Time to change cars. Jared, fresh from the Cayman, is waving his arms and jabbering at Steve and Bob. Wanting to form first opinions on my own, I make for the Turbo. Its cabin couldn’t be more different than the S. Nomex chairs and gizmos give way to power-everything thrones and a hushed cabin bathed in Natural Brown leather. In case you’re wondering, you do want that optional leather-covered sunroof-control surround. The stitching looks like Ferragamo’s, not a car company’s.
The sumptuous interior is fitting. Where the 997S screams “I’ve been modified — help me!,” a Weissach engineer wouldn’t know a cook’s been in this kitchen. Until he stands on the gas, that is. Then comes the flood of boost. When the twin turbos blow, this 997 Turbo blurs the scenery in a way even the new GT2 can’t match. Its power is epic, the fact it still feels so “factory” deeply impressive. The engine mods create a uniquely sudden yet silky wave of torque, the likes of which we’ve never felt in another Porsche. We started off on 100-octane fuel, but the car’s pace suffers little on California’s weak 91 unleaded. It is, quite simply, a rocket. As with a stock 997 Turbo, though, turbo lag is considerable, Variable Turbine Geometry or no.
Fortunately, the sudden acceleration is checked by ceramic-composite PCCBs. These factory brakes are easily the equal of the Brembo GTRs on the black car, this despite the Turbo’s added 163 pounds. If that gap sounds too small to you, remember the Turbo’s lightweight brakes and wheels as well as the 997S’s supercharger, half cage, and slew of electronics. But it’s the Turbo where you really feel the bulk. The harder you press, the more you must manage its weight and think your way into turns, then execute the line least likely to overwhelm its outside front tire. Too often, you end up feeling sorry for the poor 235…
On the bright side, the Bilstein B16s cancel much of the stock car’s excessive dive under braking, roll in corners, and squat under acceleration. We’re no longer tempted to select the Sport shock setting to help cancel all of the above, then grin and bear the ride. While stiffer, the B16s keep the car relatively flat and predictable while soaking up bumps better, with less bobbing. They offer useful valving in both the Normal and Sport settings, the difference between them being far less distinct. Though rough sections still call for Normal, Sport is now useful on real-world roads.
As is, though, the car simply isn’t sharp enough. Besides the inescapable sense of bulk, there’s too much understeer to contend with and too little willingness to change direction. Rob King, who tuned the car to meet a customer’s daily needs, wanted to mount R-compound tires going into this test. Doubtless, they would have helped, because the car is always on the edge of traction when pushed. But Champion Motorsport’s Werks K1 (Excellence May, 2008) showed us that more extensive suspension modifications can hide most of the 997 Turbo’s bulk and take its handling to GT3 and GT2 levels.
This 997 Turbo more than gets the job done, but leaves us cold. It’s seriously fast, but fails to offer the involvement we crave. You can’t escape the feeling that computers are at work. Hard at work. If you manage the weight well and trust the car’s computers, the speed on tap is stupendous. But, on these roads, it’s an impressive car rather than an involving one.
Time for the Cayman, then. There’s a deceptive simplicity to this car — it does more with less than either of the 911s and challenges both in terms of satisfaction. Straightaway, its true two-seat cabin feels more intimate. It’s not so much the lack of back seats as it is the flat six spinning just inches behind you. You get more of its mechanical signature and intake howl, a good thing because M97 3.4s spin more eagerly than the M97 3.2s and 3.8s. This one is no exception; its EVOMSit reprogramming feels like a factory job in refinement terms and, with it, the RS350 kit creates a 3.4 that still relishes repeated trips to the redline. While we can’t say we feel an extra 40-50 horses, the RS350 does feel stronger than a stock S.
The Cayman may be the least powerful car here, but its reassuring chassis lets you use more of it, sooner. Turn-in is keener than even the 997S’s while rear-end traction out of turns — if not 911 good — is still considerable. The Cayman feels like what it is: an inherently neutral sports car rather than one tweaked to get there.