Friday, 15 December 2006

The Joy of Specs


I managed to write most of this on a plane coming back from a US business trip so it has the benefit of spontaneity and inaccuracy (my friend google wasn’t handy to check stuff).

Part of the ‘fun’ of buying a new car is in what the manufacturers refer to as ‘personalising’ – deciding what colours, materials and other options you want included in your own particular example.

I like to think of it as man-shopping, and like the lady kind, its an opportunity to spend lots of time debating the merits of various features with your mates. If you don’t believe me, head over to the forum at www.caymanclub.net , search for ‘options’ and count the hits.

One reason is that there are pages and pages of options for every Porsche in the range. Clearly this is a massive money-spinner for the company - ticking every box on the list easily adds 50% to the price and probably a lot more to the profit margin. However it adds much less to the driving experience and options depreciate like mad, so less is more when is comes to value. To be fair to Porsche, within limits its possible to have your car in boulevardier aka pimp’s wheel’s spec, hard core sportster, every day driver, mobile entertainment system and everything in between.

There’s also a lot of guff talked about “essential” extra’s without which your car will be is practically unsellable in the future. Pundits typically add sat-nav and metallic paint to this list. Well you could order your car for the next owner, but I’d rather order it for me. Also as I was working to a sensible budget I needed to keep things under control, and I’d rather spend money on going faster/driver better that posing. And our £300 Garmin Nuvi does a great job of map reading when we need it.

First off; colour. Painting their cars in all those nice metallic paints on their cars costs Porsche money. I’d estimate about €25. By the time it gets delivered that means £600 added to your bill for a one of the usual metallics, and £1500 for a 'special' colour; usually another exciting shade of grey. In the past I’ve bought whole cars for less than that. The std (i.e. ‘free’) solid colours are red, yellow, back and white. Great choice.

Now it seems to me that almost every modern Porsche you see on the road is either grey, silver, silvery grey, grey-ey silver, black or silvery black. With some dark blue for frivolous variety. In most cases these non-colours don’t suit the cars, and its interesting to see that the lastest, greatest (and £95k) GT3RS is only available in lairy 70’s greens and oranges. Lets hope that heralds a return to more brightness on the roads, but anyway I haven’t ordered a GT3RS.

Of the solid colours, black is the safest, but it’s a bugger to keep clean. And I know - I spent a lot of time in the past washing and polishing a black Ford Escort RS turbo and Porsche 944 turbo. Black cars absorb heat in the summer, and returning to a sweatbox on wheels on a hot days isn’t much fun. Red is a little too mid-life-crisis-sportscar/wannabe Ferrari, and yellow reminds me a little too much of baby emissions. So that leaves white. Forgetting the hopeful ‘white is the new black’ (or silver) hype, the more I thought about a white Porsche the better it sounded. Here are some random reasons for choosing a white car:

There aren’t many around in the UK (vans don’t count, ok?), just a few new Golf Git’s and old minicabs. Even police cars are silver now.
Lots of great Porsche’s are white; from 996 GT3RS’s to the immortal ’73 911 2.7RS.
All the great Piech era racing Porsches were white; 907/908/910/917/961*/956/962 etc.
Its faster because its lighter (see 3. above).
Well OK, maybe.
My dad’s 924 was white

See? It’s a no-brainer.

Well actually it was an agonise-over-for-weeks-er, even the sales guy said it looked great but was the kiss of death at re-sale time, but what the hell, you’re only middle aged once.

Second-off interior. Porsche want £700 for leather seats. Except in Porsche’s case the only leather you get for £700 covers the bits you sit on, i.e. not the back of the seat ,which is a petroleum derived leatherette, just like our 1967 Ford Cortina 1.6 deluxe. Leather seat backs come with ‘full leather’ in natural - £2700 - or not-natural(don’t ask me) for £1600. And if you want the whole car interior leathered (like the steering column, centre console etc.) add another £2000 or so.

Most cars get at least some optional skin, but Porsche rummaged around the back of their workshop and found some off-cut alcantara and more 60's vintage leatherette for the tight-wads. So that’s what you get for ‘free’(or £36,500).
Well, it doesn’t burn your legs in the summer, freeze you in winter or slide you off in corners. And they keep your arse off the floor, and are available in black, so they’ll do me fine.

