“This is your car, sir,” said the salesman at the car dealership.
“Really?” – replied my friend (and soon-to-be owner of a red 2006 Porsche Cayman S) in a surprised tone of voice because the car looked like new, not an 11-year-old with 67,000 on the clock.
“But it’s not orange,” he whispered to me.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Orange from the sun, that’s what it looked like in the picture.” I replied.
Buying a car “by eye” is not recommended.
But when there are so few options available, and if you want a manual transmission, you probably need to act fast. Nevertheless, red and beautifully prepared at the dealership, my friend’s new car looked spectacular.
Arriving at the Porsche center in Brisbane to inspect his new wheels for the first time was still exciting. For him, yes. For me, not so much. After all, it wasn’t my earnings flying out the window. I was more interested in watching him climb into the thing. With him being almost six foot five and the car barely 1300mm tall, it never occurred to him that he might not fit.
But he did, and with plenty of headroom.
Flat Six Boxer idiosyncrasy.
I almost raised my hand like a schoolboy trying to get the teacher’s attention.
“Flat six-cylinder horizontally opposed boxer,” he said, before continuing, “meaning oil is constantly lubricating all cylinders and valves. Unlike a straight or V6 where the oil is at the bottom of the cylinder. So while it helps reduce wear, oil can seep through the seals if left idling for a while. So don’t be alarmed if you see a trickle of smoke when you turn on the ignition. It happens.”
“But can’t that indicate premature cylinder wear?” I asked, eager to please.
“Yes, it can, but it’s usually noticeable on cars that are rarely used. So you drive it. He likes it. And drive it more.”
My friend and I exchanged a look. A look that said we liked his Arrow.
To chip or not to chip?
He showed us the neat little drawers and storage compartments, how the backlight works, and how to get the most out of the screen built into the dashboard. You’d think that spending sixteen grand on optional extras would include engine chipping or perhaps a shiny exhaust. But this was not the case as the previous, clearly discerning, owner had other ideas.
His focus was on the areas that Cayman buyers complained about most: the appearance of the wheels, the slipperiness of the seats, and the size of the steering wheel, which is obtrusive enough to catch your knee when you press the clutch. He wisely opted for black 19-inch wheels, premium sport seats and a smaller, slimmer, leather-wrapped steering wheel reminiscent of the ’70s, but only in the best way. And the car is immediately better because of them.
But how does it sound?
After we listened to the throaty sound of the new Panamera while waiting for documents to be signed, the rather ordinary-sounding ticking of the “six” was somewhat disappointing. It seemed no more impressive than, say, a Toyota GT 86. But it is worth to drive on a highway and to exceed a mark of 3000, as everything changes. The kickback in every gear, even in sixth, makes you grin from ear to ear. The noise of normal intake continuously increases up to the red line and, as for me, is not inferior to the roar of V8.
And for the driver.
Porsche has placed the digital speedometer in the center of the dials, however, and it’s the only gauge you pay attention to. The analog dial on the left only gives you an approximation of speed, and if that’s the dial you use regularly, it’s a dice game with death.
But what’s it like to drive?
I expected to be a little intimidated, but it turns out that driving this car is much easier than I thought it would be. Despite sitting very low, the front and rear visibility is quite wide, and the mirrors and rear quarter windows negate any blind spots. Getting through traffic is a breeze. I caught myself lingering on the sight of the luxurious curve of the rear fenders behind me and having to focus on the equally luxurious view ahead.
The cacophony emanating from the tires on any pavement is unrestrained, and every bump, crease, pothole or patch is telegraphed directly to your back, so it’s no wonder your butt starts to ache after the first three or four hours of driving.
But this isn’t a Grand Tourer.
This is a real small sports car. Once you leave the monotony of a two-lane road and hit the twisty, compressed roads that run from one side of the Pacific Highway to the interior of the Great Dividing Range, you’re quickly reminded of that. At first, the side bolsters of the new seats, especially around the shoulders, seemed too stiff, but point them down a winding stretch of bitumen and their purpose becomes obvious, especially to the driver.
True individuality comes to the fore. These roads are what this car was made for. It’s been raining, and it’s starting to sprinkle again. But there’s no loss of grip, whether it’s smooth, gravel or mixed surfaces. All four wheels stay in place like the pillars of the Harbor Bridge. The mid-engine layout and low center of gravity give the car balance and confidence. The tail wagging characteristic of 911s of yesteryear is banished along with any sense of dread.
Beware of bumps.
The only dangers a driver should be aware of are humps on small bridges. They will easily catch the underside of the front bumper, especially under hard braking. You need to release your foot in time to free up an inch or two of suspension. This will allow my passenger to unclench his buttocks and relax from thoughts of multi-thousand dollar cosmetic repair bills. If only for a second. Then you’re back on it, right foot placed and rhythmically bouncing off the road, bouncing downshifts and bouncing upshifts as the rev limiter approaches the 7000 mark.
Or at least you think so, because you’re not really looking at the dials. You’re guided by feel and sound and become one with the car. God, I could drive on these roads all year round, stopping only to pee and drain.
This is simply the best car I have driven so far.
It may not be the fastest, but its maneuverability, poise, and ease of use in everyday life allow it to top my list. And that’s for a car that was eleven years old at the time. Of course, the platform can probably handle more power, and I can see why Porsche didn’t cram more into it – otherwise it would outpace the 911, and they can’t let that happen. So is it worth the $52,000 my best friend paid for it?
So what should he pay attention to?
The biggest problem with early Boxsters and Caymans was failure of the IMS, the intermediate shaft bearing. This could be the result of poor quality parts or insufficient use of the car. Either way, oil can leak out of the bearing, causing corrosion, and this debris gets trapped in the bearing the next time the car is started. Porsche replaced this part in later models, and now the problem is less of an issue. It seems to me that, given that this car is over a decade old, the problem has likely been solved, or it will not be an issue. At least not yet, anyway.
All the spigots and air intakes need to be cleaned regularly to keep leaves and other dirt out. Finally, the remote locking system is notoriously bad, and it costs $500 to replace.
With regular use, the car will sing for you as long as you take care of its maintenance. Just have it serviced every 12,000 miles or once a year and you’ll be laughing.
Finally, if you are on the lookout for a car, avoid copies with very low mileage. Such owners don’t deserve it if they don’t want to drive it, and these are the models that cause the most pain.