Car Hack's Notebook: Learning from the Tuner Porsche Cayman

Alongside occasional trips to the temples of the automotive world like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani, it is one of my dirty pleasures to tour the German tuning scene whenever I get the chance. Some hacks look down at anything that doesn't come with a bought-and-paid-for test drive in Southern Spain. But for me, the chance to tackle winding roads, the Nordschleife and the kind of automotive lunacy that stays with you forever makes the endless sausage, sauerkraut, Ibis Hotels and foreign porn — the life of a sales rep, in other words — just about worth it.

They're built for a hardcore market, the cars that is, not the Pay Channel specials. And I have driven tuned rockets that felt like bucking death mules from the moment I turned the key. But occasionally they are masterpieces that show just what the manufacturers could and probably should have done. Take Porsche and the Cayman for instance.

It's fairly common knowledge the Cayman was hobbled to stop it beating the 911. The mid-engined stance is certainly a better start and with a lightweight design, all it needed was a few extra ponies and a limited slip diff to blitz its big brother on the lapcharts. And that costs about $5,000.

Now the Cayman will never match the straightline speed of its elder, but none of us spend too much time homing in on 200mph as a part of everyday life - so that won't matter.

In the corners, the Cayman has a finesse that leaves the overtly muscular 911 for dead. It's a different driving sensation, with minimal inputs and a smooth style making the difference. This is arguably the more rewarding car to drive, as momentum replaces bludgeoning power at the apex.

By making a theoretically lesser car so damned good, Porsche sailed dangerously close to the wind. It should spell trouble, but it won't. They understand the market well, which is why they've got the cash sloshing round to buy hunks of VW and not vice-versa.

People who buy the 911, especially the Carrera 4, bling-heavy Turbo, or in the worst instances, a Cabriolet, don't do it because they want the best everyday sportscar in the world. They get that bit for free, by accident. What a Porsche driver wants is to get look slick; he wants something U-ro-peen, he wants the Porschhha — the big one — which explains why that abomination of a Cayenne even got a foothold on this world.

Now trying to explain to such hair-gelled urbanite that they could buy the small one, trick it out and make it faster than the big one would be like teaching religion to a robot. It won't happen, they want to pay more and have the premium brand, even though it's not, if you get me.

Snobbery, rather than technical excellence, will keep the 911 on its pedestal. And the slick-haired, mobile-harassing broker or real estate agent will never, ever know how good the small Porsche really was.

The tuning world has shown the world the light, but luckily for Porsche's ever-expanding profit margins, the target market is more or less blind.

[Nick Hall, international man of letters, is European Editor for European Car magazine, and reviews the world's most potent and storied cars for such publications as Sports Car International, Winding Road and several hundred billion others.]

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