The 2007 Porsche Cayman is a special-needs car. It requires a racetrack or, at least, a long stretch of road that can be used as one.
There is no other way to truly appreciate the beauty of this compact sports coupe. My associate, Ria Manglapus, and I tried. We drove it in the suburbs. We drove it in the city. Ria even used it to ferry her two sons, one at a time, to and from school. We were frustrated -- totally, unequivocally.
"It wants to run," I said.
"I would much prefer to drive this one on a racetrack rather than on the road," she said.
Comments from an admiring public didn't help.
"Nice car," a young man said pulling up next to me at a stoplight in the District. "Is that the new one, the base Cayman?"
"Yeah," I said, thinking that it was ironic that Porsche chose to introduce its top Cayman, the "S," a year before it brought forth the base model that is the subject of this week's column.
"Yeah," the young man said. "Base, huh? Yeah. Bet it still can run. You had it out to the track, yet?"
I smiled and mumbled, too embarrassed to tell him that I hadn't been anywhere near a racetrack in the Cayman -- an answer that would have marked me, at best, as a Porsche newbie, a man slightly north of middle age trying to crank up life's remaining volume. At worst, it would have unmasked me as a Porsche poseur, a person who buys a Porsche sports car just to show off, but who has no real love, understanding or appreciation of the car he or she bought.
I mumbled something like "planning on going to the track this weekend," which, at that moment, was a baldfaced lie. But the young man nodded in approval and added: "You got to take that one to the track. Only way to feel that one, my brother, is on the track."
He was right, of course. Any Porsche lover knows that Porsche makes sports coupes and convertibles that are designed to do two things exceedingly well -- run fast and take curves. Porsche lovers don't get into discussions about fuel economy. They aren't embarrassed by horsepower. Many of them are like my friend, Washington performance-driving instructor Miriam Schottland. They love their Porsches so much they keep them under wraps and tucked away in high-security garages . . . until track day.
Miriam bought a Porsche 911, a more powerful car than the Cayman, in 1982. Almost every mile accumulated on her 911 is a track mile. She mostly gets around Washington by walking, using cabs or taking the Metro. She says: "I drive for pleasure, which is why I love putting my car on the track. But there is nothing pleasurable about driving a Porsche, or anything else, in Washington traffic."
At the end of her turn behind the Cayman's wheel, Ria was happy and saddened to let the car go. She loved its power, but lamented that she couldn't use much of it in her daily commutes. She liked the looks of the hardtop Cayman coupe, but conceded that she would have preferred driving and being seen in the convertible Porsche Boxster, a car designed as much for cruising as it is for speeding. And there was the matter of the Cayman's two seats -- not a problem for Miriam with no children but a potential source of domestic warfare (who gets left behind, who doesn't) for Ria with two.
I took the keys. After lying to that District driver about my plans to take the Cayman to the track, I decided to make good on my fib by at least finding some long, lonely, winding roads to do what the Cayman wanted me to do.
I found those roads in West Virginia on an early weekend morning when traffic was light and the dew was fresh. There were no egregious violations of law. But on several mountainous passes with numerous twists and turns there were delicious epiphanies, moments when I fully understood Miriam's concept of driving pleasure.
The Cayman, equipped with a 2.7-liter, 245-horsepower flat-six engine, neatly placed near the car's center, moves out with authority in straight-line acceleration. But its real beauty on the road reflects its eye-catching exterior design. It's the curves, those marvelous undulations pulling you in like some macadam lover, begging you to drive a little longer, go a little farther.
Curves are what the Cayman are all about -- curves and racetracks, as opposed to potholed urban streets and traffic congestion. It is not a practical car. It was never meant to be. There is nothing prosaic about it. It is poetry in motion. If you can understand and accept that, you can love Cayman unconditionally.
NUTS & BOLTS
Porsche Cayman Complaints: The Cayman is what it is -- an out-and-out sports car designed more for performance than it is for creature coddling. People who understand that don't mind things such as its oddly placed, not terribly adequate cup holders and its lack of other cuddly amenities, such as seats that afford easy ingress and egress. People who don't won't buy the Cayman. Ride, acceleration and handling: You drive the Cayman and you understand the seeming lunacy of shelling out big bucks for a car that you garage until track day, or that you pilot through city congestion only to find an exciting, out-of-the-way road that's also relatively free of traffic. It moves from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.8 seconds. It's a bit grouchy in stop-and-go city traffic. But it's an absolute handling wonder at highway speeds and around curves. Some cars stick to the road. This one passionately embraces it. Head-turning quotient: It's the automotive definition of "hot." Body style/layout: The Porsche Cayman is a premium compact sports coupe -- hardtop with two doors and two seats -- with its engine located between the car's front wheels and its drive wheels in the rear. Engine/transmission: The tested base Porsche Cayman comes with a 2.7-liter, double-overhead cam, flat six-cylinder (horizontally opposed cylinders) engine that develops 245 horsepower at 6,500 revolutions per minute and 201 foot-pounds of torque at 4,600 revolutions per minute. That engine is mated to a wonderfully smooth, intuitive five-speed manual transmission. Capacities: There is seating for two people. Luggage capacity is 14.5 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 16.9 gallons of required -- no substitution, please -- premium unleaded gasoline. Mileage: Actually, pretty good, considering the Cayman's road-devouring performance. We averaged 26 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving. Safety: Antilock brakes, side and head air bags, electronic traction and stability control are all standard. Price: Base price on the tested 2007 base-model Porsche Cayman is $49,400. Porsche has not published a dealer's invoice price for that model, but industry sources put it at $43,000. Price as tested is $52,255 including $1,960 in mostly cosmetic options and a $795 destination charge. Estimated dealer's invoice price with options and transportation fee is $46,100. The retail pricing information was provided by Porsche and www.edmunds.com. Purse-strings note: This is an iconographic deal. If you want a Porsche sports car, nothing else will do. Porsche is Porsche. If you want to comparison shop in the generic compact sports car category, try these: BMW Z4, Chevrolet Corvette, 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK Class.