Feeling a little better about your 401(k) retirement account these days? Porsche hopes so. Luxury and performance vehicles are a tough sell during a recession, and the sooner well-heeled customers start spending money again, the happier Porsche dealers will be.
The company has invested some money in its potent mid-level sports car, the Cayman, which debuted in 2005 as a 2006 model. Four years into the model run, Porsche has freshened the 2009 Cayman with a mild restyling of the front and rear - headlights and taillights mostly - and has added power.
The base Cayman gets a larger, 2.9-liter six-cylinder engine, with 265 horsepower. And the uplevel Cayman S now has a 3.4-liter six-cylinder engine, with horsepower boosted from 295 to 320. The Cayman S still isn't playing in the same league as the flagship 911, but it's closer than ever.
On the Cayman S test car, that new engine is matched with a new seven-speed "Doppelkupplung" transmission - that translates to "double clutch," meaning that while this transmission operates as an automatic, it can be shifted manually, thanks to internal clutches. It's an effective update of the Tiptronic transmission, but whether you think it's worth the $3,420 option price over the six-speed manual is up to you.
There is no denying, though, that this new transmission maximizes the engine's muscle, and it feels like more than 320 horsepower, pulling strongly from a standing start, up through and well past legal limits. And fuel mileage is surprisingly good: An EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 29 mpg on the highway, thanks in part to that seventh speed that lets the engine lope along at freeway speeds.
The handling is excellent and the ride is surprisingly good. Steering is quick but not twitchy. Brakes are superb.
Inside, the Cayman S' interior has been redesigned but remains rather Spartan. The test car didn't have a navigation system, and it still had a small, black-and-white screen on the dashboard for the readout on the Bose sound system that looked dated in a $68,890 car.
The front seats - the Cayman, unlike the 911, makes no pretense of having a rear seat - are comfortable, but if you are taller than 6 feet, the driver's seat may not slide back far enough.
Luggage space is surprisingly generous, thanks to a parcel shelf behind the seats and small trunks in the front and the rear. There's plenty of room for groceries or a weekend's worth of luggage.
Solid, fast and handsome, Porsche has made a very good car better. And since Cayman sales have dropped by more than half this year, it's probably a good time to make a deal.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at 407-420-5699, firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog at Enginehead.com.
2009 Porsche Cayman S
Base price: $60,200
Price as tested: $68,890
EPA rating: 20 miles per gallon city driving, 29 mpg highway.
Details: Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe with a 3.4-liter, 320-horsepower six-cylinder engine and a seven-speed automatic transmission.