2006 Porsche Cayman S

Can the Porsche Cayman work as an active lifestyle vehicle? The sport coupe, based on the Boxster S chassis, has just enough room inside to hold two passengers and a few bags of groceries on a luggage shelf behind the seats. There are two ?trunks? (one in the front of the car and one behind the engine): I wouldn?t recommend trying to shoe a bike into either one. The cupholders are classic Porsche: clever, but not very functional for people who like their beverage containers on the large side.

On the other hand, those who think of driving as a sport rather than a necessary evil cannot help falling in love with the Cayman. Positioned between the Boxster and flagship 911 Carrera, the Cayman features a larger, more powerful six cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission, fully independent suspension, gloriously large 19-inch rims with two-caliper brakes to match, and an all-steel body whose torsional rigidity nearly matches the 911.

Enough stats, let?s drive

One of the things that I love about driving Porsches is the tip off. Unlike cars that jump off the line and then slump through second gear, the Cayman has a perfect acceleration curve. There is no doubt, stepping on the gas, that this car could launch its passengers halfway to Pluto, but the feeling is even and controlled.

So is the steering, thanks to a highly technical suspension that features separately mounted longitudinal and track control arms in front, and firmer rear springs than the Boxster. Variable ratio steering automatically adjusts the steering ratio based on the steering wheel angle, so the driver can literally feel the wheels and control them with incredible precision.

The test car came with Porsche active suspension management: offering drivers separate suspension setups for normal and high-speed driving. At speed, the system lowers the ride height an extra 10 millimeters. That adjustment, combined with the down force generated by the speed-sensitive rear wing, makes the Cayman stick to the road like glue. It almost makes one revel in the glory of decreasing radius turns.

Then there?s the brakes. One of the hallmarks of the Porsche 911 is that it stops every bit as fast as it accelerates. The same is true for the Cayman. Engineers put test cars through 25 consecutive cycles of braking from top speed (170) to 62, to make sure that the brakes didn?t fade.

The six-speed manual transmission has been modified from the Boxster to accommodate the Cayman?s higher horsepower and torque. Triple synchros on the first and second gears and double synchros on the other four make it virtually bulletproof. In other words, a person who is not a particularly good driver can have a lot of fun behind the wheel without busting the gears. Just as important, the transmission shifts smoothly and precisely in all situations, with its signature short throw.

A classic cockpit

The standard leather seats (tested) come with six-way power adjustments for both driver and passenger. An optional 12-way adjustable seat has integrated four-way lumbar adjustment. But the standard seats do a great job of supporting the lower back. My only complaint was a noticeable offset of the steering wheel. Aside from the cupholders, the interior is both elegant and functional. The glove box is oversized, and there is a fairly large storage box in the center console, with a 12-volt power point inside. Both doors have integrated map pockets.

While the sound of its engine is entertainment enough, the Cayman?s optional Bose surround-sound system on the test car is an impressive performer. With ten strategically positioned speakers and a seven-channel digital amplifier, it should give most audiofiles all that they?re looking for.

Standard safety features include six airbags, antilock braking, stability and traction control. The test vehicle came with optional bi-xenon headlamps to make night driving easier, self dimming mirrors and a rain sensor.

While the Cayman?s trunks are not well suited for large cargo, there is ample space to stash suitcases for the average road trip. Premium fuel is required, but the engine is efficient at burning it. The Cayman averages 20 m.p.g. around town and 28 on the highway: not bad for a car designed to cruise at twice the legal speed limit.

Can it live in the real world?

Living in the Cayman for a week was a treat, but as an everyday car, it probably wouldn?t suit my needs, or the needs of most athletes. For one thing, while it?s a drop-dead gorgeous car to look at, it?s also an attention getter. When a car like the Cayman gets parked at a trailhead, chances are good that it will attract a large circle of people. Depending on the location, that is not necessarily a good thing.

I have driven a Boxster on unimproved roads and it handled them better than I anticipated, partly because the exhaust is plumbed out the center of the car, away from the wheels. I didn?t try it with the Cayman, but my guess is that the slightly longer, slightly lower chassis wouldn?t fare as well. And let?s face it: who wants to risk punching the hole in the aerodynamic underbelly of a $73,000 sports car?

The Porsche Cayman is an unabashed road car in the best European tradition, designed to carry two people and not a lot of stuff. The rest has to go in something else: probably a little more durable and a little less flashy.

Then again, if a person can afford to drop $70,000 and change on 2,900 pounds of automotive heaven, buying something else to haul the bike to the trailhead is not a big deal.

Bottom line: the Porsche Cayman is an awesome car to drive. I loved every inch of its classic silver body, and I especially loved goosing the gas pedal. Rock on, Porsche.

Likes: Powerful acceleration, precise steering, and exceptional torsional stiffness that keeps the coupe flat and in control at speed. The exterior design is classic Porsche, especially beautiful in silver. Dislikes: Slight offset of steering wheel.

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