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2006 Porsche Cayman S

November 16, 2005 12:07 PM EST | Coupes , Luxury Brands , Porsche | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageMore than just a Boxster S with a lid, the Cayman S embodies the soul and heart of history's best Porsches.

Supreme handling characteristics, pinpoint steering, strong brakes, generous luggage capacity.

Options are costly, audio and climate controls are a little busy, straight-line performance can be equaled by that of many less expensive performance cars.

What's New for 2006
The Cayman S is an all-new coupe based on the successful Boxster platform.

Although the 911 has been the staple of Porsche's lineup for over three decades, the debut of the Boxster in 1997 ushered in a new era of the more affordable Porsche convertible. With its compact, midengine layout and formidable handling prowess, the flat-six-powered Boxster quickly became one of the best-selling cars in the luxury roadster segment.

Seeing the need to bridge the gap between the Boxster and the 911, Porsche created the Cayman S. In short, it's a hardtop version of the Boxster. The two cars share the same basic design, which means a midengine layout, rear-drive, two seats and a curb weight of about 3,000 pounds. But leaving it just at that would be a disservice. Porsche designed the Cayman S to take a more hard-core approach to performance. The Cayman's engine is more powerful, its suspension tuning is stiffer and it offers more sport-oriented options than the Boxster.

The Cayman S also boasts better versatility thanks to its hatchback design. Under that rear hatch, there's 9.1 cubic feet of storage -- twice that of a Boxster. And under that storage space, ahead of the rear axle, is the Cayman S's 24-valve four-cam 3.4-liter flat-six engine bolted to a six-speed manual transmission. A Tiptronic automatic is optional. Based on the Boxster S's 3.2 six, the Cayman S's 295-hp six draws its inspiration from a variable intake manifold, cylinder heads imported from the 911 Carrera S, and the 911's VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift. The engine snaps the Cayman S to attention just off idle, and lays down a flat field of peak torque -- 251 lb-ft -- between 4,400 and 6,000 rpm.

Adding a roof to any structure is a sure way to add stiffness, and Porsche tuned this law of physics to the Cayman's advantage. The car's newfound structural unity -- it's twice as resistant to flex as the Boxster -- allowed Porsche to play with spring, strut and antiroll bar settings to have the car engage corners much more aggressively, but still maintain ride quality.

There are other sports cars that are faster than the Cayman S. There are even many performance cars in the $35,000 range that can post similar acceleration times. But very few cars approach performance the way the Cayman S does. In a way, one could argue that the Cayman S is a return to what the 911 used to be: a focused driver's car. If your idea of fun is just heading out to mountain roads on the weekend for no other reason than to just drive, you're going to love this car.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
This midengine, two-seat hatchback comes in one flavor, the Cayman S. The standard equipment list includes such features as a trip computer; a leather-covered steering wheel, gearshift knob, armrests and handbrake handle and a CD stereo with nine speakers. Optional equipment includes items like full leather power seating; adaptive sport seating; wood, carbon or aluminum trim; rear parking assist; heated seats; and a navigation system. Also optional are PCCB ceramic brake discs and PASM, or Porsche Active Suspension Management, which allows the driver to choose between a sporty but comfortable mode and a full-on race-worthy suspension setup at the touch of a button on the dash.

Powertrains and Performance:
The Cayman S is powered by a 3.4-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine. It produces 295 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard. An automatic, Porsche's five-speed Tiptronic automanual, is also available.

Torso- and head-protecting side airbags, traction control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard. Electronic stability control, dubbed PSM, is also standard. The Cayman S has not yet been crash tested.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The seats are firm and supportive, and headroom is especially generous. Like other Porsches, the Cayman's cabin is good-looking but a little confusing at first glance. The gauge cluster is well laid out, but the climate and radio controls can be hard to decipher. With two cargo areas (one up front and one in back), there is ample cargo space available.

Driving Impressions:
The Cayman S, although midengined and rear-drive, is set up to understeer when overcooked into tight corners. Optional PASM, or Porsche Active Suspension Management, allows the driver to choose between a sporty but comfy mode and a full-on race-worthy setup at the touch of a button on the dash. PASM's Normal mode is quite livable, sucking up bad road with ease. Meanwhile, the Sport mode takes body roll out of the equation and rattles the cockpit more, letting you do amazing things as long as the road stays fairly racetrack smooth. The Cayman S's variable-assist rack and pinion steering is classic Porsche, with spot-on feel and direct action. Likewise, the brakes -- four-piston calipers clamping down on only moderately sized discs -- respond quickly and have excellent feel under foot.

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