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lots and lots of words
I was asked to send thoughts to a guy writing the buyers guide on Pistonheads for Caymans, this was my reply which covers a lot of things about Caymans gleaned from experience and research. Some of this following is quite subjective and I can be a bit opinionated (as warned on the front page of these blogs). That stuff should be fairly obvious and you can ignore it accordingly.
The problem that is most hyped and scares people the most with a early watercooled flat-6 is IMS (Intermediate shaft) bearing failure. It's onset can be heard as a rattle at idle. It's an engine destroyer and will require a complete rebuild or even a new engine if it lets go. That said, all Caymans have the later 'upgraded' / non-serviceable IMS bearing. The bearing is indeed stronger, but not infallible. To date, there have been no reports of a 2.7 trashing it's IMS bearing. But it's still a possibility on all models fitted with an IMS.
In 2009 the genII cars came along. These engines don't have an intermediate shaft to fail which irradicates the issue. However the early 2.9's were prone to bore scoring due to Porsche fitting bad liners in this case, and give Porsche their due, they sorted this on the 2.9 very quickly.
All Caymans tend to have a bit of smoke on start up, but just a bit and it should clear. Excessive smoke and oil use can be signs of bore scoring and you need to get them checked out as soon as possible if it's showing the symptoms. It's not an immediate engine destroyer, but it needs sorting and a rebuild will be on the cards.
The most susceptable model seems to be the Gen1 S (the largest number of reports have been on these) and Tiptronics. The early autos had a tendency to labour the engine and the Cayman doesn't like that, it's actually happier if you give it some beans. Labouring it is suspected to be one of the causes of bore scoring, so drive them as intended and not like a diesel.
The other issue is the rear main seal leaking. They all weep to a degree. If you start seeing a puddle under the car plus oil use, this will need sorting. If its just weeping a little and not dripping, wait until you need a new clutch and get it swapped then (whilst keeping an eye on your oil level). It's not a big issue as long as you're aware of it.
The sad thing with Porsche is that most water cooled flat six engines pre-2009 have inherent faults (911 and Boxster also, except the GT2/3 and Turbo models that use the Mezger block). It doesn't mean that they're all time bombs, but it does mean you have to be wary of them when it comes to buying. They definitely did some work to address the issues in 2007. Though the 2009+ cars (early 2.9's aside) are the safest bet.
That said, Baz from Hartech (reknowned Porsche engine builders/repairers/modifiers) has this to say about the 2.7 and why it's the toughest of the gen1 cars (pasted from a PH thread): "The 2.7 is more reliable because there is less heat generated at the piston crown, more space for coolant in the jacket, lower cylinder coolant and piston oil temperatures, higher oil viscosities, less pressure pushing the piston against the cylinder wall, and more owners choosing a 2.7 because top speed is not their main issue and therefore they are less likely to be thrashing the engine anyway. The cylinders are also more stable as they are of a smaller diameter but similar wall thickness."
Tracking Caymans can bring issues, most of which have solutions these days. The older engines only have two oil pickups and can suffer surge on track with sticky tyres. Also the power steering pump can overheat. There is a modified sump available and different pulley set that address these issues if you're wanting to do that. The genII DFI engine (Cayman S/R) has 4 oil pickups so is better in that respect, also the PAS was sorted. Not sure about the 2.9, but I'd assume that's the same.
The gen1 2007+ 2.7 with a manual box and bugger all options is a peach. However they ride hard if you go for anything larger than 17" wheels (larger wheels are purely an aesthetic choice). Bigger wheels on the 2.7 also ruin the handling. The extra width (205/235 vs 235/265) at the rear mainly. It increases grip, sure, but it also pushes the front on into understeer. It's not pleasant. With the standard 17's the 2.7 can be played with at it's much lower limits and it's really benign. Great turn in and you can kick the back end out with power.
I really do think the 2.7 is a perfect balance for our roads. However if you do want the more torquey engine, you will also get bigger front brakes. The 17s still fit, but will require spacers to get around them. If you must have the bigger wheels, it can be worth trying to get a car with PASM (Porsches adaptive dampers), in normal road settings this is slightly softer than the stock suspension and should get you some ride quality. The hard setting is so harsh it's useless.
Things changed with the genII cars. The ride is much better, though I'd still take the 2.9 with stock suspension and the 17" wheels. They also introduced an LSD as an option at this point, but didn't really mess with the suspension geometry to deal with it if you specced it, making the car understeer. The 2.9 doesn't need it anyhow, it has great traction out of corners without it and you really don't want to mess with that turn in. I also wouldn't spec it on an S as again, it's likely to bugger up the handling. You could however retro-fit the Cayman R suspension and geo settings which was designed with a LSD in mind and works quite marvellously.
Leading nicely on to the R. It's the track choice. It has the DFI engine, the PAS bits an LSD and GT3 buckets as standard. It's a little lighter than the S also, has bespoke suspension, and other bits and pieces. Essentially if you've got the brass and you want to punt a Cayman around track with as little hassle as possible, this is the one.
Porsche and options are very subjective, Sport Chrono seems to be one of the most contentious. With a later PDK gearbox it unlocks a bit of performance. Otherwise it's pointless. It allows a little more slip from traction control. Which I personally don't like the idea of someone relying on traction control to save them. Either leave it on, or if you have the skill and confidence, turn it off (though off isn't really off, which is annoying, much like the yellow warning light on the dash that you can't get rid of). Next it removes the soft limiter, so you instead slam into the hard limiter 500rpm later. Porsche says it unleashes more power, when in reality you should have changed gear already. Finally it sharpens the throttle map. It doesn't make it do anything different other than it means that you don't have to push the throttle as far to get the same effect. I find this irritating as I then have to re-calibrate how much I press the pedal.
From a driving point of view, the stock cars are pretty much spot on. However if you go for PDK try to find a car with Sport Chrono which un-cripples it, and the Sport Design wheel as the standard one is counter intuative by design. The sports exhaust is a nice to have but can be dealt with aftermarket. Everything else just really comes down to your planned use of the car, taste and how much you buy into the marketing BS.
Personally, the Goldilocks spec car for me would have been a Gen1 2.7, on 17's with PASM and the very, very rare 6 speed gearbox option. Climate, rear wipe and heated seats would be nice to have also, but that's just me.
They're surprisingly cheap to run for what they are. 24-26mpg average with 30+mpg possible on a motorway easily. Insurance is about half that of an Impreza and if you get a 2.7, pre-2005 3.2, or any genII car, the tax is about £280. The only one that gets stung by high tax is the 2005-2009 Cayman S. Servicing at independent specialists is very reasonable. However if you want to keep your warranty, you're tied to Official Porsche Centres (OPCs) and they will really bend you over for it. Servicing is every 2 years alternating between minor and major. At an OPC you'll be looking at around £500 and £1000 respectively. From an indie, around half those figures.
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