Owner’s Review: 2012 Porsche Cayman S

Reader’s review of his own Cayman – stepping up from a Golf GTI

By Ian Davies

Owner's Review, Porsche Cayman S

I remember the day well – the phone call I had been waiting for from Al Naboodah, finally informing me that after almost four months of waiting, my brand new Porsche was ready for collection.

For the past four years, I have had the pleasure of driving around the UAE in a Mark V Volkswagen Golf GTI. By any standards the Golf is an excellent all-round car, so when the time came to change it, I had a very difficult choice to make… how could I improve on something as good as the Golf? I considered going for the easy option and simply choosing a Mark 6 Golf GTI but, despite being very happy with the Golf, I really wanted something a little bit different.

I was looking for a sports car that was still within reach for a person of average means like me, and, through my research, I learned that this is a very under-populated segment of the market.

Below this segment, there are the multitudes of hot hatches, such as my beloved Golf GTi, the Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus ST, etc., which I found to be a bit boring. Above this segment there are the premium sports cars such as the Porsche 911, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the Nissan GT-R, all of which are sadly way out of my league.

Within this segment there’s really not much to choose from at all, with only the BMW Z4, the Mercedes SLK 350, the Nissan 370Z and the Boxster and Cayman from Porsche springing immediately to mind.

The Z4 and SLK I discounted because I had seen a few too many women with dyed hair driving them, the Boxster I rejected for largely the same reason, which left only the 370Z and the Cayman. Whilst both are undoubtedly very good cars, the Cayman had the benefit of the ideal mid-engine layout, high quality German construction, arguably greater prestige than the Nissan and a tremendous motorsport history. I was sold on it within the first 2 minutes of my test drive.

About the Cayman

The Cayman was introduced to the world in 2005, and to this day remains the most anonymous model in the Porsche range. The design is based on the Porsche 550 Coupe sports car of the mid-1950s, a Spyder version of which was made famous by James Dean when he crashed it and ultimately lost his life.

Many people consider the model to be no more than a hard-top version of the Boxster, and whilst this is true to some extent, until 2012 the Cayman benefited from larger engines with greater power, plus of course the increased rigidity gained from the addition of a solid roof.

The Cayman is really much more of a performance car than the Boxster, delivering very close to the performance offered by the daddy of all Porsches, the legendary 911 but for about half the cost. Following some cosmetic surgery in 2009, the new Cayman is now quite a looker. The front aspect is modern Porsche, the side, classic Porsche and the rear, uniquely Cayman.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Cayman is the only mid-engine coupe in the Porsche range, so has all the ingredients of being the perfect sports car. Underpinning the range is the classic aluminium flat-six boxer engine which has a capacity of 2.9 litres and 265bhp in the standard Cayman, and 3.4 litres and 320bhp in the S model.

In addition to the larger capacity engine, the S model also benefits from an improved sound system, larger wheels, twin exhaust, red brake callipers, and some other minor cosmetic enhancements. There’s also an R model where Porsche play the usual stripped-out performance-car trick by providing you less equipment yet demanding more money for it.

Given this, and that I really did not want to be embarrassed at the lights a mid-range Japanese saloon, I chose the S version, as a balance between performance and cost. Besides, I was sure that the extra 55 bhp would come in handy one day!

Options, options!

The Porsche options list is legendary. It is very easy to almost double the already quite considerable cost of the car if every box is ticked on the options list. Not having the benefit of unlimited funds, I had to limit the options, so I ultimately chose only the options that positively and directly affected the experience of driving and living with the car on a day-to-day basis.

I ended up choosing the sports exhaust, the integrated satellite navigation system, the PDK twin-clutch semi-automatic gearbox with sports steering wheel which includes paddle shifters, and rear parking sensors to help to protect my investment.

I also wanted the limited-slip rear differential, which is an option that really takes this car into supercar territory, but I’m afraid that my budget wouldn’t quite stretch that far, and besides, I was fairly sure that my driving skills would not extend beyond the considerable capabilities of the standard Cayman S, unless I got something horribly wrong, and then even the limited-slip diff may not be enough to help me out.

The Porsche Sat Nav took me quite a lot of getting used to and even now, after 1 year, I still don’t find it intuitive. However, the iPod and phone integration work perfectly, even pausing the iPod when an incoming call is received. It is such a joy to be able to browse the playlists and track information on the iPod from the touchscreen of the head unit, and it is possible to totally forget about the iPod tucked away in the armrest when using the system.

