Race-ready sports car proves that less is more

2012, Porsche, Cayman R

Although I've never met a Porsche I didn't like, the ones I like best are the automaker's two-seat sports cars. I can't say whether this bias stems from a purity of style, the exuberance of riding so close to the engine, the gnashing of the gears or the roar of true dual exhausts. But Porsche's talent for combining balance, precision and power in a stripped down package is almost transcendent.

The Cayman originated as a hardtop sibling to the open-air Boxster, sharing the same "boxer" engine, and midship engine placement. This year, Porsche added an "R" model to the Cayman, which strips weight off the chassis by using more lightweight construction materials, eliminating the air conditioning and audio system.

By shaving 121 pounds off the chassis, engineers boosted engine horsepower to 330: ten more than the Cayman S or Boxster Spyder equipped with the same engine. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 4.7 seconds using the six-speed manual transmission.

The Cayman R comes with special lightweight wheels and a sport-tuned suspension which lowers the chassis 20 millimeters compared to other variants. Special aero effects include a unique front and rear spoiler to make the car slipperier in the wind tunnel.

Base price is $66,300 not including a $950 destination charge. Options on the test car include automatic dimming mirrors ($690), Porsche's connectivity and navigation system ($3455), bi-xenon adaptive headlamps ($1550), three audio packages ($795), custom wheels ($1815), floor mats and automatic climate control ($1760), bringing the MSRP to $79,285.

Test drive in the Superstition wilderness

I headed east into the Superstition wilderness east of Phoenix to drive the Cayman R on some challenging, sparsely trafficked roads.

The Cayman R is a glorious piece of machinery: plain and simple. It's nimble, fast, has incredible cornering capabilities, and a remarkable suspension which seems to eat up whatever comes its way. The nineteen-inch wheels and low-profile tires create an ample footprint for driving at speed.

The direct injection flat six engine provides incredible throttle response. The design of the engine is inherently balanced, enhancing the car's dynamics. The six-speed manual gearbox is equally refined, with crisp precise shifts and enough range in the gears to keep the car roadable.

Porsche is known for the braking capabilities of its cars and the Cayman R is no exception. Large vented and drilled rotors on all four wheels stop the car on a dime.

Visibility around the car is good, with the exception of some small blind spots in the rear corners. I had no problems seeing out the back when driving in reverse. Light as the car is, it's also solid as a rock with extremely tight seals, eliminating any wind noise.

Because of its performance modifications, the Cayman R is not an especially good choice as a person's only vehicle. Aside from its limited passenger space, the front air dam is so low that it bottoms out on every nick and crevice in the pavement. I was able to back off the driveway apron at an angle to avoid hitting bottom, but had less luck going over some small rain gutters at speeds below ten miles-per-hour.

Designers used fabric straps in lieu of traditional door handles inside the car to save weight. They're attractive and relatively sturdy, but I would be concerned about long-term durability. The Cayman R's lightweight sport seats have nice large bolsters to hold the driver and front passenger in place racing, but they're pretty hard for an extended road trip. The clutch for the manual gearbox engages high and is fairly stiff: not a problem for racing but not ideal for commuting in traffic.

If I were to order the Cayman R for myself, I'd skip any of the audio upgrades. The engine has a great sound which should be entertainment enough. I would probably also skip the navigation system for the reasons stated above.

Driver-focused interior

The Cayman R interior is exactly as a sports car should be, with gauges which display all of the car's basic functions in a clear, easy-to-read manner. Speedometer readings are available on both analog and digital gauges, which is helpful because of the car's extremely high top speed. Other gauges give the driver elapsed time, driving range, odometer and trip meter, coolant temperature and fuel readings.

An information function on the center stack screen adds information such as elapsed time, average speed and average ambient temperature.

Because the Cayman R is designed primarily for racing, there is no storage, outside of the glovebox, in the passenger compartment. A small tray under the armrest includes a USB port to interface with and hold an iPod.

The engine's midship placement allows for storage boots in both front and back, capable of holding some groceries and smaller pieces of luggage.

Standard safety

The Porsche Cayman R comes with front, head and side airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control and automatic brake differential.

Porsche produces the Cayman R at its assembly plant in Stuttgart, Germany.

Likes: A beautiful sports car with outstanding ride and handling characteristics. The Cayman R is a modern classic.

Dislikes: Very little ground clearance, which limits the types of road surfaces the car can be driven on. Lack of storage inside the passenger compartment.

Quick facts:

Make: Porsche Model: Cayman R Year: 2012 Base price: $66,300 As tested: $79,285 Horsepower: 330 Hp @ 7400 rpm Torque: 273 lbs.-ft. @ 4750 rpm Zero-to-sixty: 4.7 seconds Antilock brakes: Standard Side curtain airbags: N/A First aid kit: N/A Bicycle friendly: No Off-road: No Towing: No Fuel economy: 19/27 mpg city/highway

By Nina Russin

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Images of the 2012, Porsche Cayman R

2012 Porsche Cayman R
2012 Porsche Cayman R
Driver-Focused Interior
Driver-Focused Interior
2012 Porsche Cayman R
2012 Porsche Cayman R
2012 Porsche Cayman R
2012 Porsche Cayman R