2009 Porsche Cayman PDK Review
By Kevin Miller
Porsche launched the Cayman coupe in 2006. Based on the second-generation Boxster, the Cayman received some technical and cosmetic upgrades for 2009, including and upgrade from the available Tiptronic five-speed automatic to the race-derived, seven-ratio Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) “dual-clutch” transmission, a displacement bump from 2.7 to 2.9 liters, and a power increase from 245 HP to 265 HP. I couldn’t have been more excited before Porsche’s press fleet managers dropped off the Finnish-built 2009 Cayman for my weeklong review. Before it arrived, I spent some time looking around on Porsche’s website, to acquaint myself with the features of the mid-engine coupe. Of course, it was tough to find out what’s actually standard equipment, as everything on the website looks to be optional on the revered automaker’s cars.
When it was dropped off, I was surprised to see the test car was the color of cola. Or espresso. Or a Camry. Porsche calls the brown color Macadamia Metallic. Climbing in and getting acquainted with the Cayman’s features, I found the car was equipped with PDK automated seven-speed manual transmission, but not much else. I attempted to pair my phone via Bluetooth but it turned out that $695 option wasn’t installed on my car (the PHONE buttons present on the stereo were inoperative). Neither were power seats, navigation, satellite radio, or even audio controls on the steering wheel. As the Cayman was not a cool color and didn’t have a lot of fancy options installed on it, it became quite evident that my review would focus purely on the car’s driving characteristics.
Inside the car, the Sand Beige interior is pervasively tan, with only some silver accents to break up the perfectly-color-matched console, dashboard, seats, carpets (extending to the cargo area) and door upholstery. The dash is made from a nice, soft-touch material. Unfortunately, in both sunny and overcast conditions the windshield’s defroster vents which match the tan interior reflect in to the windshield- a darker interior color would have likely minimized this reflection. While the photo to the right of this paragraph isn’t a great one, it very accurately shows the pervasive reflection in the windshield.
Still, the interior is beautifully finished with luxurious carpeting (including the luggage area), with many integrated storage areas. While the Cayman is a relatively small car, Porsche’s engineers have found plenty of storage space. The door armrests’ tops flip open, revealing large felt-lined compartments. Small bins are located inside of the rear quarter windows, though these bins are difficult to reach and are finished with hard plastic inside, allowing any contents to rattle around. There is also a spacious glove box. While there are cupholders hidden in the dash in front of the passenger, they aren’t very deep, and the Porsche’s owner’s manual doesn’t recommend them for use while underway.
The nicely carpeted cargo area at the car’s front holds the tool kit and tire repair equipment, and is big enough for two kids under the age of five (for photographic purposes only, of course), or for a moderately-sized suitcase a computer bag. The high opening angle of the front hood means that the space is very easy to access. The shallow area under the rear hatch can hold items that are longer but not too tall, and that space has eyelets for securing cargo using a luggage net. Having driven both the Nissan 370Z and the older 350Z, Nissan could absolutely learn a thing or two from Porsche about interior packaging – While the Cayman seems like a smaller car, it has significantly more storage space (both in the cabin and in the trunk) than either generation of the Z.
At 6’4” tall, I’m almost too large for the Cayman’s cabin. The car’s six-way manually-adjustable seats have adjustment back-and-forth, incline/recline, and height. Unfortunately, using the pump-action height adjuster causes the seat to move forward at the same time it moves up (effectively decreasing already-tight legroom), meaning that the most legroom is available with the seat in its lowest position, which led to my hips growing sore after about 90 minutes in the car.
The seats did not have lumbar adjustment, and I found the fixed lumbar bolstering in the seat to be a bit too firm. Overall, though, the seats are quite comfortable and supportive. The steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach, helping the driver become comfortable in the snug cabin. Some optional seats have LATCH attachment for child seats and a key-switched airbag switch, but the standard seats in my car do not accommodate child seat installation.
The instruments situated in from of the driver are clear: a centrally-mounted tachometer with electronic info display in its bottom third; fuel, transmission, and temperature gauges are on the right; and a speedometer is on the left. The scale and location of the analog speedometer make that instrument nearly useless, as the speeds below 75 MPH were usually hidden behind my left hand as it held the steering wheel. That fact made the redundant digital speed display in the tachometer’s digital display very necessary. The electronic displays for speed/info, odometer, gear indicator, and external temperature on the dash, as well as the sound system head unit, get points for having matching monochromatic light gray characters on a black background. The electronic displays were never too bright or distracting at night, and were always legible.
