Porsche Boxster/Cayman review

Like any smaller siblings, the two-seat Porsche Boxster convertible and Cayman coupe tend to take second billing to its larger relations, in this case the venerable 911 coupe and convertible. Still, like many of the smallest in a brood, the Boxster and Cayman can be much more lovable than their brutish siblings, particularly if stellar performance and a not-too-stratospheric sticker price are igh on one’s shopping list of vehicular attributes.

Porsche Boxster

The roadster debuted in 1997 as a smaller and less-costly companion to the 911, and essentially replaced the former 968 in the automaker’s lineup. Released in the midst of a ragtop renaissance, particularly among European makes, the Boxster hit the ground running as one of the quickest of the bunch. The Cayman coupe was subsequently added to the line in 2006.

Both models are byproducts of a classic sports car formula, which means they combine sleek and uncluttered exterior styling and no-nonsense interiors with ample acceleration and tenacious handling.

Available in standard versions and higher-performance “S” models, the Boxster roadster and Cayman are mechanically equivalent, though their engines do carry slightly different horsepower ratings. The latest renditions carry the expected visual aggressiveness with bulging rear fenders, a tapered front-end treatment with long inset headlamps, large air intakes behind the doors and a rear wing that automatically extends at speeds over 75 mph.

A new Spyder version of the Boxster was added to the line for 2011. It’s ready for the racetrack with a lowered ride height, slightly more powerful engine, removable convertible top and various weight reduction modifications that include swapping fabric pull-straps for proper inside door handles and leaving out the air conditioning and audio system (though the latter two can be specified as no-cost options). While the Spyder is undeniably good looking, at least with the nominal tent-like top off, it’s inhospitable as a daily driver, with a too-rough ride and deeply bolstered sport seats that are both supportive and punishing. A similar hardtop version is expected for model-year 2012 as the Cayman R.

The Boxster comes sufficiently powered in its base version by a mid-mounted 2.9-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine that generates 255 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque and can take the car to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. This same engine in the standard Cayman produces 265 horses and 221pound feet and is responsible for a 5.4-second 0-to-60 mph run. Meanwhile, the Boxster S includes a 3.4 liter flat-six engine that’s rated at 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet and clocks in at 4.9 seconds to 60 mph. The same engine gains 10 extra horses in the Boxster Spyder and Cayman S, with a 4.8 second 0-to-60 mph sprint. Both engines feature direct-injection technology to maximize both power and fuel economy.

Porsche Cayman

A slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is standard across the line, and as with similar sports cars, is the gearbox of choice for those who take their driving seriously. However, not everyone prefers to drive a stick shift, particularly those who suffer through grueling rush-hour commutes. To that end a seven-speed “Porsche-Doppelkupplung” double-clutch automated manual transmission is optional. This is increasingly becoming the gearbox of choice among exotic sports cars, as it allows fast manual gearshifts like a Formula 1 racecar, but also affords an automatic mode for more casual, though only slightly less exhilarating, use.

Both versions’ handling is dutifully impressive, as their rear-drive mid-engine designs inherently afford a lively front-to-rear weight balance. Both ride on a sophisticated suspension that features McPherson struts at all four corners, with quick variable-ratio power steering, and the Porsche Stability Management electronic stability system included; four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with four-piston monobloc aluminum calipers at all four wheels are on hand to help rein in all that horsepower. Seventeen-inch wheels and performance tires are standard, with 18-inch rims and rubber coming on “S” versions.

The available Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system uses sensors to monitor body movement and automatically adjusts the suspension according to driving style and road conditions. Dialing in the “sport” mode stiffens the suspension and lowers the ride height by around 0.4 inches for sharper handling. Unlike the 911, however, neither the Boxster nor Cayman are offered in all-wheel-drive versions.

An optional Sport Chrono Package features a digital/analog stopwatch on the center dash and the ability to improve throttle, suspension and transmission response (only with the automatic gearbox) for even sharper handling and performance. Data from the stopwatch islogged in the onboard computer for future review. Parameters can be set to measure and record driving times for any stretch of road or track.

Getting past the inherent difficulties involved in climbing into a small and low-to-the-ground sports car, two adults will find themselves a snug but comfortable fit inside either car’s form-follows-function interior. Standard equipment is generous; available amenities including heated and ventilated seats, a navigation system, Park Assist proximity warnings and a Bose surround-sound audio system. A Bluetooth hands-free phone interface and a USB audio port are newly added across both model lines for 2011. The Boxster further offers an optional hardtop for those who care to tough it out in colder climates.

As with the other models in Porsche’s line, the Boxster and Cayman offer a staggeringly long list of cosmetic add-ons that afford ultimate customization.

While the Boxster and Cayman are long over due for total redesigns that may finally come for the 2013 model year, Porsche hopes incremental updates along the line will be enough to maintain interest in these two feisty two-seaters. They remain ideal for those want a sleek and nimble sports car with true Porsche performance and heritage, but for less than the cost of a 911.

Porsche Boxster/Cayman Quick Facts

Engine: 2.9 Liter Flat Six, 3.4 Liter Flat Six
Horsepower: 255 @ 6,400 rpm, 265 @ 7,200 rpm 310 @ 6,400 rpm, 320 @ 7,200 rpm
Torque: 214 @ 4,400 rpm, 221 @ 4,400 rpm 266 @ 4,400, 273 @ 4,750 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 19/26-20/29
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 7-Spd Auto Manual
Drive: Rear
Wheelbase: 95.1 in
Overall Length: 172.1 in
Width: 70.9 in
Height: 50,9 in
Curb Weight: 2,943 lbs
MSRP: $48,100 – $62,100

Did You Know?

The Boxster is the first street production Porsche since the 550 Spyder from the early-to-mid1950’s that was originally conceived as a roadster. That model is, for better or worse, best known as being the car in which James Dean was killed in 1955. The Boxster’s name is a mash-up of the words Boxer, which refers to its horizontally opposed engine configuration, and Roadster. The Cayman is named – albeit inexplicably and misspelled, to boot – after a species of Latin American alligator, the Caiman.