Almost exactly one mile long and slowly rotting away in the southern sun, the Autodromo di Bari is what they call a Mickey Mouse circuit--more corners than a spiral staircase, second- and third-gear stuff only, and one fairly long straight where you hit 110 mph at 7000 rpm before dropping the anchors, pronto. This is the place where Porsche has brought us to sample a Cayman S development mule equipped with PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management, or, simply, adjustable dampers), PCCB (Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes), and nineteen-inch wheels (which are an option).
For those of you who aren't Porsche diehards, the Cayman is essentially a Boxster with a steel coupe roof and a hatchback. Porsche claims that as a result of the steel surgery, torsional rigidity doubles. The Cayman also gets stiffer springs for its strut-type suspension, because, as Porsche's chassis gurus point out, you can use stiffer springs in a stiffer car without unduly affecting ride comfort. Damper rates stay effectively the same, but the Cayman has thicker antiroll bars. Eighteen-inch wheels will be shod with 235/40YR-18 front and 265/40YR-18 rear performance tires on the standard S. The Cayman in these photos wore Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s, but Porsche plans to use two or three different tire suppliers.
The 3.4-liter version of Porsche's M96 flat-six engine family from the Boxster and the 911 does duty here and is tweaked to deliver 295 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, versus the 280 hp and 236 lb-ft in the Boxster S's 3.2-liter engine. (And versus the 325 hp in the 3.6-liter base 911 Carrera.) It propels the Cayman S from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 171 mph. Porsche's famed test driver and former World Rally champ Walter Rhrl gets the Cayman S around the Nrburgring's Nordschleife track in eight minutes, eleven seconds, which is four seconds faster than a published time for the base 911 Carrera, again with Rhrl driving.
All of the Boxster's chassis systems, which themselves are largely shared with the 911, have, of course, migrated to the Cayman S, including PASM, which is an option, and Porsche Stability Management (PSM), which is standard. The Cayman also will be offered with the Sport Chrono package and its nifty lap-time counter built into the dash. Without PASM, Rhrl's trip around the 'Ring would be three seconds slower. The ceramic brakes are another option. At 13.2 pounds each, the ceramic brake discs are exactly half as heavy as the standard cast-iron units, but that particular decrease in unsprung weight also decreases your net worth by about eight grand. In general, the Cayman's brakes are identical to those of the Boxster, but Porsche modified the front dam to bring a bit more cooling air to the discs, and the ABS has been mildly tweaked.
The Cayman's exterior is very clearly derived from the Boxster's, and in fact most body panels back to the haunches are identical. Prominent round foglamps distinguish coupe from roadster in the front profile, and the Cayman side view--not its prettiest angle, we feel--is notable for the domelike steel roof and the unique side air intakes. The rear quarter-windows are the same shape as the 911's but are turned on end. When you move to the rear, there is no mistaking the Cayman for a Boxster, a 911, or anything else on the road. The rapidly sloping hatch dives deeply between the rising hip lines of the rear wheel arches in obvious homage to the 550 Spyder of James Dean fame. At the trailing edge of the hatch lid, just below the "Cayman S" script, a subtle rear wing is ready to deploy once the car reaches 75 mph.