28 Dec 2013

Porsche Cayman 981 review

Matt Hubbard reviews the 2013 Porsche Cayman, also know as the Type 981

2013 Porsche Cayman in Carrara White

The Porsche Cayman has been around since 2006.  It was facelifted in 2009 but a brand new model, the type 981, was launched in November 2012 and went on sale in spring 2013.

I had a type 981 Cayman on test for 3 days.  It was painted Carrara White and came with optional 20"Sport Techno Alloy Wheels and a Carrera Red leather interior.  The base price is just shy of £40k.

The engine in the Carrera is a 2.7 litre flat-6 and in the test car the gearbox was a 6-speed manual.  A 7-speed PDK is also available as a £2k option, which improves acceleration and fuel consumption ever so slightly.


The Cayman is fundamentally a sports car.  It is a pretty looking coupe with rear wheel drive and a mid-mounted engine.  The engine is in the car with you.  It sits behind the passengers, fully enclosed with only two access points, for oil and water.

I'm not normally a fan of white cars but it defines the Cayman's curves well in any light.

There aren't enough cars on the road with pointy noses, but the Cayman's nose is resolutely low and pointy.  Porsche doesn't have the need for a massive corporate grille.  Instead the bonnet starts just above the number plate, a la 911, and sweeps up to the windscreen in a graceful line, devoid of lumps and bulges.

2013 Porsche Cayman in Carrara White
Either side of the number plate are a set of grilles, which also house the daytime running lights.  The headlights sit fore of the front wings.

Moving back the windscreen has a steep-ish rake and the roofline starts to taper back straight after its highest point, about one foot back from the top of the windscreen.  Classic coupe lines.

The doors show only a small amount of overtly stylistic design.  Large air intakes sit just ahead of the rear wheels and a swage line has been formed in the upper door, running through the handles, and into the top of the intake.  A line also runs along the lower door which curves up towards the intake.

The rear of the Cayman is most pleasant to the eye, with the mainly glass hatchback boot tapering down at a low angle to meet the rear of the haunches formed above the rear wheels.  A spoiler runs between the haunches, which also house the rear lights.

Finish off with a bulge under the spoiler and a twin set of centrally mounted exhausts tips poking out from under the bodywork.  The Cayman doesn't have a faux F1-style diffuser.


The interior of the test car was red.  In typical Porsche style this means it's really, very red.  Porsche don't do subtle colour schemes.

If you order the leather interior then pretty much anything that can be leather is leather.  The dash top, the seats, most of the doors, the steering wheel.  What isn't red is such high quality plastic you have to touch it to see if it is leather or plastic.

An aluminium trim runs along the door and the dash and splashes of aluminium abound on the steering wheel, around the vents and clock, the door handles, and centre console.

After spending a few minutes in the Cayman, taking everything in, you come to the realisation that this is a car formed by a company who build only premium cars.  There are no parts-bin buttons and knobs, no squeaky trim, no naff pieces of plastic that survive from the bottom to the top of the range.  Everything is bespoke.  Everything is Porsche.  This is good.
2013 Porsche Cayman in Carrera Red leather interior

It also becomes apparent that the interior might look pretty luxurious but it is the interior of a sports car. The steering wheel has no knobs or dials.  Just shiny aluminium spokes, beautifully trimmed leather, a nod to rallying heritage with twin stitches at the top, and the Porsche shield in the centre.

The instrument binnacle consists of 3 dials.  A useless speedo (in which finding 30mph would be impossible), a rev counter which also has a gear position indicator and digital speed read-out and a third multi-functional dial.

This third dial shows various pieces of information (which are controlled by a lever just under the windscreen wiper control on the right) such as satnav mapping, engine levels and temps, lap timing, how many Gs you're pulling in any direction, phone call info, music info and journey details.  See, more focus on being a sports car, with eyes ahead rather than wandering around the cabin.

The touchscreen in the centre console is the main control panel for all these functions.  The satnav is easy to use and has traffic information - this saved me from an hour delay on the A303 when it rerouted me via the A30.  The smartphone integration works well, although calls on the move can be difficult due to the noise - but we'll come to that later.