I found visibility out of the Cayman to be pretty good, though having an adult male as a passenger blocked some of my view out of the passenger window. Because the rear hatch is so close to the driver’s seat, turning around to look out the rear window when reversing provides a great view out. Exterior mirrors are large enough to provide a generous view behind, and on my test car they were electrochromatic, as was the interior rear-view mirror.
Although the base Cayman has “just” 265 HP from its 2.9 liter flat 6, the car’s relatively light weight (about 3000 lbs) makes the most of that power. Porsche claims a 0-60 MPH time of 5.4 seconds for the PDK-equipped Cayman, and I often surprised myself with how fast I was going when I was just halfway up a freeway onramp. I ended up setting the speed-warning on the Cayman’s trip computer at 75 MPH on Seattle’s 60 MPH freeways to remind myself how far above the speed limit I was driving.
As I was getting to know the Cayman over the first few days I spent with it, I was continually disappointed with the fact that my car had the “automatic” transmission rather than a three-pedal manual transmission. While the shifts occurred quickly enough, I didn’t appreciate the PDK’s appeal. When the weekend of my review week finally arrived, I hit the road for a favorite course of twisty pavement, and I shortly realized what the PDK was good at: shifting quickly to maintain acceleration and speed (which is why the PDK-equipped Cayman has a faster 0-60 MPH time than one with a manual transmission). While I initially berated it for not being immediate with, say, a 5-2 downshift, I realized that pulling back on the selector 3 times quickly will get me there almost as quickly as using a clutch pedal and moving the lever myself.
That being said, use of the PDK is a bit counter-intuitive, as you pull the shift lever back (or pull back on the trigger-type shift actuators on the steering wheel) to shift to a lower gear, and push either of those away from you to select a higher gear. I often found myself intending to move up a gear, but instead pulling the lever back and upshifting.
Although it can shift very quickly, PDK is far from perfect. In a slow lane on the freeway at rush hour, wanting to pull out quickly into a faster-moving lane, the car was in 4th or 5th gear in automatic mode. I mashed the accelerator and steered into the next lane, and there was a nearly eternal delay while the gearbox worked to engage second gear, while headlights were rapidly approaching in the rearview mirror. I had a similar experience when I was creeping out of a suburban parking lot, waiting for an opening onto a busy main road; when I got my opening in traffic and stepped on the accelerator, the clutch was somehow disengaged- there was a delay and some mechanical noises before the Porsche finally got it into gear. Too, sometimes when moving away quickly from a stop (i.e. moving my foot from brake to gas quickly), the car would clunk into gear before lurching away.
In normal driving, when slowing down the standard shift mapping is not quick to shift to a lower gear, which can leave the Cayman a bit flat-footed when it’s suddenly time to accelerate again- this programming is likely implemented to improve fuel economy. The optional Sport Chrono package (which my car didn’t have) evidently changes throttle mapping and shift logic when the “sport” button is pressed; unfortunately my car wasn’t so equipped. That being said, the faster you drive, the better the PDK seems to work. It can certainly shift more quickly than I can during brisk acceleration.
On the road, aside from back-forth motion over repetitive expansion joints and an overly-eager communication of broken pavement into the cabin, I found the Cayman to be incredibly well-balanced. All of the things I’ve learned about mid-engined cars have turned out to be true- weight distribution and handling in the Cayman really are remarkably better than pretty much any car I’ve ever driven. The steering, which feels a bit heavy in low-speed situations, is nearly telepathic at speed; never twitchy or busy, but always communicating exactly what is going on with the car. According to Porsche, this is due to the use of a steering rack with a ratio that varies, with a less-direct ratio at the straight ahead position, and a more-direct ratio as you get farther off center. As a bonus, the Cayman’s turning circle in parking maneuvers is quite tight.
The Cayman I drove was equipped with performance tires rather than all-seasons, and on wet roads at around 45° F, I encountered a few episodes of severe understeer on tight curves. Fortunately, most of the week I spent with the Cayman saw unseasonably dry weather in Seattle, so I was able to enjoy the Cayman’s combination of power and handling.
