No place for a Porsche Testing the Cayman S in Edmonton snow hardly does it justice
I’VE got a bad feeling about this. I’m strapped into the gorgeous, grey-leathertrimmed sport seat of a 2014 Porsche Cayman S. Just behind me, there’s a 3.4-litre flat-six-cylinder engine with 325 horsepower of glorious German fury champing at the bit to be unleashed. That abundance of horsepower will hurtle the Cayman S to a mind-bending “track top speed” of 281 km/h, so says Porsche.
And instead of giving the Porsche free rein on some dreamy-smooth piece of swervy road along the Mediterranean coast, I’m torture-testing Porsche’s new wundercar in the aftermath of an old-fashioned Canadian blizzard in Edmonton.
There’s a thick layer of fresh powder snow blanketing northern Alberta. It’s the stuff that downhill skiers dream of. Our Porsche Cayman S is one the first vehicles to venture onto the unplowed streets, and the slinky, ground-hugging missile is now little more than a curvaceous snowplow.
The front spoiler is bulldozing snow into the front air intakes and we’re crawling along at 20 km/h. The wide P235 front tires, no matter how much I turn the steering wheel, suck the car straight ahead, forcing it to track along the deep ruts from cars that have broken trail before us.
The Cayman advances grudgingly through the snow, with its undercarriage banging and scraping noisily as it drags over chunks of snow, remnants from a snowstorm less than a week earlier when we tested a new Carrera 4S Cabriolet. The sound of frozen debris grinding against the belly of the $95,000 Cayman makes me grimace. I have the uncomfortable feeling that somewhere there’s a god of exotic sports cars who’s watching and just tick-marked my name, and when my stint on Earth is over, I’m going straight to hell for this wanton act of automotive abuse.
Porsche has wisely spooned on a set of Continental TS 830 P high-performance winter tires to give it a fighting chance, but even aided by its rear midship engine weight bias, in these abysmal conditions, the powerful rear-wheel-drive Cayman isn’t much fun.
There are many Porsche performance aids that make driving the German sports car passable for winter duty. There’s traction control (the warning light constantly flashes as I feather the throttle, feeling for traction), ABS and Porsche stability management (which allows the rear end to drift out with a jab of throttle, giving a moment of joy when conditions allow). Snow-covered public streets are no place to risk bending a borrowed $95,000 car, but we did manage to see 0.30 Gs of lateral acceleration, according to the car’s display — a fraction of what the Porsche is capable of.
As with the Carrera 4S Cabriolet we winter-tested the week earlier, the coupe’s wide alloy rims pack full of snow, causing severe wheel imbalance. At speeds above 60 km/h, the Porsche shakes like a Magic Fingers vibrating bed in an old motel.
Despite these winter driving shortcomings, the 2014 Porsche Cayman S remains an ultradesirable sports car. Even on low-traction, snowcovered streets, the Cayman’s handling feels razor-sharp. Steering-wheel weight and feedback are perfect and the brakes are easy to modulate. Surprisingly, the Cayman S’s suspension, while sporting firm, is comfortable enough to make it very attractive for everyday use.
The PDK transmission is a joy to use. Acceleration is fierce (0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds is claimed), and the howl of the 3.4-litre flat-six engine is one of the most joyous noises in the automotive world.
The Cayman’s cabin is beautifully executed and I prefer it to the pricier Carrera, especially when it comes to the readability of its three-circle main instrument cluster. (The Carrera has a four-circle design, and its steering wheel annoyingly blocks portions of the display.)
For sure, the Cayman’s interior is snug and cargo space is scarce. There is no storage behind the seats — that’s where the engine is. A shallow parcel shelf (atop the engine) is bookended by a pair of small cubbyholes with sliding covers and are the main places for small odds and sods. Larger items have to be stored in the nose or small, carpeted space aft the engine.
The Cayman S’s purpose is well-defined. As one of the world’s finest sports cars, it is crafted on a minimalist philosophy — carry two people in a lightweight, powerful vehicle with scalpel-sharp handling, wrapped in a gorgeous body. It’s intended for drivers who want a driving experience where pure performance takes priority over excess luxury.
There’s no question the Cayman S delivers an exceptional driving experience, but that ultraperformance sports-car character is difficult to fully appreciate when plowing through snow. We proved that with care and dedication, driving a Cayman S as a winter daily driver is do-able, but something I’d recommend only to the hardestcore enthusiast.
Pros: Intoxicating engine; razor-sharp handling; good ride quality; a veritable performance bargain compared to any 911 Carrera.
Cons: Price will still give you a nosebleed; a $20,000 Subaru Impreza econobox easily kicks snow in its pretty German face Value for money: Poor What I would change: Streamline centre stack and console controls, add interior storage; scrap the complex articulated coffee-cup holder arm slotted above the glove compartment.
The 2014 Porsche Cayman S delivers an exceptional driving experience, even in the snow.