You can programme the touchscreen to show various pieces of information covering the whole gamut from average mpg to lap timing.

The only thing missing is digital radio.  In a £40k car this is odd.
2013 Porsche Cayman in Carrera Red leather interior

Below the touchscreen are some buttons, which also control functions on the screen.  It's not an intuitive system and takes some getting used to.

Under the buttons are the heating controls.  Honestly, I've yet to see a more odd system.  There are beautifully crafted levers for cabin temperature up and down and fan speed up and down, and some buttons to control where the air goes.  AC seems to be either max or off.  It must be some kind of nod to Porsches from years gone by.  Still, this is a sports car so let's not dwell too much on the aircon controls.

Then we come to the gearstick and on to a series of buttons on a flat plane, to the left of the driver's left thigh.

These buttons control the various driver aids - Sport, Sport Plus, Suspension firmness, traction control, manual spoiler control (it automatically rises at 50mph) and sports exhaust (press it to get more noise).

There's little in the way of storage space in the cabin.  Two pockets in each door, a decent sized glovebox and a small storage area under the armrest.  There's a 'boot', under the bonnet and some storage in the rear above the engine.  There are two cupholders which are hidden neatly behind an aluminium strip above the glovebox.

The seats are extremely supportive and sculpted.  They're also very firm.  The pedals are set deep, the wheel at just the right height and the gearstick feels quite high.

On the road

The key is almost a real key.  It has no metal key bit but instead the stylised plastic blob sits in a housing where a key would go.  Thereafter it acts as a normal key.  Twist to the first setting for everything but the engine, twist a bit more for engine start.

The engine barks into life.  I recorded the engine noise so you can experience it here.  It sounds good.

The engine sounds great all the way through the rev range, both inside and outside the car.  Vibrations are nicely damped but the noise isn't massively controlled.  It is quite noisy inside.  It also emits a whine from behind the passenger seat, presumably the timing chain.  It is a good noise - for petrolheads.

Pull away and you realise all controls are quite stiff.  The electrically assisted steering is firm, as are the pedals.  The gearbox isn't smooth and silky, it requires positive inputs and feels like it has a bolt action.  It feels solid and as if it will last a million miles.  I liked it a lot.  If only more companies paid attention to such detail.
2013 Porsche Cayman

The steering is sharp and precise. I could tell it was electrically assisted.  My previous modern-day Porsche experience has only been on track where it's almost impossible to tell electrically assisted apart from hydraulically assisted.  On the road the little bumps and corrugations are muted a tiny bit more than they would with hydraulic assistance but it doesn't detract from the experience.

The engine continues to sound fantastic as you rocket off in first gear.  Change up and you realise second gear is very long.  It redlines at about 76mph.  This highlights the relative lack of power.  Not that it isn't a fast and powerful car.  It is.  But you have to find that power, which exists from about 4,000rpm.

Maximum bhp comes in at 7,500rpm and maximum torque exists from 4,500-6,500rpm, which underlines my experience that you have thrash the engine to get the best from it.  It doesn't have a turbo or VTEC-like step where power suddenly increases but you do feel the surge from 4,000rpm.

B-road hoons are usually conducted in 2nd and 3rd gears alone.  This in itself is good fun.  I do feel, however, that for UK roads a shorter 2nd gear might have been more suitable.

The lack of low down torque is also felt on motorways.  Cruise in 6th, put your foot down to overtake and not a great deal happens.  You have to work the revs and gearbox to get the most from the Cayman.  The upside is that this does add to the feeling of interactivity you have with the car.

That interactivity runs through the entire driving experience, from the firm seats, the noisy cabin, the bolt-action gearbox, the need to manage the engine yourself, the ride quality.  In an era when electronics are taking over the Cayman is a, or possibly THE, driver's car.
2013 Porsche Cayman

The ride is almost aggressive in it's firmness.  The Cayman is stiffly sprung but, with typical Porsche engineering, the harsher bumps and crashes are damped whilst the feeling of the road surface is communicated to the driver.

It's as if it was designed first as a race car and then converted to road use, with some luxury and convenience added to make it an appealing car to use as a daily driver.

