Let me declare an interest. I have a serious fixation with the Porsche Cayman. Forget your 911s or supercars – the Cayman is what I trot out when I’m often asked what is my dream car. I just struggle to see how I’d want more power, more speed, more handling delicacy – or expense – in my life than the sublime mid-engined Porsche coupe can serve up. The earliest models are nudging £20k now, and even Porsche approved used Caymans with a two-year warranty kick off at £25k.
Which means the Porsche Cayman R we test here could be manna from heaven for me. What’s not to like about a Cayman that’s been packed off to the gym for a work-out? One that’s lost 55kg of heft thanks to the addition of aluminium GT3 doors, lightweight 19in alloys and stripped bucket seats, not to mention the subtraction of air-con, radio and full-sized fuel tank (the Cayman R’s is a scant 54 litres).
Don't forget you can read our cover story in the April 2011 issue of CAR Magazine, where we pit the Cayman R against the Lotus Evora S, BMW M3 and Nissan GT-R.
Porsche Cayman R: the tech changes
It’s not just a stripped-out hotrod, there are mechanical upgrades galore to transform the Cayman S into R. The 3.4-litre flat six copies the treatment given to the Boxster Spyder, with power upped by 10bhp to 326bhp at 7400rpm while torque swells to 273lb ft at 4750rpm. We first drove the Cayman R in Germany with the seven-speed PDK twin-clutch transmission, but we’ve now tested it in the UK with the boggo six-speed manual. Time to serve up a second first drive review then.
Which transmission should you go for? Having ascertained just how good the standard manual ’box is, we’d struggle to recommend the £2141 PDK option which shaves 0.1sec from the 0-62mph time. Our testers reported the twin-clutch gearbox seamlessly mixed cruising and back-road forays, and now at last features paddles rather than that terrible push-button gearchange, so you can actually flick-flack around the ratios without writing instructions on your knuckles.
The manual ’box has well judged ratios and a pleasingly mechanical feel to its selection; like all Porsche self-shifters, there’s a slight sensation that the lever shifts around the top of a ball – a bit like my old 1980s ZX Spectrum joystick – but you quickly get used to it. The clutch pedal is a cinch to use; one tester warned of the lack of a strong detent on reverse.
How does the Porsche Cayman R drive?
Brilliantly. It’s hard not to concur with our original first drive review verdict where we awarded it five stars. This two-seater steers, points, goes and stops brilliantly, magnifying the regular Cayman’s strengths.
The Cayman R is dropped 20mm and has revised suspension settings, plus an LSD is fitted as standard. Traction is strong and it responds instantly to flicks of the wrist; not quite the immediacy or delicacy of a Lotus Evora, but there’s precious little in it. The Cayman is just so agile, so poised; it might offend 911 purists but for the majority I suspect its more balanced mid-engined layout just makes it more accessible and less risky. It’s compact and easy to see out of, too. I like that.
The flat six engine is strong and well mannered: tractable and well behaved at lower revs, so you can pootle around in surprisingly high gears around town. But blip down the box (the pedals encourage such cog-swapping) and there’s a bark to its bite. I love the mechanical timbre inches behind your left ear, brought to you in Dolby clarity with the optional £1465 sports exhaust.
Those yellow callipers on our car give away the optional £5463 carbon brakes. Pricey maybe, but they deliver neck-snapping deceleration and have perhaps the best feel of any ceramic-equipped car I’ve ever driven. Then again, regular Porsche rotors are among the best anchors in the business. We wouldn’t bother unless you regularly drop in to track days. I mean, five-and-a-half grand on big brakes? Get real.
Are there any chinks in its armour? Only one. That lowered suspension and 235/35 ZR19 (front) and 265/35 ZR19 (rear) tyres conspire to make the Cayman R bobble and bounce over all but the smoothest roads. Sadly in the UK, that means too many B-roads will make the car hop around. Only fixed dampers are offered on the R, no adaptive ones are available like they are on lesser Caymen. The R’s ride does settle at speed, but we prefer the regular models on smaller wheels.
Porsche Cayman R: the sensible stuff
The Cayman is a strict two-seater; you’ll have to upgrade to a 911 if you need +2 occasional rear pews. But it’s a remarkably practical package. With the engine slung amidships, you get a deep, square front boot like in a 911, and then there’s the practical hatchback which lifts to reveal a reasonable second boot in the back, a storage net above the engine and numerous cubby holes. You’ll easily do the shopping in it, or even a romantically packed long weekend (ie all her clothes and none of yours).
The Cayman R has a fettled interior, most notably the presence of those lightweight bucket seats. Once you’ve cleared their higher wings, they prove remarkably comfy despite only sliding back and forth and do a great job of gripping you in place. Just watch out if you’re wider of girth. I’m no big fan of the bright red seatbelts, too much 1980s throwbacks. And the matching red door pulls are just pointless, no? I’m not convinced the grammes saved are worth the hassle of yanking to open the doors. One yank to unlock; another to release the catch – and they’re damn stiff.
Thanks to its diet – the gaping cubbies in the dashboard where the radio and sat-nav would normally sit are constant reminders – the Cayman R is remarkably efficient for a sports car knocking on the door of supercar performance. It’s cleaner than the Cayman S, with 29.1mpg and 228g/km of CO2. The PDK is fractionally cleaner still. In normal driving we saw 25mpg on the trip, dropping to around 22-24mpg during faster cross-country work.
There’s a brilliant unburstable quality to the Cayman. The build feels substantial inside and out, and the controls bristle with Germanic precision. It’s such a sensible proposition as well as a thrilling, visceral one. Not many cars combine that. It has a few flaws, granted: the stripped-out spec may appeal to pub bores more than in the real world; the ride is choppy on many British back roads; some interior trim is garish; and there’s a nagging worry that Porsche used to position Club Sport models at the bottom of the range, as affordable entry points. The R is stripped out (reinserting air-con will cost you £1040) yet costs more than any other Cayman. Kerrching.
I’ve owned up to a predilection for Caymans, so the R should be a shoo-in. It’s one of the few cars that I’ve driven recently where I snuck out late at night for a long, hard drive on deserted roads, its adaptive swivelling headlamps turning night into day. As the Cayman R stood there cooling in the black, ticking away, I realised this is a brilliant car. Yet I still have to agree with many of the CAR Online faithful who argue for picking the regular Cayman S and speccing it up or down accordingly. The R is like a concentrated hit of your favourite food, drink or chemical. You can have too much of a good thing, don’t you know.
>> See the Porsche Cayman R take on the Lotus Evora S, BMW M3 and Nissan GT-R in the April 2011 issue of CAR Magazine