It’s not just the hills which are alive – the roads can be enjoyed once again by those of us lucky enough to get behind the wheel of something tasty. Just the other week, I found myself in just such a situation in one of my personal favourite places around Torridon.
As a wee boy, still in shorts and displaying my skinned knees on my Raleigh bike, I enjoyed many happy summer family holidays in the village of Annat, gazing out from our gas-lit and wood-panelled rental cottage to the towering majesties of Beinn Alligan and Liathach. I was there the year they carved out the road along the south side of the loch from the village through the jungle of rhodedendrons and over the hills to Shieldaig. Never could I have imagined that, almost half a century on, I’d be driving the same road at the wheel of a fabulous machine which felt so much at home in the Highlands.
The new Porsche Cayman is the third generation of the two-seater mid-engined coupe which has been around only since 2005 but has carved out a reputation as a real driver’s car, slotting between the marque’s entry-level Boxster and the classic 911. Following on from the revamp of those two, the designers and engineers in Stuttgart have taken the Cayman and redeveloped it from the ground up.
The styling is much more significant, sharing some of the new touches in its brothers, such as the delicate wing stretching across the rear lights. More importantly, it is up to 30kg lighter, 40 per cent stiffer in its body with more powerful yet 15 per cent more efficient flat-six engines. It’s a real looker – the previous model was no ugly duckling either, but this new one’s longer wheelbase, wider track and shorter overhangs with large wheels give it a real presence on the road.
It’s behind the wheel, though, that this car comes alive, and all of these changes, combined with the stability that comes from the engine lying in the middle of the car, make it a fabulous performer on even the most demanding of roads. Which brings me back to Torridon, or specifically my all-time favourite, most dramatic and at 2,054 feet, one of the highest roads in Britain, the Bealach na Ba – the Pass of the Cattle – to Applecross. The single track has the greatest climb of any road in Britain, with gradients of almost 20 per cent and some of the tightest hairpins you’re ever likely to encounter in this country.
My first encounter with this road was a few years ago when, only a couple of miles into the trip, I disappeared into the clouds. With virtually no visibility, it took all my concentration to stay on the single track. I was also deprived of the stunning views over to Raasay and Skye. On the other hand, I was unaware of the breathtaking drops just feet from the roadside. This time in the Cayman, the conditions were bitterly cold but crystal clear and I was able to soak up the landscape while putting this great piece of machinery through its paces.
The car has traditional rear wheel drive and there’s a choice of two engines, a 2.7-litre with 275 hp in the standard Cayman and a 3.4-litre with a very useful 325 hp which was in the Cayman S test car. It had a six-speed manual box but both versions are available with Porsche’s doppelkupplungsgetriebe twin-clutch automatic transmission which, thankfully, is referred to as the much simpler PDK.
Standard equipment on both models is comprehensive, with larger wheels, bi-xenon headlights and partial leather seats in the S and on top of that there’s a range of options to make life just that little bit more comfortable and, in some cases, exciting, like the automatic throttle blip which helps smoother changes in the manual box but also creates a lovely rasp at the back end.
What makes the Cayman different from the other members of the family is the increased luggage capacity. As the engine is buried in the heart of the car, that leaves useful loadspace under the bonnet and bootlid. OK, this is a car for someone who enjoys driving with spirit, but you’ve still got to have somewhere for your overnight bag or your partner’s nick-nacks when you’re away for the weekend.
Another bonus is that every buyer qualifies for a complimentary course at the Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone. Frankly, I’d rather put it to the test in Torridon.
CAR Porsche Cayman S
PRICE £48,783 (£59,513 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Top speed 175 mph. 0-62 mph 5 secs
MPG (combined) 32
CO2 EMISSIONS 206 g/km