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First drive: 2012 Porsche Cayman R

October 6, 2011 |  9:21 am

Front_sideKeats has his "Ode to a Nightingale." Pope has his "Ode on Solitude." And Porsche now has its "Ode to the Sports Car."

Subtitle: "The Cayman R."

Rolling some 244 miles onto the odometer of a $78,150 version recently demonstrated that this car is easily the most raw, honest and condensed Porsche I’ve driven. It’s an homage, an oratorio to the days when sports cars were loud, uncompromisingly carnal articulations of testosterone that bullied you into driving fast and dramatically.

Photos: 2012 Porsche Cayman R

It beat me up, mussed my hair and left me sweating and short of breath. Yet like a poster child for automotive Stockholm syndrome, none of that ever bothered me.

But I wouldn’t submit myself to that on a daily basis.


The Cayman R is based on the slightly-aging Cayman S, to which it adds power and subtracts weight. This latest bottle rocket uses aluminum in the doors; lighter, more uncomfortable, carbon-fiber backed seats; lightweight, 19-inch alloy wheels and the omission of niceties like air conditioning (hence my sweating) and a stereo, though said accoutrement can be added if the buyer desires.

The result is a curb weight 121 pounds lighter than the S; a Cayman R with a six-speed manual transmission weighs 2,855 pounds, while one with the $3,660 seven-speed dual-clutch Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) gearbox is 2,910 pounds.

Porsche then takes the same six-cylinder, direct-injected 3.4-liter boxer engine and pulls an additional 10 horsepower out of it, for a total 330, with the same 273 pound-feet of torque.

The result is a zero-to-60 time of 4.7 seconds with the manual transmission and 4.6 seconds with the PDK, despite the fact that the manual is 55 pounds lighter.

Add the $960 Sport Chrono Package to the PDK and the corresponding launch control feature drops the zero-to-60 time to a scant 4.4 seconds.

Other changes include lowering the body by almost an inch, re-tuning the suspension and adding a fixed rear spoiler. These additions incur a $4,200 premium over the Cayman S, meaning its R counterpart starts at a cool $67,250, including destination charge. Gas mileage is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway, though over my 244 miles, I averaged 16.3 mpg.

In addition to the PDK and sport chrono package, the Peridot Metallic (must be French for "Kermit the Frog green") version I tested had on it the $2,810 Sports Exhaust option. This feature adds a small button to the dashboard that when engaged, opens up the system to let even more of that raucous flat-six sound wash over R occupants and those whom have fallen prey to the Cayman R’s voluminous passing abilities.

Buttons like these should be mandatory on every car on the market, from Accents to Zondas. As any weekend warrior motorcycle club will tell you, the fun you’re having with your toys is directly proportional to the veracity of your sound waves as they overwhelm the minivan in the next lane.


Mix all these elements together and throw the Cayman R at a road and the result is a tightly wound, manic little bullet.

The car’s power comes on smooth and strong; with no turbos to wait for, you have power at your command and it’s always delivered with a responsive confidence.

The steering has the reassuring weight you want in a car with capabilities such as these, but it is also twitchy, almost hyperactive. Toss the R into a corner, and you get out exactly what you put in, though should you put in too much, quick corrections with the throttle are allowed rather than punished.

As with other Porsche’s featuring the PDK transmission, drivers can choose among three shift settings that each dial up the system’s responsiveness and pull the shift points higher in the RPM band. As says the T-shirt, Normal was boring; I was happiest in Sport mode for daily driving.

Sport Plus wound the car up to such a degree that only in the most spirited driving situations did I engage it (think upshifts past the 7,000 rpm mark). Had I taken it on a track this is certainly the setting you’d want to keep it in. The shifts engage with true supercar speed, smacking the back of your head with the headrests like an angry nun in math class.

The only odd part about Sport Plus was that it was possible for the transmission to run into its own rev limiter when it was in automatic mode (though any time you’ll be using Sport Plus, you’ll want to be shifting manually with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles or the shifter itself).

The Cayman R is indeed stiffly sprung (be sure to keep the sport suspension setting off for daily driving), but the well-calibrated system doesn’t bottom out on big dips like the Lotus Evora S will.

Ah yes, the Evora S. The reason I wouldn’t choose the Cayman R as my daily driver.

In my review of that Lotus, I mentioned that it was difficult for me to compare it to the Cayman R (Porsche’s closest offering to the Evora S since they have the same mid-engine layout and similar power-to-weight ratios and price tags) since I hadn’t spent any real time in the Cayman to make a fair comparison.

Now that I have, I can say without equivocation that if you’re looking for one car to serve as your daily driver and also your hoon-tool on weekends at the track or rural roads, the more forgiving, calm and comfortable Evora S is your best bet. It’s lithe, fast and better-looking; a hedge fund manager’s style on a CPA’s salary.

Photos: 2012 Porsche Cayman R

But if you’re the hedge fund manager himself and have a bank account that will accommodate a toy largely reserved for the track or select weekend jaunts on lost roads, head for the Cayman R and write your own ode.


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--David Undercoffler

Photos: 2012 Porsche Cayman R. Credit: David Undercoffler / Los Angeles Times