2006 Porsche Cayman S vs. Porsche 911

Charlie Magee

It was first shown to us in the cobblestone courtyard of the Ochsen Post, a seventeenth-century country inn that's only a few miles from the Weissach proving ground. It looked lean, athletic, and even a little unattractive, utterly unlike the overheated design exercises that pass as sports cars these days. In fact, the new Porsche Cayman S looked almost like a Porsche 911.

The next day, we drove the Cayman S out of the gates at Porsche Building 1, turned left onto Stammheimer Strasse, and headed directly to the Nrburgring. There we'd drive Porsche's newest sports car side-by-side with the 911 Carrera to find out whether two cars so similar in appearance also share similar performance and personality.

The old 12.9-mile Nordschleife circuit is what remains of the original Nrburgring, completed in 1927 as a test track for the German auto industry. It has been a kind of moral compass, a unique place that tests the skill of drivers, the speed of cars, and the courage of car companies. It's no wonder that it has become one of the great places in the culture of speed, just like Indianapolis, Le Mans, and Monza. Flags fly from new-car dealerships in the industrial park, while motorcyclists are lined up at the nearby gas station to buy 98-octane fuel, model racing cars, and Nrburgring history books. A new Dorint-owned hotel is in the place where the Rennsport hotel of the 1930s once overlooked the Nordschleife's start/finish line, but the old block of garages built from cinder blocks and corrugated metal still remains in the adjacent paddock, and you can even walk an old section of the Sdschleife test circuit if you know where to look.

We set up headquarters in the Hotel am Tiergarten, a small, high-style lodging in the village of Nrburg, just below the hill where the famous medieval fortress stands. The hotel looks out onto a field called the Tiergarten, where knights once buried their warhorses that had been killed in battle, but now the name is associated with the Nordschleife's high-speed straightaway just beyond. Here we posed the Cayman S next to a 911 for the first time.

Back in 2000, Porsche product planners realized that the market for roadsters like the Boxster had reached a plateau because of the functional compromises built into any convertible, and they figured a coupe version of the Boxster would fit the requirements of people looking for a better match between car and lifestyle. Porsche boasts that the Cayman S offers a full 14.4 cubic feet of luggage capacity, with 9.1 cubic feet beneath the large steel hatch in the rear. This is true enough if you stack the luggage to the ceiling, but the useful capacity is more like 5.3 cubic feet. Nevertheless, it all adds up to about the same as that of the 911, if you count the way the rear-engined car's vestigial back seat can become a bin for sloppy stowage.

In size, the Cayman S really is simply a coupe version of the Boxster, and it's only 1.7 inches longer and 0.5 inch taller than the roadster. Surprisingly enough, the dimensional differences between the mid-engined Cayman S and the rear-engined 911 are equally slim, as the Cayman is 3.5 inches shorter in overall length, 0.3 inch narrower, and 0.2 inch lower in height. The Cayman's wheelbase is 2.6 inches longer. Meanwhile, the Cayman S weighs just 120 pounds less than the 3250-pound 911 Carrera, and it's nearly as structurally rigid. Porsche has gone to some lengths to give the Cayman S its own visual identity, but the details are esoteric at best. The truth is, the Cayman's shape closely resembles that of the 911, especially since, like the 911 Carrera, it has standard eighteen-inch wheels.

Even so, the Cayman S does have its own visual personality. Its mid-engine configuration produces proportions that make the car look more compact than the rear-engined 911. Then the Cayman S's taut, even radical roofline (too abrupt for a sunroof, the Porsche engineers tell us) seems like an unattractive fit with the voluptuous fenders. Altogether, the Cayman S recalls the homely Porsche 550s built with detachable roofs for Le Mans in 1953, streamlined cars that later had their tops peeled off to create the 550 Spyder (which itself inspired the Boxster). At the same time, the Cayman S has a look of spare necessity similar to those early racing cars, which gives it an arresting freshness, as if the shape came from engineers instead of stylists. Overall, the Cayman S's bodywork has a 0.29 coefficient of aerodynamic drag, right between the 0.30 Cd of the Boxster S and the 0.28 Cd of the 911 Carrera.

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