Budget-beating Porsche Cayman 2.7 981C Coupe

Budget-beating Porsche Cayman 2.7 981C Coupe

Anything but basic, the entry-level 981 Cayman delivers a huge number of smiles to the mile without breaking the bank, making it one of the Porsche scene's best buys...


Words Robert Smith

Photography Thomas Fawdry


BUYING 981 CAYMAN 2.7

Fast fun in budget-beating coupe.


By the time of the 981-generation Cayman's arrival in 2012, Porsche's calculated merging of 911 and Boxster assembly lines had radically cut the cost of vehicle production and, crucially, helped the company to return to financial stability. Many saw the 986 and the 987 as much 'lesser' sports cars than the 911, but the 981 presented a different story. Certainly, by the time of 981 Spyder and GT4 production, the Boxster/Cayman twins had finally branched out on their own.


Budget-beating Porsche Cayman 2.7 981C Coupe

When the 991 was released at the back end of 2011, Porsche ownership was immediately opened up to a much wider group of sports car enthusiasts, a consequence of this generation of 911 introducing a higher number of driver aids, including electronically assisted steering. Where the 997 and earlier 911s would punish their pilot for not concentrating, the 991 made allowances for driver error. Porsche purists didn't see this as a positive character trait, but it was one which saw the 991 find favour with a new sales audience — the 991 went on to become the most successful of all 911s.


Budget-beating Porsche Cayman 2.7 981C Coupe - interior

The same electronic trickery, including an electronically linked parking brake, was carried over to the 981 Boxster/Cayman, which inherited many of its looks from the 991 and the 918 plug-in hybrid supercar. A 4.6-inch full-colour TFT touchscreen sat proud in the centre of the dash, while a variety of sensors relayed live engine operating information back to the driver in a clear, concise manner. Even the entry-level 981 Cayman — as seen here — developed 261bhp and 207lb-ft torque, more than enough for bouts of spirited driving along twisty B-roads and coastal highways, where the Boxster/Cayman's mid-engine layout really comes into its own.


Budget-beating Porsche Cayman 2.7 981C Coupe

We popped along to the Suffolk headquarters of independent Porsche sales, maintenance, restoration and servicing specialist, PIE Performance (pieperformance.co.uk), to spend time with the beautiful PDK-equipped 2013 Aqua Blue Metallic 981 Cayman 2.7 seen on these pages. Company boss, Chris Lansbury, talked us through the merits of modern Boxster/Cayman ownership, as well as what to look out for if buying a base model 981. Good luck and happy hunting!


BODY

Remarkable. Where the 2.5-litre 986 Boxster was criticised for feeling underpowered, the 2.7-litre 981 (itself a Boxster/Cayman starting point) feels altogether sprightly. Perhaps this is down to the car's low body weight, its low drag coefficient or the fact its engine is, in fact, a scaled down version of the 3.4-litre flat-six found in the 981 Boxster/Cayman S? Whatever the reason, the 981's high-end trim, amazing overall specification and glorious looks make the beautiful blue Cayman at PIE Performance feel anything but entry-level. Surely, there must be a catch?


Budget-beating Porsche Cayman 2.7 981C Coupe

«Not really,» laughs PIE head honcho, Chris Lansbury. «By the time the 981 was ready for release, Porsche had refined and improved the Boxster/Cayman concept to the point it was, in many respects, simplified.» The Boxster's retractable roof is a prime example of what he's talking about. «Previous Boxsters featured a clam shell, which should sit flush when the roof is hidden within. If the part's gear mechanism isn't lubricated sufficiently, the clam top won't shut properly and may sit proud. In contrast, the 981's roof folds into the back of the cabin. It's a much more straightforward and more efficient system with no problems to report.»

Even the oldest production 981 has seen little more than a decade on the road. Combined with modern automotive manufacturing techniques and anti-rust measures, this means finding body corrosion anywhere on a 981 is largely unheard of. With this in mind, evidence of poor panel gaps, difference in shades of paint between sections of the car and any sign of body damage needs to be considered carefully — you may be looking at a Cayman that's suffered an accident.

As mentioned elsewhere in this issue, all generations of Boxster/Cayman have been big sellers, so don't be afraid to walk away if you sense something amiss — there are plenty more 981s to choose from.

«The 981 is still new enough for problems associated with high mileage or major wear not to have presented themselves,» says Chris. «Rear lights can accumulate condensation,» he says, «but as a priority, make sure all of the car's paintwork is free of damage, ensure the extendable rear wing works and check for tears or nicks in a Boxster's roof, which can be expensive to replace.»


IDENTITY

The easiest way to correctly verify the identity of the 981 you're looking at is to check its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which can be found at the base of the windscreen and stamped into the chassis under a flap in the carpet flap ahead of the offside front seat. A sticker on the driver's side door jamb will also display the VIN. Make sure it matches what’s printed on the V5.

