal sounding tick over of the flat 6 once we were handed the keys and told to go forth. It didn’t appear any more impressive than say a Toyota GT or a Scooby BRZ. But once on the highway and above the 3000 line then that all changes. Not only are you grinning from to ear to ear because of the normally aspirated shunt from every gear, even in sixth, but the noise grows incessantly right up to the red line and is, for me, as good as the bellow of a V8.
For the driver, everything is exactly where you’d want it – the gear lever is perfectly positioned and weighted, all controls are within easy reach and there are no annoying electronic gadgetry. There are no flappy paddles, no seat belt warning dings and no supposed driver safety aids that in my opinion distract you from the more important task of actually driving safely. And, in this car, fast. Porsche do provide a digital speedometer in the centre of the dials ahead of you however, and it’s the only one you glance down to. The analogue dial on the left gives you an approximation of speed, which in this country would be a dice with license death if that is the one you use regularly.
I expected to be slightly intimidated but it’s a far easier car to drive than I thought. Though you sit very low, there is ample vision front and rear, and the mirrors and rear quarter windows nullify any blind spots. Weaving through traffic is a breeze but I catch myself lingering over the view of the rear wings curving sumptuously behind me and force myself to focus on the equally curvaceous vista ahead.
The cacophony coming from the tyres on any surface is unchecked and every single bump, every crease, hole or patchwork is telegraphed directly to your behind, so it’s no wonder that after the first three to four hours your bum does start to ache.
But then this is no Grand Tourer. This is a proper little sports car. Once you are away from dual lane monotony and on to the twisty, compressed roads that emanate from one side of the Pacific Highway, up into the hinterland of the Great Dividing Range, you are quickly reminded of this.
My word this is when its true personality bursts to the fore, like a supposedly tamed lion that eventually gets its own back over the whip wielding bastard behind a chair. These roads are what this thing was made for. Initially the side bolsters of the new seats, particularly around the shoulders, had felt a bit too hemmed in, but once pointing down a twisty piece of bitumen their intent becomes clear, particularly for the driver.
It has been raining and it is beginning to spit once more, but there is no hint of it through the wheel, zero loss of traction, whether the surface is smooth, gravelly, or a patchwork of both. All four wheels are as planted as the stanchions of the Harbour Bridge. The mid-engine layout and low centre of gravity provides balance and poise, and the tail out shenanigans of 911’s of yore are banished along with any sense of fear. The only danger the driver needs to be cognisant of are the humps over small bridges that will easily catch the underside of the front bumper, particularly under hard braking. A well timed foot off to release an inch or two of suspension is necessary, and it allows my passenger to unclench his buttocks and relax from the thoughts of dealing with thousands of dollars of cosmetic repair bills, if only for a second. Then you are back on it, right foot squishing the carpet before lifting off, rhythmically blipping on down changes, and snicking up through the gearbox as the rev limiter nears the 7,000 mark. Or at least you think it is, because you are not really looking at the dials, you are going by feel and sound, and morphing as one with the car. Jeez, I could stay on these roads all year stopping only for the odd wee and a drop of fluid.
It is quite simply the best driver’s car I have driven. Perhaps not the fastest, the souped up M5 a couple of years ago takes that ribbon, but it’s agility, poise and ease of use, on a daily basis, means it tops my list. And this for an eleven year old car. Sure the platform can probably handle more power and I understand why Porsche don’t shoe-horn more into it – it would beat a 911 otherwise, and they can’t have that. So is it worth the $52 odd grand that my very best friend (wink) paid for it?
So what should he look out for, other than meat heads like me who will pester him continually to take us to the nearest track?
The biggest issue with early Boxsters and Caymans was the IMS – intermediate shaft bearing – failure. It could be the result of sub-standard parts or that the car was not used enough. Either way oil can drain from the bearing which leads to corrosion and this gunk is then taken up by the bearing when you next start the car up. Porsche replaced the part in later models and it is less of an issue. My feeling is that considering this car is over a decade old, the issue has probably been sorted, or it’s not going to be a problem. Not yet anyway.
All the scoops and air intakes need regular cleaning to ensure leaves and other road muck does not get sucked in. Finally the remote locking function has been known to fail, so it’s a $500 replacement.
When used regularly, the car will sing for you for as long as you care to maintain it. Just a service every 12,000 kms, or once a year, and you’re laughing.
Finally, if you are on the hunt for one, avoid those with very low mileage. For me, those owners don’t deserve one if they don’t want to drive it, and they will be the models that cause most pain.
3.4 litre, normally aspirated, horizontally opposed flat 6
Rear wheel drive
291 bhp (217kW), 340 Nm Torque
0-100: 5.4 secs
Price when new (2006): $148,500
Asking price (2017): $59,990 (bought for $52,000)
Odometer: 67,140 kms