Now the important bits. Some real old Porsche-style engineering has gone into the suspension, they call it Prosche Active Suspension Management or PASM. Its involves electrickery dampers that can be adjusted on the fly, ranging from race-track stiff to everyday comfy - just like the Selecta-ride on cars in the 50’s. Except nowadays the car’s on-board computer can adjust the settings by itself as well, so if you suddenly find yourself in the mood for hooning around a couple of corners it’ll stiffen up, but if the road gets very bumpy it’ll soften up. Of course you can select the hard setting for those rare occasions when you find youself on a quiet one-way street with a smooth surface and interesting bends. In the UK we call these ‘racetracks’. Brilliant idea, a car that changes it’s mood like me. This option is about £1,000. For an extra £400 they’ll throw in an additional gear making, 6 in total just like a VW Polo 1.4 diesel. Or indeed my old (15) 968Clubsport - who say’s there’s no such thing as progress? That’s the first box ticked then.

Next; wheels. There’s a school of thinking that says bigger the better. All the show and road test cars have the biggest available, and I’ve seen poor little hatchbacks bouncing along with the biggest wheels that will (or won’t) fit into the wheel arches. Now modern cars need room behind wheels for big brakes, but other than that its all downsides. Big wheels are heavy, and heavy wheels equal lots of un-sprung weight. Now as the great St Colin of Norfolk would tell you, un-sprung weight is very, very bad. Without getting too technical, it stops the suspension from suspending, leading to a jiggly, uncontrolled ride, an increase in road noise, and takes away steering feel and responsiveness.

Now for some folks, (probably the type who like to be able to throw a Porsche key into the pot at their housewarming party) that’s fine as long as it looks good. For us dwindling band of wheelmen, anything that detracts from the purity of the steer is bad news. Luckily, Porsche throw in skinny little lightweight 17” wheels with your base Cayman.

Perfect.

Except they’re damn skinny, and not only are the Cayman S’s 18” wheels and tyres still pretty light, but they put another 30mm of rubber onto the road at each corner. The demo car I drove had them and rode ok, and they’re easy to clean. So at £700 that’s another box ticked.

I’ll get some smaller ones if it ever gets cold enough here to need winter tyres.

Rather oddly, the standard Cayman steering wheel looks like it came off a Routemaster. Its huge, has an ugly great boss, and a thin rim. Steering wheel feel is are hugely important – mainly because it’s the one thing you’re grabbing most of the time . My old Audi A2 was lovely, but its nasty plastic steering wheel was the single worst thing about it. For once ticking this box is relatively painless at £146, so that’s a smaller, fatter, nicer steering wheel added to the shopping list.

I spent quite a bit of time wondering about the Sport Chrono option. Its most obvious feature is the big stop watch sitting on top of the dash like a “carbuncle on the face of an old friend”. But it has hidden depths. The clever blokes at Wiessach (Porsche’s skunk works) have made it an ADHD** feature; with a button that adds pep to the throttle map, puts the suspension into hoon mode and loosens the corsets of the electronic safety nannies. You also can use the carbuncle to time yourself on the race to work, or on your death-defying Nordscleife laps. This and PASM gives you a real schizophrenic ride to match one’s ever changing moods

Some time after finalising my specification I discovered that these are two of the Caymanclub.net sporty crowd’s most popular options. Nice to see some validation of one’s choices!

Last year the Porsche car company made €2B. They made 100,000 cars, so on average they made €20,000 on each car built. Ok, I know they have other revenue streams, but that makes them the most profitable car company in the world by about the length of the Mulsanne Straight. They do this by building desirable cars very efficiently and by selling them at a premium price.

They also don’t give very much away. I give you - “Automatic climate control”, a feature that means you set your desired temperature and the system maintains that temperature independent of the car’s speed, ambient temperature, direct sunlight etc. This presumably involves a sensor or two and a bit of software in the heating control system. Its cheap to do, so has been standard equipment on just about every mid-range saloon for the past 10 years. Except Porsche, who want 308 miserable pounds for the same thing. Stingy bastards.

So that’s it: no fancy sound system, no sat nav, no rear washwipe, no xenon head lights, no paint, leather, big wheels, carbon or wood interior trim.

Lets hope it meets up to its billing!
*obscure but I saw it race
** Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; very fashionable amongst the parents of poorly behaved children

1 comment:

k-mans said...

Nice write up, you should cross post it at http://www.caymanclub.net !