Find a corner and the Cayman runs through it like it was on rails.  It doesn't slide.  It stays stuck to the line.  This is in part due to the weight distribution, torque vectoring, locking rear diff, fat tyres, precise steering and just the general balance of the thing.

Heading into a corner and the brakes work progressively and with more force than grip available, if you  press too hard too fast.  The front brake discs are 315mm and look quite small in the wheels, but don't let their relative size belie their effectiveness.

I drove over 500 miles in the Cayman and couldn't get it to understeer once.  It only oversteered noticeably on a wet roundabout with the traction control turned off.  That was an interesting moment but the confidence the car inspires in you meant I was able to tidy it up quickly.

And confidence is what this car is all about.  Its communication, power to weight, balance, controls, all contribute to it being the most confidence-inspiring car I've ever driven.  In some sports cars you fear reaching the furthest depths of their abilities on public roads.

In the Cayman you know what it, and you, can do.  So you do it, and have great fun doing so.  Only the Subaru BRZ comes close in this regard.

You can play with the various driver aids but don't really need them to use the car - it's just so good as a basic proposition.  Sport Plus tightens everything up, but my favourite aspect is the automatic engine blip on down-change - for smoothness as well as noise.  I pressed the Sport Exhaust button every time I got in the Cayman (in the dry).  It adds a tad more timbre to the engine note, without it ever being anti-social.

Talking of the exhaust note it does make a lovely fruity, gargly spit if you run on in-gear then come off the throttle a bit.


You can use the Porsche Cayman as a daily driver.  Storage space is pretty good, with that boot at the front and some storage under the rear hatch.  Phone calls on the go are difficult because of the engine noise.  Wind and road noise are reasonably damped, but not to the same level as in most saloon cars.

It will return over 30mpg on a run.  On a few fast drives fuel consumption fell to 22mpg, which is still very good.  I saw 19mpg in the BRZ and 10mpg in various fast Mercs and Jags.

It's not a large car, at 4.4m long and 1.8m wide, so you can park it anywhere.  The doors aren't massive either so you can get out of it in a supermarket car park.  It doesn't sit too low either, so potholed back roads are do-able.

The ride is fine for day to day driving but you will need to stop and rest more often than in a GT car.  I drove 400 miles in a day and welcomed the odd break, if nothing more than for the relatively hard seats and interior noise.
2013 Porsche Cayman rear storage space

The Cayman does have some drawbacks.  Lack of digital radio for one, but at least you can hook up your phone as an alternative to FM radio.  The electric parking brake is a major pain.  It's under the ignition key and I could never work it out properly.  Is it forward for off or back for off?  Do I need to keep my foot on the brake or the clutch?  Do I need to have my seatbelt on?  I just couldn't get it right and faffed about every time I used it.  Not being an automatic you do have to use the parking brake or the car will roll off.

Aside from that the strange heater controls and tall 2nd gear are the only other negatives.  Everything else is as you would want from a sports car.


The Porsche Cayman is the definitive sports car.  It's balanced, focussed, confidence inspiring, practical and fun.  For £40k it's also well priced.

If I were to buy one I would keep the interior standard but spec 19" wheels, sports exhaust and the PCM communication and satnav system.  Unless I wanted to hit the track I wouldn't bother with active suspension, but the torque vectoring and locking diff would be attractive.

In terms of the competition the Mercedes SLK and BMW Z4 are too soft compared to the Cayman.  The Jaguar F-Type V6 comes close in terms of price and performance.  The F-Type offers a less hardcore experience than the Cayman.  Buyers would be advised to do a few miles in each before deciding on personal preference.  Personally I'd probably go with the Porsche but would lust after F-Types whenever I saw one.


Price - £39,694 (£52,000 as tested)
Engine - 2.7 litre, flat-6, petrol
Transmission - 6-speed manual
0-60mph - 5.7 seconds
Top speed - 155 mph
Power - 275 bhp
Torque - 213 lb ft
Economy - 34.4 mpg
CO2 - 192 g/km
Kerb weight - 1,310 kg

2013 Porsche Cayman front storage

Article by Matt Hubbard