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What I think: 2012 Porsche Cayman R

09 Feb

Despite bearing the name of one of the world’s most respected sports car manufacturers, the Porsche Cayman is arguably the car that best combines track-happy performance, day-to-day driveability and fuel economy. The Cayman S has a 320-horsepower engine and posts a zero-to-100 km/h time of less than five seconds, and yet boats fuel consumption estimates to rival some family sedans and an easy-driving nature well-suited to the rush-hour slog.

Porsche is a company with little to prove, but the point of the Cayman R (which you’ve seen previously, in this post) is that, as easy-driving as many of its sports cars are, they are ultimately not designed with commuting to work and trips to the grocery store in mind. This car, more than most, is built for a racetrack, pure and simple.

Certainly, it is street legal, and can easily enough be used as a daily driver. You may want to think twice about that, however, after you’ve pretzeled your way behind the wheel, into a heavily-bolstered racing seat. The seats are surprisingly comfortable (they definitely don’t look it), but there’s no graceful way to get in or out of them, and it’s worth considering that only those with narrow behinds need apply.

Weight-saving measures like eliminating the radio and air conditioning (both are optional), reduced sound insulation and fabric pulls in place of interior door handles, and aluminum door skins shave about 25 kg (55 lbs) from the car’s curb weight. A lowered suspension and aerodynamic tweaks improve the car’s high-speed stability, while a limited-slip differential puts power to pavement as efficiently as possible. Oh, and speaking of power, the Cayman R’s 3.4-litre engine makes 330 horsepower, 10 more than the Cayman S (the base Cayman gets 265 from its 2.9-litre motor). The extra power and reduced weight combine to cut 0.2 seconds off the car’s zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time.

The Cayman R’s fuel consumption estimates are 14 L/100 km in city driving, and 6.6 L/100 km on the highway. My tester averaged 11.1 L/100 km in mostly highway cruising, a solid figure, given the frigid weather during my week-long test.

This car reminds you just how well most other cars (including other versions of the Cayman) insulate their occupants from mechanical sounds. Noise from the engine and suspension reverberates through the cabin, so that having a conversation with your passenger – sitting a foot away – at normal voice levels is almost impossible.

My tester had Porsche’s PDK (a much-appreciated acronym of the German for Porsche’s dual-clutch transmission), a seven-speed gearbox that electronically controls gear selection and the engagement of the two clutches. I love shifting a manual transmission, but this is a compelling piece of mechanics that makes the car easier to drive fast at its limits. The $1,690 Sport Chrono package adds driver-selectable Sport and Sport+ drive modes that bring quicker, harder shifts and more aggressive throttle response (plus a classy-looking stopwatch, for timing track laps, atop the dash). Porsche says that in Sport+ mode, the PDK-equipped Cayman R is 0.3 seconds faster to 100 km/h than with the manual gearbox. Automatic shifting is the PDK’s default, but it can be controlled manually either with the shift lever or shift paddles behind the steering wheel.

In spite of a ride height 20 mm (almost an inch) lower than other Caymans, the R rides comfortably enough over most surfaces. The steering’s tendency for following pavement is common to all Porsche sports cars; close attention and frequent course corrections are imperative, especially as speeds increase.

Driving a car like this (seen previously in this post in snowy January puts restrictions on what aspects of a car’s performance can be tested. I’ve driven Caymans and Boxsters in kinder conditions, and know that they’re fast and handle like little else at a similar price point; you’d need a racetrack and a better driver than me to find concrete proof that the Cayman R is faster and handles better than its lesser siblings.

It’s more to the point to tell you that this car is a handful in snow, and more so in the awful slushy mess that city streets turn into while it’s falling. You’ll be grateful for this car’s stability and traction control systems, both of which work admirably to keep the car moving in a straight line (and, as happened to me a couple of times during my week, moving at all). If free wheelspin is preferable (it is, sometimes), the electronic aids can be turned off, but the result of that is a car that oversteers eagerly, given the chance and a lack of traction. But even all of this is moot, because inasmuch as most Porsches are year-round cars, I suspect most Cayman R owners would store theirs during the winter months.

Cayman R pricing begins at $75,600, $4,700 more than the next-best Cayman S. To that, Porsche added more than $10,000 worth of options, including bi-xenon headlights ($1,780), the dual-clutch transmission ($4,180), Sport Chrono package ($1,690), stereo system ($800) and air conditioning ($2,010), for an as-tested price of $87,245. Note, of course, that you’ve now paid extra money for a car that comes without stereo or air conditioning, only to pay even more to get both items after all.

Whether this car is worth that extra money depends on your priorities, as you’ll find yourself fighting to keep your driver’s licence before you find the car’s performance limits on public roadways. Given the cash, I’d choose a basic Cayman as a year-round daily driver with only the most fleeting of second thoughts; this car, though, is best enjoyed on a racetrack, where its true potential can be explored – legally.

This article was originally published in the Montreal Gazette newspaper.

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