Driving the Cayman

So, what’s it like on the road? The headline says it all – it’s a mid-engined 3.4 litre Porsche coupe! This car is all about the acceleration, the sound, and the handling, and it excels at all three.

The flat-six engine is powerful and smooth, delivering an incredible 0-100kph time of 5.4 seconds in the PDK version and 5.5 seconds in the manual. With seven gears in the PDK, in automatic mode the car sometimes searches around for the right gear, but in manual mode, the performance is much more predictable and immediate, resulting in a tremendously satisfying experience.

Despite the performance, the car is both quiet and economical when driven sensibly, rewarding you with economy in excess of 9.0L/100km if you’re careful. With relatively generous storage at the front of the car, plus some space in the rear also, the car can really be used on a day-to-day basis with few compromises.

The PDK gearbox works incredibly well and truly transforms the driving experience. Now even the most ham-fisted of drivers can make gear-changes like the best, with no more effort that simply nudging the gearstick or pulling a paddle. The gearbox offers the perfect combination of the fun of manual mode when you want to play, or the laziness automatic mode when you don’t. The only drawback to the PDK is a slight jerkiness at low speeds when driving in traffic, which the aforementioned ham-fisted driver, if he were also ham-footed, might also introduce anyway.

The driving position is excellent, with a steering wheel that is adjustable for height and reach, and a seat that can accommodate both short and tall drivers equally well. The ride is as firm as you would expect from a sports car, with an above average amount of road noise from the fat tyres.

However, when you arrive at the first corner you really start to see the benefit of the setup of the car, and quickly forgive any harshness at low speeds. The poise and balance of the car mid-corner, with the pull from the boxer engine at the exit will never fail to bring a smile to your face, and all of this coupled with the amazing soundtrack from the power plant right behind your seat and the sports exhaust reverberating off any passing objects results in an electrifying experience.

Despite the fat tyres, the output from the engine is enough to unstick the car under heavy acceleration in mid-corner, but the traction control system is clever enough to gather everything up before something horrible happens.

Verdict

So here we are … one year on, at times like this, I like to ask myself if I would make the same choices if I were in the same position again. Mostly, I end up completely changing my mind but in this case, I am truly happy that I made the right choices.

There have been no faults whatsoever with the car and I believe that the options I chose complemented the car very well, and were right for me. The combination of a nimble, fun and genuinely high performance car, with every-day practicality, economy and quality, is really quite unique in the marketplace, and the Cayman remains one of the most accessible sports cars around today. A true hidden gem.

So, is it worth almost double the cost of the Golf? The Cayman costs more than twice as much as the Golf but, good though it is, it falls short of being more than twice as good. However, the Golf, is not more than twice as good as a Toyota Yaris, for example, yet I didn’t hesitate for a second when I purchased the Golf.

Part of the problem is that when you’re talking about this kind of money, and with the level of expectation that the Porsche name conjours up, the car needs to be really, really fantastic, and whilst the Cayman comes very close to this, the Golf is better than it deserves to be for the money. In short, Porsche could not have done any more with the Cayman, so the Cayman is really just a victim of the Golf’s success.

Read also 2012 Boxster S Review

5 responses to “Owner’s Review: 2012 Porsche Cayman S”

  1. Essa says:

    Great Review!

    Tottaly agree that its a hidden gem and its interesting how you justify the price 🙂 Too bad the next gen is only a few months away.

  2. Sam says:

    While I do agree with the write up, I would definitely disagree with your comment that the performance is very close to the legendary 911.

    2013 911 S – 400HP and 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds. now 0.5+ seconds puts a car in a different league.

    I would more pit the Cayman up against the original version of the Golf R, not the detuned version which you have in the region. 0-100km/h are closer than the gap between the 911 and the Cayman.

    That said the Cayman is an excellent car. Porsche had to stop giving it out to 911 owners who took their car in for service as the owners started considering the Cayman over the 911.

    Enjoy your new ride!

    • Ian Davies says:

      I didn’t compare the Cayman S with the 911 S, only the base 911. I have driven the 911S and agree with you – it is quite special, but significantly more expensive, too.

  3. shanosblue says:

    Price Price Price ?

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