Taking A Deep Breath Of R-ified Air

2011 Porsche Cayman R - Click above for high-res image gallery

Nearly every Porsche has a Sport button, and the 2011 Cayman R is no different. It quickens the PDK gearbox's shifts, tightens throttle response and allows a bit more slip. I should've paid more attention to those last two bits during our morning briefing.

On the rain- and occasionally hail-battered island roads of Mallorca, Spain, it took all of a quarter-inch of throttle travel to realize that the ultra-slippery tarmac partnered with the high-performance summer rubber were a match made in Hell. One minute, my co-driver (Motor Trend scribe and Autoblog alum Jonny Lieberman) was looking down at the route book; the next, he was staring at the sheer face of a rock wall. Whoops.

Continue reading First Drive: 2011 Porsche Cayman R...

Images courtesy of Porsche

Over the course of our three-hour drive, I lost count how many times this scenario played out. And it wasn't just my plebeian skills. Lieberman – who told me his initial thought went something like "$#%^&@* Damon!" – quickly admitted after he got behind the wheel that our weather/tire combo was destined to put us off a cliff. The rest of the North American contingent on the launch was busy dealing with the same issues, but there was something deceptively different about these impromptu tail-out antics.

Despite the lamentably slick conditions, the overriding sense of traction – that inescapable connection between hands, ass and road – was the most transparent I've experienced in recent memory. Even in these woeful conditions, I was perpetually aware of just how much – or little – grip was available at every turn. I was constantly on edge. Never relaxed and, in a sick way, kind of loving it.

That feeling lasted right up until my second lap of Circuito Mallorca RennArena.

2011 Porsche Cayman R side view2011 Porsche Cayman R front view2011 Porsche Cayman R rear view

Never have I wanted so desperately to get off a road course. Struggling to keep up with the Caymans in front, turn after turn was an exercise in minute toe manipulations. I imagine Natalie Portman's ballet beau would've been proud, but once I learned to stop worrying and love the traction control, things evened out – if only for a curve or two. All praise Porsche Stability Management! It's just too bad I never had the chance to experience the heightened levels of high-speed grip the chassis was begging to impart.

So, with those driving conditions and relatively low-speed impressions in mind, let's get stuck in the specs and stats.

2011 Porsche Cayman R headlight2011 Porsche Cayman R wheel2011 Porsche Cayman R rear wing2011 Porsche Cayman R exhaust system

The Cayman R is essentially a fixed-roof version of Porsche's undisputed King of Fun, the Boxster Spyder. Nestled amidships is the same 3.4-liter boxer six-cylinder engine found in the droptop, putting out an additional 10 horsepower over the standard Cayman S. That 330 hp peak comes in at 7,400 rpm – 200 rpm higher than its lesser siblings – while torque remains unchanged at 273 pound-feet (accessed at a rather lofty 4,750 rpm). The extra grunt is thanks to a new head pipe, tweaked ECU and reworked exhaust that's instantly transformed with a quick push of a dash-mounted button. We used more than one tunnel to test out the aural excitement, which you can hear for yourself in the Short Cuts video below.

But the Cayman R story isn't about power. It's about finesse, focus and – most importantly – weight reduction. Porsche's engineers have managed to strip some 121 pounds from the R, swapping out the doors for aluminum units (33 pounds), lightening the wheels (11 pounds) and fitting masterfully supportive and all-day comfortable carbon fiber-backed buckets (26 pounds), along with nixing the sat-nav/stereo and air conditioning (another 33 pounds). However, the latter two are available as no-cost options, and unless you're tracking this thing every weekend, just tick the boxes and thank us later. Porsche says another 15 pounds have been removed by stripping some sound deadening material and a few other non-essentials, like the door handles, which have been swapped with silly fabric pulls. If that's the extreme extent the boffins went to reduce weight, then why did they leave the lighted vanity mirrors? We asked. They laughed.

