At the risk of infuriating readers, it can be said that developing world-class cars shouldn’t be that difficult, because it boils down to one basic principle: minimizing weight while maximizing power.
Oh sure, every automaker talks about unique applications of advanced materials and clever ways to save a few pounds here and there.
But if your business is German sports cars, the leash tends to be longer and will cost more, and the potential to achieve truly remarkable results is multiplied as product developers set out to refresh a particular model.
That’s exactly what happened to the all-new Porsche Cayman and its convertible platform mate, the Boxster.
The base engine in these cars, a 2.7L horizontally opposed 6-cyl., is not outrageously powerful on paper, making 275 hp and a mere 213 lb.-ft. (289 Nm) of torque – meager by today’s standards.
But strap this jetpack behind the two seats, engage the starter and it becomes obvious why the new 2.7L flat-6 has won Porsche’s fourth Ward’s 10 Best Engines trophy.
Put the 2,888-lb. (1,310-kg) coupe into gear, let the engine work a little more of its aural magic, take it for a short ride through the twisties and the point about minimizing weight while maximizing power becomes crystal clear.
Porsche is happy to provide more power for customers who want to pony up for a larger engine or perhaps one that’s turbocharged, but it isn’t necessary because the 2.7L and the Cayman’s chassis are perfect partners that are so much more than the sum of their parts.
The last time the Cayman/Boxster was in the competition, in 2008, the mid-mounted 2.7L H-6 made 245 hp and 201 lb.-ft. (272 Nm) of torque. It didn’t make the cut amid a sea of high-output 6-cyl. engines, and for a moment it felt as if Porsche had lost its mojo.
But today’s all-new water-cooled 2.7L is all-around better, benefiting from stop/start; direct injection; VarioCam Plus variable valve timing and lift on the intake cam; an alternator that sends more energy to the battery during braking and coasting; and a PDK dual-clutch transmission that enables additional coasting, allowing the engine to consume only enough fuel to remain at idle during certain driving conditions.
Tie these technologies together with aggressive weight reduction, and the Cayman with 6-speed manual transmission achieves a city/highway EPA rating of 20/30 mpg (11.7-7.8 L/100 km), basically in line with the bread-and-butter 2.5L 4-cyl. in the Chevrolet Impala, which weighs considerably more.
WardsAuto test drives were right in line with government estimates. Factoring in the need for every editor to occasionally wind up Stuttgart’s newest music box, the staff did quite well, consistently returning to the parking deck with a fuel economy rating of about 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km).
The Cayman’s base price with the 2.7L is just over $52,000, so it would have been in the competition even before we jacked up the price cap from $55,000 to $60,000.
Porsche deserves credit for delivering a compact naturally aspirated boxer that feels and sounds so powerful. This is the type of efficient yet diabolically fun engine every sports car maker needs to do well as CAFE standards ramp up in the U.S.
And of course, key to the formula is weight reduction.
Light makes right.