What do you say about a two-seat car that costs more than $73,000, does not have air conditioning, an adjustable driver’s seatback or even a proper inside door handle?
If you’re any kind of a car nut, you say it’s wonderful. It’s the Porsche Cayman R, the all-out near-racing version of the German manufacturer’s mid-engine sports coupe.
It’s a stripper, but not in the usual sense of a car that has a paucity of comfort and convenience options. This one has been stripped of weight that could compromise performance, even a little bit.
It’s why the Cayman R has aluminum doors and carbon fiber seats, and can be ordered without air conditioning, which delivers a double whammy of added weight and a compressor that is a power parasite.
It’s also the reason for the cloth door pulls inside, which are a few ounces lighter than conventional door handles.
If you think that borders on obsession, you’d be correct. Porsche’s engineers are indeed fanatical about tweaking their sports cars to a fare-thee-well.
The Cayman is the younger sibling of the convertible Porsche Boxster, introduced in 1996, which many enthusiasts regard as the best-handling sports car on the planet. It is essentially a hard top version of the Boxster, with all the body rigidity that a fixed coupe implies.
Until the R arrived, there were two Cayman versions: the base model, with a 265-horsepower, 3-liter engine, and the S, with a 320-horsepower, 3.4-liter engine. The R bumps that to 330 horsepower, also from 3.4 liters, but with more torque, or twisting force. It is rated at 317 foot-pounds, compared to 221 for the base Cayman and 273 for the S.
The added power, along with the stripped chassis, means that the Cayman R can accelerate to 60 miles an hour in slightly more than four seconds, compared to five seconds or more for the S and the base models.
Like the Boxsters and Porsche’s 911 models, the Cayman’s engines are horizontally-
opposed, which means that the cylinders lie flat, feet-to-feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing upright or leaning in a V configuration. Horizontally-opposed engines also are referred to as “boxer,” “flat” or “pancake,” as in flat-four, boxer-six, etc.
The design is basically the same as that used in the 1930s in Germany by Ferdinand Porsche, who developed the original Volkswagen Beetle. It powered the Beetle until its demise in the late 1970s. Today, the only major manufacturer other than Porsche to use boxer engines is Japan’s Subaru.
In the Cayman and Boxster, the engine is installed behind the driver’s shoulder blades and forward of the rear axle. It is referred to as a mid-engine design, as contrasted with the rear-engine Porsche 911, where the motor is mounted behind the rear axle. In both cases, the Porsche engineers have fine-tuned the chassis, suspension systems and steering to impart world-class handling.
Even on a very hot day with windows open and the ventilation blower running to maintain air circulation in the cockpit, driving the Cayman R is exhilarating. Getting behind the wheel is another story.
The carbon fiber seats are constructed like those used by race drivers, with substantial bolsters on the seatbacks and bottoms. In fact, the bottom bolsters are so high and sharp that a less-than-careful driver squeezing inside risks adding another crack in his butt.
It takes such twisting and turning to back into the seat that you imagine it would be easier crawling in through the window like a race driver. But eventually you develop a technique.
Once settled in, there’s plenty of cosseted support to lock the torso in place for hard cornering on twisting roads, which is what you’ll want to do all day long. But if you’re too broad in the beam you simply won’t fit. The non-adjustable seatback is annoying at first, but the rake is set at a decent-enough angle that you get used to it. Seats are covered in a high-friction suede-like material that also helps keep the occupants planted.
The tested Cayman R had a base price of $67,250 and, with a few options including a musical (to motor-heads) $2,810 “sports exhaust system,” came in at $73,280.
It had a six-speed manual gearbox with a tactile and positive shift linkage, along with a progressively-engaging clutch, that made shifting a pleasure. Also available is a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with a manual-shift mode that likely makes the R a tad quicker but would not be as much fun.
For all of its driver-oriented attributes, the R also delivers a load of frustration, mainly because it is so capable that there are no public roads where one can legally drive it anywhere near its potential.
That’s why many of the buyers of this car likely will install modifications like roll bars and racing seatbelts so they can drive weekends on race tracks.
For the rest of us, the Cayman and S models would suffice nicely although they also embody more potential than the average driver could or would ever use. But at least you’d mostly cruise in comfort with the air conditioning on.
- Model: 2012 Porsche Cayman R two-seat sports coupe.
- Engine: 3.4-liter horizontally-opposed six-cylinder, 330 horsepower.
- Transmission: Six-speed manual.
- Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 49/14 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,075 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 19/27 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $67,250.
- Price as tested: $73,280.