Picka pecka Porsches
Marc K. Stengel, Wed, 29 Nov 2006 08:00:00 PDT
Too much of a good thing is a great way to cauterize the taste buds. Ask any commuter. How much fun can it be, after all, droning on and on, mile after mile, bumper-to-bumper in a daily slog from home to office, then back again from office to home? That's just too darn much of a good thing for anyone to endure.
And so the corollary presents itself: Not enough of a good thing is the way to set your taste buds on edge. In a world that is fast becoming carpeted with wall-to-wall Camrys and anonymous Accords, it's fair to say that most of us simply do not get enough quality seat time behind the wheel of purpose-built sporty-pants pocket rockets like the Boxster roadster and Cayman coupe from Porsche. When such an opportunity arises, it's an occasion to savor. Lovingly. Longingly.
The first casualty of commuting, of course, is aesthetics. And this is not primarily to do with the sculptural, formal appearance of our vehicles-even though there are indeed quite a number of soulless, four-wheeled jelly beans rolling around out there.
No, the aesthetic loss is greatest behind the wheel, where both circumstances (i.e., traffic) and equipment (i.e., vehicle) conspire to cheat drivers of the genuine thrill that moving forward and sideways through space at brisk speed ideally entails.
For decades now, the Porsche concern has been one of the most consistent defenders of the art and craft of spirited driving. While there's little Porsche can do about traffic-other than to urge, regally, that drivers stay clear of it-the company has at least defined its own inimitable yet strikingly consistent technique for coaxing maximum enjoyment out of a vehicle.
The Boxster roadster is a worthy heir to Porsche's engineering traditions. With its engine amidships (that is, behind the driver yet ahead of the rear wheels) and with an ennobling loyalty to rear-wheel-drive, Boxster is a frisky, two-passenger plaything that exults in open-air, backroads motoring.
For 2007, Porsche's premium Boxster S model earns 15 more horsepower from a flat-, or opposed-six cylinder powerplant that is increased to 3.4 liters from 3.2. Output is now 295 horsepower, with 252 foot-pounds of road-gobbling torque; and yet fuel economy remains quite decent: 20 mpg/city and 28 mpg/highway, using premium.
A six-speed manual transmission keeps things interesting, and it is ideal for stirring up the fun kind of mischief, say, along tight, downhill switchbacks or long, lazy sweepers over rolling terrain. Deft four-wheel-independent suspension and unfailingly robust disc brakes all round combine with Boxster's inherently nimble mid-engine geometry to make cornering a delight. In a Boxster, it's all about aim. Driving becomes a sort of adult, interactive version of connect-the-dots, and the Boxster is your crayon.
With its quickie softtop that unfurls and furls back again at the twist of a clamp and the touch of a button, Boxster depends on the open sky to alleviate what is otherwise a rather cramped, but well-appointed, cockpit.
Trunk space, shared almost equally under two different lids front and rear, is greater than one might suppose at 10 cubic feet. But no matter how hard you try, you will not force Boxster's aesthetic peg into daily life's practical hole. This is a four-wheeled motorcycle, pure and simple-an easy rider in the finest open-road, open-top tradition.
It may well be that no man is an island, but Porsche's Cayman is by itself as a sports coupe. Nominally, it is the coffered-over, hardtop version of the Boxster meant to do battle with the likes of BMW's Z4 Coupe, Audi's TT or Mercedes' SLK. But in reality, the Cayman is so strikingly attractive and so naturally spunky that it's hard to compare it with anything except, well, sui generis.
To begin with, the Cayman's low, lean profile is malevolent in a cheeky-naughty sort of way. Instead of the ridges over the eyes of its crocodile-like namesake, Cayman sports ridged flanks that swell into suggestive haunches over the rear driving wheels.
A gentle, ski-slope hatch exposes the majority of Cayman's 15 total cubic feet of storage. With the hatch closed, the sculptural line of the roof terminates into a ribbon-spoiler that rises and descends magically according to one's speed on the open road.
Like the Boxster, Cayman is available with the 3.4-liter "S" version powerplant described above or, as in the model tested here, a standard-fare 2.7-liter twin-cam flat-six making 245 horsepower and 201 foot-pounds of torque. Alas, this 2.7 is mated to a five-speed manual instead of a six, but the thrill-factor overall remains virtually undiminished.
And indeed, despite the 50-horsepower disadvantage, a standard Cayman rivals the Boxster S for driving pleasure in almost every category. It is a noticeably lighter car-almost 150 pounds lighter, in fact. This, combined with the inherent natural stiffness of a coupe's architecture, to say nothing of the psychological sensation of sitting in a self-contained, leather-lined rocket-capsule, transforms a sprint in the Cayman into scene-blurring time travel.
The Cayman seems to react to driver inputs with unhesitating, bionic precision. Even with 245 horsepower, acceleration is sparkling; but it's the Cayman's sure-footed finesse in lateral acceleration that truly inspires awe, even giggles. Deep into a challenging turn, Cayman glories in the vector forces tugging it both forward and sideways simultaneously. It never ruffles, never shirks.
Certainly, it would be overstating the case to suggest that Cayman is the daily driver that Boxster is not. But it does at least feel more tolerant of real world traffic and parking conditions than its ragtop sibling; and its slightly greater overall storage and better fuel economy are nominally more practical. It is decidedly not a four-wheeled motorcycle. Might it not be instead, however, a two-passenger light-saber for slashing through the commuter clutter?
2-door coupe, 2-pass.; 2.7-liter DOHC flat-6 w/ vvt; RWD, 5-sp. manual; 245 hp/201 ft.-lbs.; 23 mpg/city, 32 mpg/highway w/ premium; curb weight: 2,866 lbs.; trunk space: 15 cu. ft.; std. equip.: 4-wheel ABS disk brakes & ind. suspension, 17-in. wheels, front/side airbags; base price: $49,400
2-door roadster, 2-pass.; 3.4-liter DOHC flat-6 w/ vvt; RWD, 6-sp. manual; 295 hp/252 ft.-lbs.; 20 mpg/city, 28 mpg/highway w/ premium; curb weight: 3,009 lbs.; trunk space: 10 cu. ft.; std. equip.: 4-wheel ABS disk brakes & ind. suspension, 18-in. wheels, front/side airbags; base price: $55,500