However, those same officials didn't chuckle when I brought up some back-of-the-napkin math about the power-to-weight ratio of the standard 911 and this $66,300, stripped-out Cayman. The 345-hp, 3,186-pound rear-engined flagship doles out one horsepower for every 9.2 pounds it lugs around. The Cayman R? 8.5 pounds per horsepower. That's getting awfully close, but with both the 911 and the Cayman due for more serious overhauls, we don't think that proximity will last long – something Porsche's people confirmed.

On the gearbox front, buyers have their choice between a six-speed manual and seven-speed PDK, but weight-watchers beware: the slick-shifting dual-clutch box adds an additional 55 pounds to the Cayman R's 2,811-pound curb weight. Predictably, it's what longtime Porsche wheelman Walter Röhrl prefers, but as a no-cost option, we could easily make the case for either. Both are spectacular, and in the case of the PDK, Porsche has fitted proper paddles to the steering wheel to deliver a shifting experience that's thoroughly engaging – if just a slightly less involving than the manual. However, three-pedal addicts will sacrifice a tenth of a second to the speed gods, with the 0-60 mph run happening in 4.7 seconds with the PDK and 4.8 when rowing your own.

2011 Porsche Cayman R interior2011 Porsche Cayman R seats2011 Porsche Cayman R PDK shifter2011 Porsche Cayman R Sport settings

The rest of the changes are less dramatic, but add up to something spectacular. The fixed rear spoiler and tweaked undertray reduce rear lift by 40 percent, while the mildly revised aero bits up front reduces lift by an additional 15 percent. The springs, shocks and sway bars have all been swapped out for stiffer stuff, and the ride height comes in at 20mm lower than the standard Cayman S.

All these changes – no matter how slight – help the Cayman R exhibit a near-perfect compromise between road and track. The ride is on the stiff side of ideal, while the standard steel brakes remain predictable and confidence-inspiring once you get past the initial eighth-inch of travel. Optional carbon ceramics remove an additional eight pounds of unsprung weight and around $8,000 from your wallet, but the steel stoppers strike us as the better choice for daily duty and maintenance costs.

2011 Porsche Cayman R on track

More than anything else, what left me consistently amazed was the remarkably direct steering and the sheer volume of information that traveled from the Alcantara coated wheel, through my palms and directly into my central cortex. If there was ever a proper cliche to be used, "telepathic" is it. Weighty without being cumbersome (à la Lotus Elise) yet smooth and frictionless; it's – dare I say – better than the big boy 911.

We'll have to wait to get one in the dry for a full slate of impressions, but from this unfortunately brief first dance, the Cayman R has all the earmarks of the Total Package. For the first time since its introduction, Porsche's middle child has the potential to one-up its ass-engined brethren right from the factory. It's just a shame about the weather – the one thing Porsche's people can't seem to engineer.

Images courtesy of Porsche

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      No pic of the engine? I realize there's a cover over it in the interior of the car, but why not just remove that for a nice motor-shot?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I think there are aftermarket vendors that actually make clear plexiglass engine covers for that interior engine hatch. Probably makes it quite noisy, though... :D
      • 3 Years Ago
      I know the options add up quick on these Porsche track day specials, but honestly I think the cayman is the best entry level Porsche they make, and if you keep the price tag under 75K you'd probably having afew bragging rights if you smoke a handful of 100K 911s at your local porsche track event.

        • 3 Years Ago
        I've already witnessed Caymans with more,....bravado...passing 911s at VIR,...the Cayman is a quite capable car and with tweaks here and there,...much easier to toss around.

      • 3 Years Ago
      Is the hood in the car pictured carbon fiber or just painted black?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I reckon they'd show it if it was carbon fibre... still looks pretty good, the rear wing too.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Next step: Cayman Turbo

      Sure it'll never happen, but can you imagine how spectacular it would be?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Honestly, I'd rather have the naturally aspirated engine. NA engines typically have more linear power delivery and a better sound. The turbos tend to muffle the engine noise a bit. And the Cayman is already stupidly fast.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Who modified the side stripe? Since when is there a stripe forward of the front wheels, but not aft of the door? And truncating the stripe at the door shut line is STUPID, when the stripe could wrap on the body-line, up to the side duct insert that is the same color.

