TEST DRIVE: PORSCHE CAYMAN

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Having borrowed the new Cayman over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend I reckon Porsche’s beefed-up baby might just be the best all-round real-world sports car…

I pull up in the Porsche in front of a swish nightclub, where the velvet rope that bars entry is immediately unclipped and through I go, circumventing a large and fashionable queue. The Cayman might be an entry-level Porsche (for the cost and performance are near-as-dammit the same as the drop-top Boxster) but it looks every bit as impressive as its older sibling, the 911, and for the very reasonable price of £40,000 it puts you straight on the VIP list.

But to class the Cayman as a cut-price Carrera, or a car for poseurs, is to seriously undersell it. Inside the club, a global sponsorship VP who spotted my arrival declares he owns a collection of Porsches. He says, in hushed tones, “You know, it’s better than the 911.”

Even the dealer I picked it up from agreed. “Dynamically, it’s even better than the 911,” he volunteers. Do Porsche really want this secret out?

The 2013 Cayman started as a clean sheet of paper. The original made its debut in 2005, but the bloodline can be traced back to the 968 of the 1990s and the 944 and 924 of the 80s. The performance was inferior to the 911’s but they looked more pointy and aggressive. The ’05 Cayman was prettier – a complete design reset – but, with it, more feminine. It was the 911’s little sister, who still read Twilight books and hadn’t got past second base.

Deeper, more rakish air intakes, squarer more soulful headlamps, a longer wheelbase with a wider track, and a more elegant rear end with a roofline that stretches further back; the second generation Cayman has come of age. It doesn’t look like an entry-level car, it looks like a lighter, more focused 911 without the tiny rear seats. Whereas the 911’s updates have been conservative and frequent, the Cayman’s two-seater take is more eye-catching and bold.

With shorter overhangs the car looks planted to the road. The front evokes the Panamera sports saloon, with air intakes below the headlights that flare outwards to the side of the car. Side on, the more muscular shoulder line rises from the wheel arches to the rear panels, and the recesses in the doors guide the eye to the chunky Carrera GT-style intake scoops in front of the rear wheels. The roofline now slopes right to the rear, 911-style, which makes it a more distinctive shape. The Cayman has been to the gym, clearly, and its curves are more defined and seductive as a result.

Porsche’s interiors are always best when kept simple, and the Cayman is a lesson in timeless minimalism. The T-shaped console includes a large sat-nav and entertainment screen, with a/c controls just below. The model I tested came equipped with a semi-auto gearbox (known on the Porsche options list by the Germanic initials P.D.K), which could be flicked into manual mode for paddle-shift changes. In front of the selection lever are the sport mode settings: Sport and Sport Plus, along with the option to stiffen the ride, bin the traction control, or erect the small electronic rear spoiler to help plant the back end at speed.

The cabin is light and airy. The dash is leather, split by strips of shiny silver plastic. It’s the same with the steering wheel, which feels good, and has three shiny spokes. Yet the silver looks rather cheap. A matt silver finish would be much more in keeping with the car’s Teutonic character. It would be harder wearing too. After 3,500km my car’s steering wheel was already showing some small chips and scratches.

There’s no space behind the comfortable yet firm leather seats, just the engine. But behind that is a hole big enough for a small bag and, under the bonnet, there’s room for a larger suitcase.  Total storage space amounts to 425 litres.

The logo on the steering wheel’s round hub brings a smile. Based on the Württemberg coat of arms, it dates back to the 1940s and the Porsche 356 but for me, looking at that gold, red and black shield, Porsches have always had a hint of 1980s nostalgia. It was in that era Stuttgart’s finest ceased being seen as a souped-up VW Beetle. In the 80s it became a status symbol to rival Ferrari and Lamborghini. For a long time the 80s were unpopular but now, in a world without Sony Walkmans and Margaret Thatcher, the decade of red braces and synthesizers has become cool again. Hipsters are buying 924s, and the Cayman has all the hallmarks of a future classic.

So, it’s got the looks and the heritage, but how does it drive? Time for a road trip:

On Monday I had a full day with nothing to do except drive. I took a route north out of Barcelona on the C-32 coastal road, stopping for lunch at picture perfect Llafranc, a small fishing village where Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Taylor and Salvador Dali all holidayed. Then it was on to the ancient Greek and Roman ruins of Empuries which overlook the Mediterranean. Then the Porsche and I made our way back to Barcelona, down the picturesque AP-7, by way of the old Montjuic Park F1 circuit, or what remains of it.

This car’s dynamics are faultless. I must preface this by saying that in standard mode it’s not a sports car, it wants to hold back. It skips through the gears with nonchalance and doesn’t really like overtaking, but in turn it’s easy on fuel and speed camera fines.

Out of the city, most of the time you’ll want it in Sport mode where the flat-six engine’s note turns from faint to metallic and guttural and it starts pulling at the reins. The character of the car changes instantly from librarian to Karen O in leather pants. And if you happen upon a smooth and empty road you can engage the optional Sport Plus setting, which quickens gear changes and stiffens the suspension, although you might find it a bit jolty and reserve it only for track days. By blipping the throttle on downshifts it makes the driver sound like a pro.

Average fuel consumption is around 34mpg. The engine’s capacity is actually a little smaller than the old model’s but power is up by 10bhp to 275. Weight has dropped by 20 kilos to 1310kg thanks to the use of aluminium. Torsional rigidity, which I suppose is the main selling point over the sun-seekers’ Boxster, improves by an impressive 40 percent.

One hundred km/h arrives in 5.7 seconds, but it feels much faster. The steering is well weighted and the handling predictable yet exciting. Press the rear spoiler button, select Sport Plus, and throw the car into a long, fast curve. Few cars handle this well and are so satisfying. It feels like a Lotus, which is the highest compliment a car can be paid in terms of ride.

The chassis can handle more power, and so Porsche hope you invest another £9,000 to upgrade to the Cayman S. The 3.4-litre S shaves 0.7 seconds off your 0-100km/h time and gives you a 17km/h greater top speed. There’s an R version in the works too. But the standard Cayman represents much better value-for-money and sufficient real-world performance. The Cayman was a very good sports car before, and now it might just be the best all-rounder this side of a McLaren 12C. Factor in the price, and it’s an absolute steal.

As I lock the Cayman for the last time I feel the key in my pocket. Honestly, you would be shocked at some of the cheap and unimaginative keys luxury manufacturers try to pass off, but not so with Porsche. This key has that familiar sloping bonnet and roofline shape that we’ve come to know so well from Dr Ferdinand Porsche’s storied designs; not that of the Cayenne or Boxster, but of blue-blooded Porsches like the 911 and, now, the Cayman.

Like I said, a future classic.

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AUTOBIOGRAPHY: PORSCHE CAYMAN

Engine: 2.7-litre flat-six

Power: 275bhp

Torque: 290Nm (214 lb/ft)

Transmission: Seven-speed semi-auto paddle shift / six-speed manual

Acceleration: 0-100km/h: 5.7 seconds

Top speed: 266km/h

Price: £40,000 in the UK

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