Empty Highlands roads, sunshine = heaven

Empty Highlands roads, sunshine = heaven

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When Porsche GB invites you to the Scottish Highlands to drive its new Cayman, you tend to reschedule whatever else was in the diary. Glenn Brooks was just-auto's man on EasyJet to Inverness.

Gatwick isn't exactly on my doorstep but there was no hassle whatsoever getting myself there in the Mokka I recently wrote about. Landing at Inverness there were multiple Caymans lined up, including a choice of engines and transmissions for the 90 minute drive to the launch event's overnight accommodation.

Loch-side driving, single-track roads, and amazingly sunny and warm weather: on the right day, parts of Scotland can be heavenly. It had been some years since I drove the first generation model so like for like comparisons were difficult. What wasn't hard to judge was just how sensationally fast even the base Cayman is. This one comes with a 202kW (275hp) 2.7-litre flat six which replaces a less powerful 2.9, whereas the Cayman S has a 239kW (325hp) 3.4-litre engine from the same family.

Both cars have standard manual six-speed transmission, with the seven-speed dual clutch Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) auto optional. Speaking of options, there were quite a few of these on the press test cars: adaptive cruise control, a thumping 821W Burmester sound system with 12 speakers, automatic throttle blip for manual gearboxes, and a Sport Chrono package (including dynamic transmission mounts) - think of it as launch control.

Porsche says the latest engines, which are positioned in the car just in front of the rear axle, are up to 15% more fuel efficient than those in the first generation car. That's courtesy of direct injection, a stop-start system, and electrical system recuperation. The last of these features sees the battery charged more intensively under braking and while coasting. The alternator charge current can also be reduced when the battery is fully charged, meaning a lighter load on the engine when you accelerate. 

There are claimed savings from improved thermal management of the powertrain too. I'm quoting here, "intelligent control of the combined engine and transmission cooling systems [means] both engines reach their operating temperatures more rapidly, which results in better combustion under part load with less friction". How about some hard numbers? The NEDC consumption figure for the 2.7-litre engine is 34.4mpg, with a CO2 average of 192g/km. With the PDK gearbox, the equivalents are 36.7mpg and 180g/km.

If you prefer the Cayman S, its 3.4-litre H6 returns an impressive 32.1mpg NEDC average, CO2 of 206g/km or as an auto it's 35.3mpg and 188g/km. So how does the PDK manage such a clear improvement over the manual cars? It isn't just the extra gear ratio: the self-shifting transmission also has a coasting function, so the engine runs in neutral with the gearbox decoupled when the car's electronics deem it safe and useful to do so.

Porsche tends to be a company that's big on evolution, especially when it comes to its cars' styling but that also can apply to the hardware. So switching to electro-mechanical steering from the former hydraulic system is something of a revolution. Why the change? The official line is better feedback and improved economy. The way the cars drive and the consumption numbers quoted above prove the logic of the engineers' decision.

The launch of the 981 series Cayman took place late last year at the LA auto show, trailing the appearance of its roadster brother, the Boxster, by about six months. There were some complications during the development process that are worth recording here. Both were originally due to be assembled in Austria by Magna Steyr but a directive from Wolfsburg killed this deal in December 2009.

You'll recall that the old-shape cars were made by Porsche but there was some outsourcing too: Valmet assembled cars at its Uusikaupunki-Nystand works. Porsche's Zuffenhausen base is again the main plant for the second generation models, but what is termed 'overflow' assembly is again relegated to a supplier, or at least one whose assets are owned by Volkswagen. So it isn't Valmet up in Finland but instead the former Karmann works in Osnabrück. Again, this applies to the Boxster. As the company continues to see record production volumes month by month of late, the additional assembly operation has been proving especially useful.

The Cayman shares multiple platform modules with not only the Boxster but the 911 too. Can I share a geeky fact? The old Cayman shared its doors with the nine eleven but those of the new one are bespoke.

The 981 might look similar to the first generation model but it is in fact lower, longer, lighter and faster. Zero to 62mph comes up in just 5.7 seconds for the Cayman and only 4.9 for the S with PDK transmission.

The power numbers for these cars are impressive but you'll agree that they're not as high as you might expect if you look at the spec of something like an F-TYPE. Why? It's simple - the Cayman, Boxster and even the 911 are not heavy cars. The Cayman's dry weight is just 1,310kg, which explains the C02 and fuel economy numbers. Ergo, even the 2.7-litre version will hit 266km/h, plus it takes just 21.0 seconds to attain 200km/h (125mph). Here's a surprise: the S weighs only 10kg more. Its top speed is 283km/h.

If I'm claiming that Germans and heavy metal are no longer intimate, I really should be delivering some proof. OK, here's what I discovered: high strength steel is used for the car's basic structure and that's combined with what Porsche terms 'deepdrawing' steel for the roof, firewall, and front and rear wings. But by far the most metal by surface area is aluminium: this is employed for the bonnet and its underframe, as well as for the decklid and its assembly, as well as the tailgate, doors and their skins, and the front and rear crushboxes.

This is the bit where I try to think of something to say which might put you off buying one of these cars, or rather warn you about things that aren't quite ideal. That long pause you just heard is me leafing through my notepad - hmm, lots of excited exclamation marks but nothing underlined or recorded as 'this is awful'. I would say the lack of a rear wiper would annoy me. The official line from manufacturers is usually that there is no need, that aerodynamics blow the dust and rain away but if you have to reverse into a main road every winter morning, you might think otherwise. I'm guessing it would cause some unsettling buffeting at high speeds or else a too-heavy tailgate?

The new Cayman is on sale in the UK now, priced from GBP39,694, with the S costing an extra GBP9,089. The additional nine big ones not only get you the 3.4-litre engine but also 19-inch alloy rims, a partial leather interior and Bi-xenon headlights. Every customer is also offered a Porsche Experience Centre driving course at Silverstone.

That complementary track day sounds exciting but if you're reading this with the serious intention of putting down the deposit and feel confident your job will let you keep on making the monthly payments, get in touch - I have been lucky enough to have learned where some amazing, empty roads in the Highlands lurk, and I'd be only too thrilled to name their location for you.