      Why on earth would you black out the hood, but not the roof, and the rear diffuser?

      Who is screwing up the graphics on these cars, both this, and the Lambo Gallardo's tricolore stripe? They are both fantastic cars with big "look at me" visual faux-pas that could easily have been done correctly.

      Chartreuse green is a weird color. It is interesting to see once, but is getting overplayed even merely by the original show car, and now this version (which is probably a graphics modification of the same VIN car.)

      I'll take mine in arctic silver or very light ice blue with red-out tail lights, and red sweeping stripes on the rear fenders, and properly done sill stripes that wrap into the side ducts, and black stone-guard film applied just ahead of the rear wheels, to echo the old Porsche 911s, and some 944s. Maybe some round flex-magnetic number plate circles for track-days, that can come off otherwise.

      And I would black out the roof between the windscreen and the rear hatch glass. I'd love to have a CF roof skin done with a double-bubble curvature, to lower the center of the roof's height, but maintain the head-room.

      A Carrera red interior with body-color-matched interior trim and seat back shells, and the top of the dash and the interior door handle area in grey to approximate the exterior color wrapping onto the dashboard. Also a hoodless gauge panel, like the Boxster RS60 had, with a red-faced tach, but other instruments and sport chronograph with black faces.

      I'd also change the front fascia to the Boxster Spyder version, and install a TechArt GT-2-style pedestal wing. Carrera S II wheels, or maybe the new version of the Fuchs wheels.

      And maybe I'd badge it as a 987 RS, rather than just R. RS and three-numeral designation has more Porsche history.

      Oh, and a 3.8 X51 400+ horsepower free-breathing engine swap with an electrically-actuated dual-mode exhaust system.

      Man, I need to start playing the lottery or something.
      • 3 Years Ago
      This car just does not do it for me like the Boxster Spyder does, even though it is probably more useful.
      The Spyder is just gorgeous, one of the best looking cars out there, especially in white.
      I would rather have the option of having a 500hp Boxster Spyder than a 911 anyday...except for the GT2.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Pure," in its truest and best sense.
        • 3 Years Ago
        What's up with the idiot drivers in the vid driving in a long tunnel with the windshield wipers on?

        They should have their licences revoked for doing that in a Cayman R.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Not sure how pure the lime green paint in combination with red belts and door pulls are, kind of like vomit with blood. Otherwise it is awesome and I totally would buy one... maybe in silver without the red belts...
      • 3 Years Ago
      Don't make mine lime green with a black hood, yellow calipers, and red seatbelts...
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yea, no kidding...I couldn't really figure out what was up, but when I looked at it a while & thought about it, I found myself thinking maybe a blue stripe is in order O_O

        If you want to have the rainbow you might as well do it properly XD
      • 3 Years Ago
      I liked this review, but I feel like it's a bit incomplete without a comparison of the Cayman R to the Cayman S. Of course, I guess maybe you guys are saving that for the full review, so I do hope you won't leave that out since I think that's a rather important part. And by a comparison I don't mean whether it's better or not since it obviously will be, but whether it's worth the extra money or if someone looking for a fabulous track toy would be better off with a Cayman S and money spent on aftermarket parts.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Love the car....hate the color.....
        • 3 Years Ago
        • 3 Years Ago
        Totally. A white with black combination would have been typical, but more pleasing to the eyes.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I get the taste of green apples in my mouth whenever i look at its color

      • 3 Years Ago
      Nice job with the wipers on in a tunnel.
      • 3 Years Ago
      How is having water, a slippery surface, and summer tires a bad thing?! Now that means power slides at slow speeds.
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