Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sportscar nirvana: The Porsche Cayman S

I hear it whenever I close my eyes. The shriek of a boxer 6 racing toward redline followed by a bass pum-pum-pum sound has invaded my thoughts. At least five car club members said that I had to try the Porsche Cayman.  I'd always dismissed it as "not a 911", or a "Boxster with a roof". Both of those statements are true, but in the best possible sense.

Cayman at Sunset

An unusually warm President's day provided the perfect opportunity to try out the little croc without burning too many points. The white 2007 Cayman S was nestled between a GT-R and the F430 when I arrived to pick it up. Yet it stood out with the white paint helping accent the curves and the low stance poured over 19" nice looking wheels. As I watched, the club attendant fired up the engine and backed the car out of its spot. It must have a Porsche sport or aftermarket exhaust because the sound was loud and exotic. Does a stock Cayman S really sound this good?

Love those center exhaust pipes

Getting into the car was a bit disappointing. The handle felt flimsier than the various 911s I've sat in and the door didn't close with the usual Germanic thunk. The seats were not very adjustable and some of the plastics would have looked cheap on a Kia. And while the clutch was easy to modulate, sliding the 6 speed into first felt mushy and vague. The only notable feature was the sport-chrono lap timer on the dash. I know that some of these issues were addressed in later years or with more money thrown at the extensive Porsche option list.  Yes, it's a sports car not a luxury car but people ding the basic 25k Mustang interior for more minor lapses.

Plain interior

Despite only have limited driving time in Porsches prior to this, I felt immediately comfortable and confident behind the wheel. The visibility is surprisingly good, the engine is very responsive and you'd have to drive a go-kart to find better steering feel. Merging onto the West Side Highway and dicing with cabs was easy in this car. More so than any other car in the club I've driven, I felt one with the car and knew exactly what it was doing at any moment. But despite its buttoned down suspension, the Cayman dances over potholes and road imperfections that upset bigger, more "luxurious" cars.

And did I mention the sound? With the engine right behind your head, and the enclosed cabin you hear all sorts of things you don't normally hear with a front-engined car. I think you'd have to step up to a  mid-engined Ferrari to get better engine music. And that's a problem because just when you think you're driving a sport bike or a Ferrari,  the rev limiter aggressively shuts down the fun. Apparently, that hard cut-off is part of the "sport chrono package" that also includes the aforementioned lap timer. It helps to extract every ounce of power vs the usual soft cut-offs found in most cars. Unfortunately, to get true high-rpm fun in the Porsche line-up you have to step up to the 180k+ GT3 with its 8400 RPM. 

At a light near 42nd street,  a clean-cut guy in a new BMW M3  (and Harvard sticker on the rear window) clearly wanted to drag race. That would be kind of like watching two gymnasts play football; possible but not pretty.  Anyway, the excitement of a stop-light race quickly faded as I hit the usual traffic accompanying the exit for the George Washington bridge.

The somewhat dreary interior makes sitting in traffic a chore. I amused myself at first by using the lap-timer to time each stop. While it looks cool, I can't see paying $1600 or so for the package that includes the timer.  After that got old,  I engaged my inner knuckle-dragger and repeatedly revved the engine. Overall  I did my part to help reinforce Jeremy Clarkson's "Coxster" nickname for this model.

The Coxster theme would continue throughout the day as I found it very hard to drive normally in the Cayman. Every merge called for red-line shifts. And every exit ramp became a cornering test. Cruising peacefully at 60 was almost impossible. A track membership should be a prerequisite to owning one.

Wanting to share the joy, I picked up my wife (who typically declines such offers). And while she usually acts as a human speed warning, she remained surprisingly quiet during our drive.  "I love the sound" was all she said. But having grown up around air-cooled beetles and 911s, she thought it was "pretty quiet for a Porsche".

Nice hips

After snapping some waterfront pictures it was time to fill up and head back to the city. Despite a combined EPA estimate of 21 mpg, I saw closer to 15 mpg during my few hours of driving. It's  still nice to know that if you can restrain yourself, highway mileages in the upper 20s are possible. But if it were mine, I doubt I'd ever break 15.

Pulling into the club, Jeanette came out to greet me. As the person in charge of bookings, she has had the opportunity to drive nearly every car in the club's stable. We talked for a little about the car and she clearly loves it. Apparently, it's a permanent fixture on her ever-changing top 3 list. Looking around at all the dream cars there, that says a lot.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

BMW diesel M Performance line

I happened to come across a video on Youtube promoting BMW's new performance line. The rumors that had been floating around about a tri-turbo 6 powered m3 and an M5 with x-drive all make sense now.  But instead of powering an M car in the classic sense, BMW has launched a new "performance line" that combines a high torque diesel engine with an all-wheel drive X5 SUV or 5 series chassis.

Regardless of where you stand on turbodiesel engines, 546 ft-lbs of torque with EU combined mileage rating of 44.8 mpg sounds pretty amazing.  A Cadillac CTS-V has a similar amount of torque, but gets only 19 mpg from its supercharged V8 powerplant. So as a technical feat, it's impressive. But power alone doesn't always equal fun especially with the current 5's weight and somewhat lifeless electric steering (though according to some sources these models get a proper hydraulic rack!).

So as a business strategy, it certainly makes sense to offer high performance vehicles that are more usable in street driving than traditional M cars. And hopefully it will clear the way for BMW to get back to eventually offering high-revving naturally aspirated "purist" M3s and M5s.

But it's all academic now anyway since BMW has no  plans to bring this engine to the US.  Looks like I'll have to book a flight to Germany soon!