2006 Porsche Cayman S

Alex P
Passenger Side View

The lightweight hatch lid rises easily to expose a trunk that is similar in size, depth, and shape to that of the Boxster. An aluminum scuff plate covers the transition area from the trunk up to a cargo shelf over the engine compartment. Two narrow but deep lidded storage bins flank the shelf, which probably could hold an attach case under its net but not much more, since the rear glass closes in quickly here. There's a lot of floor space, but much of it is marginally useful. Fortunately, the Box-ster's deep front trunk carries over intact. From the driver's seat, the Cayman is pure Boxster--except that the instrument faces are gray, not white or black, and the cargo shelf is right behind your head. This is not the place to stash a carton of eggs for the trip home from the supermarket.

But here at the track, we aren't hauling groceries. Gerhard Rinke, the vehicle dynamics team leader for the new Porsche Cayman, takes us out for ten laps, before it's our turn to drive. First impressions are that the Cayman is as snug-fitting for the driver as it was for the passenger and that the mid-mounted engine makes life hard for the air-conditioning; the cabin serves up rump roast over frozen heart as a summer dish.

Full Rear View

Dynamically, though, the Swabian reptile is sensational, impressing most with the fluidity of its motions. On the road, you might play with the Sport button to fine-tune the ride, but on the track, PASM automatically selects the tautest suspension setting. As long as you drive it neatly, this car almost never sheds its composure. A ragged side to its behavior appears only when you start to overdrive it by braking too late, missing turn-in points, and stepping on the gas too early, which leads to initial understeer, impromptu oversteer, and noticeable tire wear. As long as you don't mess up your inputs, however, the Cayman S will reward you with intuitive responses. The steering simply transfers the blacktop into the palms of your hands in a quick and unambiguous, responsive and progressive, well- damped and yet totally unfiltered manner.

Rear Emblem View

The beefed-up chassis is a more focused and even more congenial partner than before, but it is difficult to assess how much of this is because of the new Michelin tires, which combine sensational grip with commendably communicative behavior at the limit. Lapping Bari at near-race speeds is like dancing with Margot Fonteyn, playing a piano duet with Vladimir Horowitz, or teaming up with Roger Federer for tennis doubles. It's that good.

Our baby croc is fitted with the Sport Chrono package, which, at the push of a button, speeds up the throttle response, replaces the soft rev cut-out with a hard one, stiffens the damping (with PASM), and lowers the stability system's angst. Hitting the button is a bit like dressing up for Friday night, so prepare for more expressive manners and a louder appearance. The next step beyond Chrono is to disable the PSM stability system completely, which means third-gear power oversteer--if your name is Rinke. "You can slide this car all the way to the limit at virtually any velocity," he says with a boyish grin. In view of the grippy blacktop and the chewing-gum tires, we find that simply stomping hard on the gas pedal won't push the tail out. You have to turn in late into a bend, unload the rear tires, and boot the right pedal to unsettle the gator's tail, but once the fat Michelins let go, you can drift from dusk to dawn.

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