01-16-10 - Porsche Cayman S Test Drive

Yesterday on the way home from work I stopped and drove a Cayman S. It was definitely the most insane test drive of many somewhat insane test drives. I took it out and gave it some gas through a tight corner on a freeway onramp, and the back end came loose and it started to powerslide oversteer. I've never done that before in my life, but I intuitively steered out of it and merged into traffic smoothly. It was pretty fucking amazing feeling, and I think it says a lot for the composure and ease of handling of the Cayman. When it came unstuck, it was very mild mannered, it didn't go shooting off towards the side of the freeway like a bullet.

One thing I saw from my accidental tail slide was that Porsche really treats the driver like a human being, with respect. The electronic traction control (PSM) was on (in sport mode), but it didn't kick in, because it has very high tolerances before it starts interfering. This is in stark contrast to BMW and most cars these days where if your wheels start to spin at all, they kick in the electronic nanny. Just all around, the whole control set is very simple, very direct - they respect you as a driver and let you have feel and feedback and stiff linear levers.

The brakes and steering and feel for the road are all the tightest, stiffest, most linear, best feeling of any car I've driven (the only one that's really close is the 370Z). It really feels like an extension of you, without any weird laggy responses or numbness to frustrate. There's zero unnecessary electronics or beeps or screens or any of that awful shit, it just drives.

It's much smaller in real life than I thought from seeing them from afar. When you get right up to it or in it, you realize it's very low. You sit low, so your head is around the level of a bumper of a high truck. That's a bit of a disadvantage, especially annoying in traffic when you can't see around people. Also the cargo space is pretty ridiculously small, maybe even less than the 370. Like you would even have trouble fitting a large grocery shopping load, and certainly my old days of doing ridiculous things like going camping in the Prelude would never work in a Cayman. It's also really low and stiff, so the river-fording and dirt-road driving and such that I did in the Prelude would be an even worse idea in a Cayman.

Visibility is actually better than I expected. Side and front visibility are way better than the 370Z or M Roadster. Rear visibility out the back window is pretty terrible, but is okay with the side mirrors. Basically visibility while driving is perfectly fine; backing into parking spots would be the main time it would suck I think.

The engine is *right* behind your head, like 6 inches behind your head. I'm not a big fan of the sound; I think the best car sounds are old american muscle cars with that deep gurgly slow rumble that makes your bowels loose. It's got more of a Formula-1 style high banshee scream which is more annoying than sexy. It's fine when you're thrashing it for fun, but would definitely get old on a long trip.

The seating position is not exactly super comfortable, you're pretty tucked into a specific posture with not a lot of squirming options, but there is more head room for tall people than in the 370Z or Infiniti or M Roadster.

As for power - there's plenty; it's easy to think that 300 HP is not enough in the modern insane horse power wars, but it is significatly lighter than most of the competition (3000 lbs vs. 3200-3500 for the others). The Cayman easily goes faster than I could ever safely go on public roads. The gear ratios on the first few gears are very close, so to get max acceleration you need to shift quickly and smoothly.

I like it a lot, its design philosophy is exactly what I want : small, light, nimble, quick, simple, manual, elegant. A few things niggle for me :

1. After slipping the tail in a very light rain, it occurred to me that any rear wheel drive sports car is a pretty silly proposition in Seattle. There's not really much point to trying to enjoy your drive here. Or to biking here. Or to ever waking up in the morning, or being alive at all. But seriously, this is just a really foolish impractical quest that I'm on.

2. The seats are too small for me, the side bolsters stab me right in the shoulder blades. I guess there are "Adaptive Sport Seats" with adjustable bolster positions, but that makes finding a used car to correct spec much harder. It's pretty stupid that so many cars still make these tight bucket seats with fixed geometry that don't fit larger people, eg. Americans.

3. I would feel like a douchebag pulling up to thrift stores and trader joe's in it. I would feel like a loser every time I failed to parallel park it. People would look at me and wonder if I had a small penis and laugh at me if I stalled it. Cops would pull me over for going 1 mph over the limit.

BTW my god the automotive press are such fucking morons : "The second complaint is the car�s lack of soul. The Cayman is a thoroughly German sports car. In other words, it�s all about the driving, not the car" ; "For me this epitomizes what I both loved and hated the car. Compared to my MGB it lacked soul and quirkiness." ; what !?


MH said...

Damn, that sounds nice.

Have you tried out a lotus yet?

Tom Forsyth said...

He's ridden in my Caterham 7 - that's a proper Lotus :-) I don't think he was impressed - something about lack of practicality. And windows.

The Cayman is the right way to make a 911. It's faster around many tracks even though it's down on power because the engine isn't prolapsing out the back end - that test-drive slide would have ended somewhat differently in a 911. And you can finally get the Cayman with an LSD if you get the dual-clutch gearbox option. 911's dead, move on.

cbloom said...

I'm very impressed that you can drive a 7 in the rain and the snow ;)

I don't really understand why they didn't just slide the engine forward on the 911 a long time ago. There's plenty of space on the chassis, just ditch the useless back seats. I guess in the old days it had to be out the back because it was air cooled.

cbloom said...

I would love to try a lotus just for the laugh, but they are like all the impracticalities of the Cayman taken to 11. I wish it was easier/cheaper to rent the car of your choice at a track.

John said...


I just bought a 2003 Porsche Boxster with only 52k miles. Total price, $15k!

My advice is to let someone else take the depreciation and just have a fun car to drive.

However, you may be correct, in my experience it is hard to find good roads to drive on in Seattle. Here in Missouri we have hundreds of black-top country roads that are well maintained by the state. They consist of one 90 degree hairpin turn on top of another; the roads having been built on what used to be one or two century old farm roads.

You have virtually zero chance of seeing a cop, very little chance of even seeing another car, and the only thing you really have to look out for are deer.


cbloom said...

Yeah I wouldn't even be looking at it except that the depreciation is so severe. The new costs are absurd, but even a few years old they become pretty reasonable.

Wouter said...

Glad you got to try one. I concur with many of your observations, the first time I got it sideways (in my case on the track) I was stunned at how telepathic correcting it is.

I don't get your complaint about storage space... have you tried opening the front hood? its deep and perfect for grocery shopping (won't move around when your corner). Definitely more practical than the Z.

I'd be tentative to own one in seattle, but they feel really composed in the rain... moreso than any other car I know.

sly-id said...

"The engine is *right* behind your head, like 6 inches behind your head. I'm not a big fan of the sound; I think the best car sounds are old american muscle cars with that deep gurgly slow rumble that makes your bowels loose"

Brits also have great sounding V8:


old rants