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Porsche Cayman R review (2011 onwards)
What - Porsche Cayman R
Where - Silverstone, UK
Date - March 2011
Price - £51,728 and upwards
Available - Now
Key rivals - Nissan 370Z, Lotus Evora, Lotus Exige, BMW Z4, BMW 1 Series M Coupé, Mercedes SLK, Audi TT RS
We like - focused but not extreme, the Cayman R is awesome to drive, has a fab engine, and doesn't cost the earth...
We don't like - ...until you start getting stuck into the options list (and there are plenty of toys on there to tempt you), standard brakes will suffer on track
The Porsche Cayman S is clearly a bit rubbish, so Porsche has developed a new range-topping model: the Cayman R.
A Porsche, rubbish? No. Much to rivals' dismay, the Cayman S is currently the default choice for a mid-engined coupé that combines prestige, quality and a never-want-to-stop driving experience. It's handy.
But Porsche can always go further. The 911 line is jammed with models that follow this philosophy, and last year the Boxster became available as a Spyder; such cars require a little compromise, but create a lot of love.
And so, therefore - inevitably - the Cayman R. Porsche tells us that R stands for Racing, yet you won't find a rollcage in here. But then, nor will you find a radio. Or other non-essentials. Like air conditioning.
Overall Porsche has managed to strip the R of 55kg - it has the same aluminium door skins as the 911 Turbo and GT3, buckets seats and basic interior door panels from the GT3 RS, lightweight 19-inch alloys first seen on the Boxster Spyder, and a smaller fuel tank.
Porsche Active Suspension Management, an aero kit and a limited slip differential are standard. The ride height is 20mm lower, and all of the electronic assistance systems have been specifically revised - including the PDK gearbox, should you choose to tick that option.
It's also the most powerful mid-engined Porsche currently available. Taking the 3.4-litre flat six from the Cayman S as its basis, some exhaust tuning and a recalibrated ECU bring power up 10hp to 330hp.
Together with the reduced weight, that's enough to shear 0.2 seconds from all the benchmark sprint times and add 3mph to the top speed, while improving the economy and emissions - the cake's there, so you might as well eat it, right?
Even if it is finished in unique Cayman R Peridot green...
Actually, we kind of like the colour. Don't worry - it is only an option, which may be even more of a relief once you learn the lime metallic hue makes it onto the centre console as well. So you can't escape it if you're behind the steering wheel.
At £51,728, the Cayman R will set you back a little over £4,000 more than a Cayman S, and you should immediately prepare yourself to spend more than that; first essential is the £1,465 sports exhaust - which gives you an extra button to press on start up.
It also makes the R louder - and when a car sounds as good as this does, believe us this is essential. Stab the throttle now and you're greeted by a proper growl - befitting a power delivery that's urgent but less flighty than the hardest 911s.
The 330hp peak is 200rpm higher up the dial than the 320hp you get in the Cayman S, but even at 7,400rpm there's still plenty of headroom before the 8,500rpm redline - and the R hauls this in with a muscular, progressive purpose rather than crashing headlong into the limiter.
Stick with the standard six-speed manual 'box and some judicious clutch action will see off 62mph in 5.0 seconds if you're lucky - spec the seven-speed PDK and it'll make the same sprint in 4.9 every single time. Add the Sport Chrono Package, and launch control drops this to 4.7.
So it's fast - but not scary fast. Whether the PDK and Sport Chrono set-up is worth the extra combined £2,974 depends on the kind of driving you'll be doing, as we're about to see.
Ride and handling
When you buy a new Porsche, the company is caring enough to want you to drive it with confidence, so a session's tuition at the purpose-built Porsche Experience Centre located at the Silverstone racing circuit is included in the price.
This facility, and Porsche's generally chummy friendship with Silverstone is good for us, too - because in addition to driving the R on the road we also got to try it on track, in a variety of specifications, and back to back with the Cayman S.