As mentioned above, the Cayman I reviewed had very few options, so it lacked the fancy PASM (Porsche Adjustable Suspension Management). While the standard suspension has superb road holding, the ride can get choppy, especially on broken pavement between 30 and 40 MPH. after an hour of those conditions in heavy traffic on a commute home, I felt incredibly jostled; the Porsche had not been a relaxing car for that commute. The flip-side of that behavior, however, is the excellent communication the suspension facilitates during spirited driving.
Aside from the remarkable driving experience, one of my favorite things about driving the Cayman was the glimpse of the rear fender’s flowing curve in the car’s side mirrors. Those rear fenders have a sexy shape, contributing to the Cayman’s sleek, exotic look. Another favorite was the sensation (both the sound and the feeling) of the flat six immediately behind my seat when I accelerated; it is a sensation like no other.
Of course, no car is perfect. Something that was a continual source of irritation during my week with the Cayman was the fact that Porsche mounts the ignition key to the left of the steering wheel rather than the right. While I’m a Saab driver and therefore accustomed to “quirky” key placement, the key is always turned by my right hand. I always keep my car key in my right pocket, pull it out with my right hand, and start the car with that hand as well. From the perspective of somebody who has never driven a Porsche before, the left-hand key location drove me crazy. I kept finding the key in my right hand, having to change to my left to start the car.
Once, even when the key was in the correct spot, I still had trouble starting the car. On my first day with the Cayman, the car suffered an electronic glitch that left me stranded at the grocery store with my young daughter. We had been running errands around our suburb just before dinner, and we stopped at the store for a few items. I parked the car, selected Park, set the parking brake, and exited and and locked the car. When we returned to the car, the sun had just set, and it was rapidly growing dark. I turned the key to start the car, and the car didn’t start- all of the gear indicator LEDs on the dash illuminated and the driver message center displayed the message “Select P or N to start motor.”
I tried removing the key and starting again. I looked in the owner’s manual for a clue, but got nowhere. I eventually found in the place in the owner’s manual where it tells you how to get the car into neutral with the power off (which involved finding the car’s toolkit and digging out a screwdriver), but even with the transmission in neutral, the car wouldn’t’ start. After calling my wife to rescue us, a subsequent call to the fleet manager yielded a suggestion of releasing and resetting the parking brake. I returned after dinner, and doing this and allowing the car to roll slightly and to somehow reset the gear position sensor, which allowed the car to start. Still, it was not an auspicious start to my week with the Cayman.
During the Cayman’s stay with me, I got several waves from drivers of other Porsches. Even in Macadamia Metallic it gained me admittance into a brotherhood of Porsche owners, from 914 drivers to Boxster and 911 drivers. The other demographic of drivers who paid a lot of attention to the Cayman were men in their 20s driving several-year-old two-door coupes like the Ford Escort ZX2 and Mitsubishi Eclipse.
I was only able to put in about 330 miles during my week with the Cayman (that’s what happens when I drive a car that can’t hold two kids). At the end of my week, the car’s trip computer, which I reset at the beginning of my review, showed a respectable 22.5 MPG (the car has a 20/29 MPG EPA rating). Not bad for a car with the speed and moves exhibited by the Cayman.
My 2009 Porsche Cayman in Macadamia Metallic with Sand Beige interior has an MSRP of $50,300 (for 2010 the Cayman is essentially unchanged, but MSRP is $51,400). In addition to the standard features, the car was equipped with 18” wheels ($1235), self-dimming electrochromatic interior and exterior mirrors and rain sensor ($690), automatic climate control ($850), PDK transmission ($3420), and Universal Audio Interface (AUX input jack for the stereo, $95) destination ($950) for a grand total of $58,040. That almost seems like a reasonable price for the performance and refinement offered by the Cayman, though when you consider that power seats (or at least manual lumbar adjustment) and Bluetooth phone integration (among other features) aren’t standard at that price point, it seems a bit much. Of course, the exclusivity that comes with owning a Porsche isn’t because the vehicles are inexpensive to buy or own, and at full throttle on your favorite road or track, with the chassis communicating to you in that nearly telepathic way, the Cayman seems worth every penny of that MSRP.
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