Name one of the greatest brands in automobile today?
You can name a few. You can name a lot. However, we would all agree upon one particular name due to its cache, history and image. That name alone evokes performance, excitement, and a legacy of track victories that stretch several decades.
Let us not beat around the bush – everyone knows what a Porsche is all about.
Porsche is not an elusive brand. Yet, the brand from Stuttgart sits in a place on the automotive totem pole that seems unobtainable and exclusive to the average motorist. Its enthusiasts are amongst the most loyal of any brand sold anywhere in the world. An owner joins the Porsche Club of America, attends their regional track days and properly cares for their vehicle – even if it is not a 911.
As an automotive writer, it is somehow expected that you have driven a Porsche sometime during your career. It is the one brand that draws attention to your work. Everyone wants to read about a Porsche – primarily a 911, but any model would do.
I have a confession to make, however. I have never driven a Porsche in my life. I have been around them, sat in them and wondered how hard could it be to drive one. All of that has been put to bed, as I have driven my first Porsche in my half-century of living.
When you drive a Porsche, you are supposed to have a rush of adrenaline. The roar from the tailpipe denotes something dramatic and exciting. A Porsche is supposed to rush you through traffic without scaring the living daylights out of you.
The first Porsche driven would appear to be the complete opposite of what we consider a product of this brand. The Cayenne is a crossover/SUV – not exactly what we had in mind when we think of something coming from Stuttgart. To understand this oxymoron, the Cayenne is a collaboration with Volkswagen and Audi, hence sharing the same platform as the Touareg and Q7 respectively. The 300 horsepower 3.6liter V6 is also a collaboration with VW and Audi, shared by many products across the board at Volkswagen AG.
The point of the Cayenne is not to be exactly a Porsche, but to expand the idea of one. There are certain qualities in this second generation model that corroborates this notion. You can hear the exhaust as it roars, even in city traffic. The V6 is competent and can motivate… The V6 is connected to an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission sending power to all four wheels.
When you drive the Cayenne, you understand the debate of whether it is truly representative of the brand. The ride is compliant, with no firmness present as expected from Porsche. You roll and lean through the corners, despite some gathering in by its suspension set. The steering setup trended slightly towards vague in feel and response. For the average driver, this would be considered just fine. Braking was decent with good action from the pedal.
Perhaps the Cayenne has the biggest and most comfortable cabin of any Porsche – plenty of space for 4-5 adults between two rows. The seats are surprisingly big and have plenty of adjustments for all drivers. The upper back area tends to be bit stiff.
The Cayenne with the V6 and AWD starts at $50,575. In typical Porsche fashion, when you start asking for what you want, the price escalates at an extraordinary pace. Our example rang the registers at $75,190. One had to wonder why a basic Cayenne yielded almost $25,000 in options.
One does not stop at the Cayenne to get a true Porsche experience. You have to drive a 911. It is still a great car, yet some have balked at its price. Owners of 911s will continue to buy them – at any price. But, what if you are part of that group who still wants the 911 Experience without the 911 pricetag?
Thankfully, Porsche created the Cayman. It began as a Boxster, the original small Porsche sports car created as a two-seat roadster. The Cayman was added to create a closed coupe experience with the Boxster’s mid-engine placement and smaller footprint. Now in its second generation, both the Boxster and Cayman received a plethora of praise by bringing back the purity of the older 911s.
Count me in that chorus. Having ridden in an old 911, there are certain aspects of that car that denote a wonderful experience of corner tracking, outright drama from the rear engine and everything else that speaks to the 911 Experience. From the driver’s seat, it felt as I just got into a 1978 911SC looking for a canyon road to carve.
It is tough to ignore the modernity of the Cayman. Certainly, the engine is in front of the rear axle. There are plenty of buttons and switches to change anything from the driving aspect to the navigation screen. The instrumentation may be missing a dial or two, but you have to admit there is a classic Porsche feeling when you sit low in the seat and position yourself behind the wheel.
The cabin represented a less cluttered version of the current brand interior design. There are still plenty of buttons to use. You can open the front lid and rear hatch with a couple of buttons on the doorsill. You can switch your driving dynamics right by the gear lever. Plus, switches and buttons for the infotainment system and so forth.
The Cayman S I drove had 325 horsepower on tap from a 3.4liter horizontally-opposed, six-cylinder engine. Combined with Porsche's PDK transmission, this is a dream to drive. The immediate response from the throttle makes quick work of first gear. Second took a bit longer than one would like, but it will go through the remaining gears in quick fashion. Press the Sport button, and the Cayman S comes alive. The only soundtrack that mattered was the one that just been turned to 11 – the exhaust note. All gears get a quick change in Sport and you could possibly be in another state in a matter of seconds.
While Porsche sports cars usually have a firm ride, the Cayman S keeps it compliant and comfortable. There is a bit of a lean you feel, but that can be remedied with another button to adjust the shock dampening. Nineteen-inch Goodyear Eagle F1s keep the Cayman S planted through the tarmac and tried to manage bad road surfaces while making butter out of the smooth ones.
Steering in the Cayman reminds you of what a sports car is supposed to act like. It is perfectly weighted with great on-center feel and quick response. Brakes were good, with excellent pedal response towards solid normal stops.
The Cayman lineup starts at $53,595. Upgrade the more powerful S model, and your sticker jumped to $64,795. Our tester came to $88,120 – almost $22,000 in options!
Obviously, you probably thought I would drive a 911 and that would take care of everything Porsche. The 911, Cayenne, Boxster and Cayman are joined by the Panamera – Porsche's first four-door "limousine." For the purpose of this piece, I passed up the Panamera for another time. The same would be safe to say for the 911. They will come around sometime – as will the upcoming Macan compact crossover.
To get a flavor of what Porsche has been up to, you do not necessarily have to drive a 911. However, any Porsche you drive still has the shield that reminds you of where it all came from. It also reminds you of where it stands amongst the pantheon of automobiles.
To drive a Porsche is a privilege. Driving two pretty much kicked the bucket list.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicles provided by Porsche of Minneapolis, Golden Valley, MN
All photos by Randy Stern