Porsche Cayman: perfect fusion of analogue and digital driving?
1st May 2013 | 10:01
Active suspension, force feedback steering, robot gearbox, but plenty of old school fun
Sports cars and technology. They're not always the best of chums. But if there's one car that might just be able to broker a peace between analogue and digital in modern driving, it's the all-new Porsche Cayman.
Remember when audiophiles used to duel at dawn over the digital-versus-analogue debate? Something similar is happening between car enthusiasts on forums across the globe.
As cars get ever techier, an anti-digital brigade seems to be building. These pro-analogue purists argue that the distance between man and machine – and in turn driving enjoyment - is growing ever greater.
For those who embrace technology, that's just Luddite talk. Technology is making cars faster, more efficient and more effective than ever. It's progress and it's all good.
Enter the all-new Cayman, a Porsche that might just satisfy both purists and the PlayStation generation. Firstly, that's because it's highly configurable.
Want a bare bones Cayman with a manual gearbox and passive suspension? No problem. Prefer the full gadget treatment with a robotised dual-clutch transmission along with computer control for the suspension, engine mounts and differential? Just tick the boxes.
But it's also because more than just about any car – this side of £100,000, anyway – the Cayman manages to meld tech with feelsome tactility and raw excitement.
Porsche Cayman specifications
First, let's get the basics covered. For the new Cayman, codenamed 981, we're talking mid-engine in Porsche's classic flat-six configuration. That makes for a compact, low profile engine and a uniquely soulful soundtrack.
With the new Cayman the base model shrinks to 2.7-litres from the 2.9-litres of old. But power is actually up very slightly to 270hp.
The new model is also slightly larger. Despite that, it's around 30kg to 40kg lighter than before thanks to an advanced hybrid body and chassis construction that cleverly mixes steel with aluminium. Put it all together and you have a car that's faster and yet more efficient that its progenitor.
The new 2.7-litre Cayman, then, is a 165mph sports car that's rated as low as 180g/km with the optional dual-clutch PDK gearbox. The 3.4-litre Cayman S ups the ante to 325hp and 174mph and just 188g/km. Impressive stuff.
Porsche Cayman tech
But what about the tech? The key technology options, in driving terms, are gearbox, suspension and driver aids. There are also a few nifty extras including an active rear differential and computer controlled engine mounts.
On the gearbox side the obvious tech upgrade is PDK, which stands for Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe or Porsche dual-clutch gearbox.
It's basically a robotised manual gearbox but with two clutches. The latter detail allows for essentially seamless shifts as the dual clutches are used to allow almost simultaneous engagement of the new gear as the old is discarded. It's impossibly slick.
Porsche Cayman PASM
Next up is PASM or Porsche Active Suspension Management. The shizzle here involves computer controlled dampers at each corner of the car. In practice that means you not only get a choice between two overall modes for the suspension, one biased towards comfort, the other firmer setting for handling. The system is also continuously regulating damping force according to road conditions and driving style.
Finally, there's the broad subject of driver aids which adds another layer of digital enhancement but also brings all the other systems together and ensures they're all pushing in the same direction.
For Porsche that starts with PSM or Porsche Stability Management. This system uses sensors that constantly monitor various parameters, including traction, yaw and lateral acceleration.
In really simple terms, if the system detects the car sliding or generally attempting to escape the road and head for the scenery, PSM can correct it by applying braking force to individual wheels. You can enhance PSM, which is standard on all Caymans, but ticking the Porsche Torque Vectoring option box.
This adds both a mechanical limited slip differential and the ability to actively bias torque to the outside rear wheel when cornering aggressively. Net result? Better traction and zippier cornering.
Porsche Cayman Sport Chrono
Tying all this together is the Sport Chrono option. This is mostly a computer mapping option, but in hardware terms it adds active engine mounts, a 'Sport Plus' button on the centre console and the Sport Chrono clock on the dash.
First up, Sport Chrono raises the trigger threshold for the PSM stability system. The helping hand allows you to drive that little bit harder and faster without intervening in other words. You also get sharper throttle response.
On cars with manual gearboxes, Sport Chrono also enables a throttle-blipping function on downshifts. If you have PDK fitted you get launch control, for super-fast getaways from standstill, and faster gearshifts.
The Sport Chrono clock on the dash, meanwhile, is for recording lap times should you take your shiny new Cayman on track.
Of course, there are further driving related tech choices if you dip into the options list, such as Power Steering Plus, which modulates steering assistance according to speed. But those are the highlights.
While we're on the subject of steering, the electrically assisted steering in the new Cayman is a very interesting subject. The little tugs and writhes you feel as the wheel telegraphs what's going on beneath the tyres are mostly computer generated.
Yup, the steering is just like the simulated force feedback you get with a games console controller. Intriguing, eh?
Porsche Cayman infotainment
As for straight forward infotainment kit, that's covered by PCM. For more details on that, watch our video with Porsche's Nick Perry taking us through the main functions and features
If you want a quick précis, it's a nicely executed 7-inch touchscreen system that covers the basics including nav, audio playback and Bluetooth telephony. However, it lacks any online or connected capabilities. There's no internet, no Googlemaps, no apps, none of that stuff.
All of which just leaves us with the minor matter of what all this technology is like in use and how much it all costs.
Behind the wheel
On the first point, the overwhelming experience is of seamless integration. When you think about all the technology in the new Cayman, there's a real risk of all the digital systems getting out of sync, fighting each other for your attention.
But no. The experience is entirely fluid. If you tick all the boxes, you get a sports car that's preposterously easy to drive fast. You can jump straight in and ping up and down the PDK gearbox, all the while the active chassis technology keeps you nailed to the road surface.
Just as important, you feel connected to the car while all that is going on. OK, there are computers sitting in between you and much of feedback that arrives. But it's all so fluid and natural, the sum is truly greater than its parts.
What's more, die-hard purists also have the option of speccing a Cayman with a manual gearbox and passive suspension. No turbos. No paddles. Just pure driving thrills.
OK, the reality is that you still have digitised steering feedback and a fly-by-wire throttle. And Porsche has softened up and over servoed the brake pedal, which is a shame. But a basic Cayman is still the purest, simplest driving machine this side of a Lotus Elise.
Punitive options pricing
Our only objection, then, is pricing. The basic list price for a 2.7 Cayman of £39,694 in the UK is actually a steal. Nothing comes close for the money. Instead it's the options that are the killer.
Try these few examples. The PCM infotainment kit is £2,141. Outrageous when you consider you can buy a pretty decent tablet computer with far more features for about £150. Then there's DAB radio for £324 or a TV tuner for, wait for it, £1,044.
In that context, £1,922 for the robotised PDK gearbox doesn't seem too bad. Ditto the PASM active suspension for £971. It's certainly better value than a grand for about £20's worth of TV tuning kit. Then again, Sport Chrono is a bit stiff at £1,084 and PTV for £890 doesn't help.
Taken individually, any of those options is probably tolerable. It's when you combine them that the problem arises. Adding £10,000 or more is all too easily done.
In that sense, it's the purists who have it best with the new Porsche Cayman. Keep it simple and it's extraordinary value. Go for the full tech experience and it will cost you dearly.