From this we can draw several conclusions. First of all, the Cayman S really isn't rubbish. Driven in isolation you're going to love it. But drive it right after a Cayman R, and it is going to feel a bit woolly...
The R takes everything that's truly Cayman - balance, poise, incisiveness - and tweaks it with clear and decisive precision. It's not extreme: adaptive damping means the ride still has compliance; it isn't going to chuck you off the tarmac at the slightest provocation. It's simply better.
The suspension may be lower, but the adjustments here put the R up on its tiptoes - it changes direction faster, the steering is sharper, and you have a significantly increased sensation of accuracy and control.
The standard fit limited slip diff helps - mechanical grip is massive with or without it, as Porsche's custom low friction surfaces quickly prove, but should the back end break away the R is much easier to manage.
Which is to say lurid powerslides are a mere roundabout away. We digress.
The word 'weapon' is massively overused in automotive circles, but on circuit, in the Cayman R it fits - especially when you factor in the specially recalibrated PDK gearbox.
This swaps ratios up to 35% faster than before, delivering banging, blipping downshifts as you brake into corners with exactly the kind of reassurance you need to really push your stopping distances.
Incredibly, it does almost as good a job left in automatic - although why you wouldn't want to use the gorgeously tactile metal paddles is beyond us. Track time and PDK make major sense.
Out on the road it's much less absolute. At such legally reduced speeds the Cayman R is arguably too competent with the magic gearbox, and you need the extra interaction the manual requires to bring the car alive.
Either way, we can't recommend the optional Porsche Composite Ceramic Brakes highly enough. Extra bite and shorter stopping distances on road are backed up by far greater resistance to fade on track. Which means they're much less likely to catch fire. Not that we did that to regular stoppers. Obviously.
On the inside the Cayman R is much like any other Cayman - except for the extra huggy seats and the door panels with pully straps instead of handles. Oh, and the missing cover for the instrument binnacle. Crucial weight saving, that.
Without a stereo you get a cubby hole, and without aircon you lose a chunky 12kg in bulk. However, most of the cars we tried had both elements reinstalled - it's a no cost option - and you'll struggle to notice the dynamic penalty.
If you're that bothered you can always buy a lightweight lithium ion battery, anyway - more tech from the racier 911s in the range. £1,295 will save you 10kg. Decisions, decisions...
Beyond all this weight watching, there's plenty of bootspace for a two seater, the quality is essentially superb, and there are enough customisation options available to keep the most fastidious buyer satisfied.
Safety and economy
Safety kit comprises six standard airbags, crumple zones and stability control - which comes with variable settings if you option up to Sport Chrono. The ceramic brakes, incidentally, are £5,463.
But they also save weight, too. Bargain. Being lighter generally means the Cayman R's claimed fuel economy for both gearbox options tops 30mpg (only the PDK makes it with the Cayman S), while CO2 emissions drop as low as 218g/km.
MSN Cars Verdict
We'll take two: a Cayman R with PDK gearbox for the racetrack, and a Cayman R with manual gearbox (and £388 short shift kit, natch) for the road. This is an utterly sublime driving machine. Ceramic brakes for everyone.
Best coupé you can buy new for around £50,000? At this point, unquestionably - even if the lushest options sneak it closer to £60,000. But there is a cheaper car on the horizon that could cause an upset: the £40k, 340hp BMW 1 Series M Coupé.
Wouldn't stop us ordering the Porsche right now - but we're living in fantasy land, anyway. Those of you who've genuinely got the cash might want to wait just a little bit longer.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||3.4 in 330hp R spec|
|Power, hp||330 @ 7,400rpm|
|Torque, lb ft||273 @ 4,750rpm|
|0-62 mph, secs||4.7 - 5.0|
|Top speed, mph||175|
|Mpg combined||30.1 - 30.4|
|CO2, tax||218 - 221g/km / 31 -32%|
|Ratings||Porsche Cayman R|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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