Also, spend a tenner at mycarcheck.com, where you can download a history report outlining any insurance claims, change of registration number, recorded mileage and whether there is any outstanding finance on the Cayman you're looking at. You should also enter the vehicle’s details into the DVLA’s online MOT database (visit bit.ly/dvlamot), a service which will return all passes, failures and advisories registered as far back as records are stored. Additionally, take advantage of the Suncoast Parts VIN decoder (check it out at bit.ly/suncoastdecoder), which will provide you with a Porsche-specific build sheet for just $10. This document will let you know exactly how the car left the factory, including model specification and any individual equipment optioned. We've lost track of the number of Porsche owners who have discovered their car makes use of a special feature they only found out about after ordering this report. Make no mistake, it is money well spent.


ENGINE

«The 2.7-litre 981 Cayman and 3.4-litre 981 Cayman S feature excellent engines,» Chris says. «That said, cam timing solenoid valves can be problematic. There are two on each bank and we recommend replacing them in pairs on a single side, even if only one is at fault. There is, however, no need to replace all four parts unless your 981 registers a problem on each bank, which is unlikely. If you do find yourself faced with the need to replace all four items, budget three hours labour in addition to the cost of parts.» Routine servicing must be observed every 20,000 miles or at least once a year, even if the car doesn't rack up much in the way of mileage.

The 2.7-litre engine may be down on power when compared to the Cayman S's 3.4-litre flat-six (261bhp versus 311bhp), but the difference isn't as noticeable as many of you might imagine. This isn't to say you should buy a base 981 if your goal is to secure the last word in performance, but the 2.7-litre boxer features revised pistons, adjusted variable valve timing and updated airflow equipment combining with kerb weight of just 1,377kg (when equipped with a manual gearbox) to deliver a quick car, offering a zero to sixty time of just 5.4 seconds and topping out at a respectable 164mph. Despite smaller displacement, the base 981 Cayman is more powerful than its predecessor (the 2.9-litre 987 Gen II 2).

«The standard 981 tailpipe is a single outlet,» explains Chris. «If possible, get hold of a 981 Cayman with the optional Sport exhaust, as can be seen on our car.» The upgraded pipework isn't going to add a stack of ponies to the host Porsche's output, but it will sharpen throttle response and activate a racier exhaust note when the centre console's Sport button is pushed, transforming the character of the 981 Boxster for the better. Service history from Porsche Centres and independent specialists, such as PIE Performance, is something you should place at the top of your Cayman wish list.


BRAKES, SUSPENSION AND TRANSMISSION

The 2.7-litre 981 Cayman was offered with a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed PDK semi-automatic dual clutch transmission. It's of paramount importance the PDK system is treated to fresh lubricant at Porsche's recommended service intervals (every six years). Check the book pack and service history of the PDK-equipped car you're looking at to ensure this maintenance has been observed. PDK was a £1,900 option, so expect to pay a premium for cars loaded with the system. Clutches should last at least 60k miles before they need to be replaced, costing upwards of £1,000.

«At the risk of sounding like a stuck record,» Chris smiles, «there really isn't anything to report as far as 981 suspension and braking equipment is concerned. Brakes are traditional, reliable, quality Porsche parts. For this reason, I wouldn't recommend using anything other than OEM discs and pads. That said, the inside face of rotors can corrode.» As outlined elsewhere in this issue of 911 & Porsche World, this is a long-standing problem evident since the first-generation Boxster. «Rubber suspension bushes can fail, and we've had to change a couple of 981 rear hub assemblies, but beyond usual wear and tear, the 981 has proved itself resilient and reliable in all areas.»

Pandemic-caused lockdowns promoted the trend of buying Porsches remotely, often without test drives or even looking at the car in the metal. If you're going to engage in this practice, we strongly advise you to commission PIE Performance (or the car's nearest recognised marque specialist) to carry out a thorough pre-purchase inspection. The resulting documentation will outline not only the car's true condition, but also details of any parts which may need to be replaced in the short term. Only then will you know if the Cayman you're thinking of buying is correctly priced. For example, parts and labour for renewal of braking components will set you back the best part of £1,000. Make sure the price you pay for the car reflects any additional spend you'll be faced with at the point the Porsche lands on your driveway.


INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

The 981's interior feels completely modern, even today. PIE Performance's Cayman 2.7 features attractive black leather, complementing the bright blue paintwork. «The materials Porsche used for 981 interiors are incredibly robust, but be mindful of possible driver's seat bolster wear,» Chris warns. «The only real complaint we've come across is weak switchgear. Specifically, the electric window switches, door mirror switches and heater control switches become brittle and can snap. The electrics themselves cause no problems, although dash warning lights suggesting otherwise can be triggered by a battery running low voltage. On this topic, we've received 981s on the back end of Porsche Centres incorrectly diagnosing a major fault. Owners can be asked to pay for expensive replacement parts, when the problem is simply a duff battery and the need to extinguish fault codes.» Needless to say, if you don't intend to drive the car daily, it's a good idea to keep your 981 connected to a trickle charger, avoiding low battery voltage during periods of rest.

Scuttle drains can get blocked over time, especially on a 981 left standing outside for extended periods. It's essential these are regularly cleaned, else rainwater will flood the scuttle pan and litres of water will seep behind the dashboard. «Damp will play havoc with some of the 981's electrical systems if the scuttle is left unmonitored,» continues Chris. «If fitted, the factory tracking system is particularly susceptible to error, causing alerts to be sent to the company responsible for monitoring the whereabouts and safety of the car.»

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