Review: 2012 Porsche Cayman R PDK

review 2012 porsche cayman r pdk

The Cayman R: lowered, lightened, loudened. A track-day special with carbon-fibre race buckets, featherweight alloy wheels and red seatbelts.

All right you hosers, here’s how we review a car like that in Canada.

Now, some of you may be somewhat alarmed that the increasing whiff o’ maple sizzurp around the TTAC offices these days might lead to changes on the site. The Truth Aboot Cars, in which you can expect to find articles like, “Horns: is there a politer solution?” and “How to keep beavers from eating your Morgan Plus-8.”

Tell those concerns to take off, eh? Besides our enormous reserves of lumber, fresh water, oil, uranium and floppy-haired teen idols, Canada has much to offer. In this particular case, it’s the perfect environment for some proper cold weather testing.

But why go through the sheer lunacy of putting a because-race-car like the Cayman R on ice? What does it matter what Usain Bolt runs in the 100m if he’s shod in snowshoes?

Simple. Porsche wants us to.

There’s spin here, at least up North. Porsche is marketing its sports cars as all-weather sleds; as adroit at arctic conditions as they are at apex-clipping.

What better PR pic than a Peridot green Cayman R surrounded by winter wonderland; a bright-green jewel popping out of a snowy backdrop. Better yet, how better to show that all your models are ultra-capable than by slapping Blizzaks on your latest hardcoreish offering and handing the keys over to some ham-fisted bozo?

Speaking as said ham-fisted bozo, I’m not bothered at all by the why. At some point, we’re sure to see a proper on-track dynamic assessment of the Cayman R, hopefully by our not-by-any-stretch-of-the-imagination-tame racing driver but for now, it’s an opportunity to test an interesting car in less-than-ideal weather conditions.

First, what does this snot-rocket’s R designation do, other than appeal to the highly specific Buccaneer track-day enthusiast niche? Porsche might have you thinking it’s a ‘geers-gone-wild special in the vein of the BMW M-Coupe, but the R is a comparatively moderate collection of tweaks.

The suspension has been lowered 20mm. Aluminum doors and other minor dieting mean the fully stripped out version has been lightened by 120lbs (my tester’s PDK and optional A/C adds back on 55lbs and 33lbs respectively). The 3.4L flat-six gets a moderate 10hp bump, mostly from a freer-flowing exhaust and mild tuning. This is a Cayman turned up to 10.5, not 11.

The pushmi-pullyu styling of the Cayman has always been a bit of a head-scratcher for me. With its swollen haunches, the 911 is a fertility idol; in contrast, a Cayman resembles an ergonomic cordless mouse. But the R….

Fixed wing, big wheels, dropped stance, retro-lettered flanks – the Cayman R is a licence to kill your licence. Might I also suggest that Peridot be changed to Yes Officer Green, as in, “Yes officer? Sideways you say? I’m sure I would have remembered that…”

Further appealing lack of subtlety extends into the interior of the Cayman R. Here we find non-reclining carbon-fibre buckets that make ingress tricky and egress spastic, even if you’re a yoga instructor. Forget about giving a lift to someone in a skirt, or a traditionally-dressed Scottish person.

The aforementioned red seatbelts add a frisson of Sentra SE-R Spec-V to the cabin, and then there’re those indescribably stupid door pulls.

Yes, they’re the same ones you get on a GT2 RS. No, it isn’t going to impress anyone when you point out that they’re for weight savings. Fabric door-pulls on a car that’s got cupholders and a CD-storage area is just plain silly. Also, after 6000 miles of use, these ones were getting a bit ratty-looking.

The Cayman R might be flashily attractive, but it’s not going to woo the ladies (or laddies). Unless, that is, you hand over the keys.

Oh, what a fantastic car! What a machine! What a Porsche!

Go ahead, Stuttgart. Build nine versions of the Panamera, and turn 80% of factory production over to pumping out Cayennes for the Chinese market and cancel the sub-Boxster in favour of yet another damn cute-ute, I don’t care. Just keep building this car right here, and all sins are forgiven by the blessed intercession of Our Lady Of Acceleration.

They called it R, they might have called it CS or GTS, or just plain S+, but the nomenclature and the interior contradictions and the eye-searing paint are instantly forgotten as you guide this Cayman out onto the twisting tarmac. The steering is perfect. The soundtrack is flat-6 by John Williams. Flick it into Sport and everything feels fizzy and alive and electric and wonderful.

I don’t even mind the PDK. Granted, to my stone-age way of thinking, a manual-transmission is still preferable for that last crumb of full involvement, but it’s no longer the difference between, say, vinyl and MP3. The difference in experiencing the Cayman R in manual or PDK is equivalent to seeing the band live, or sitting in on their studio recording session. Charming flaws or exquisite perfection: you choose.

Words fail me. I cannot describe to you how truly excellent the Cayman R is short of ten paragraphs of holding down the “!”-key. It is soooo good….

In the dry.

And here we come to the fly in the ointment. Yes, (finally) Porsche is letting its mid-engined wunderkind off ze chain, unleashing its true tarmac potential. Unfortunately, the R’s personality is Dr. Stig-yll and Mr. Slide.

I had the car for an entire week, and got one dry day. The rest of the time it was the usual torrential Vancouver downpour that crushes the spirit and has you wondering if you oughtn’t start gathering the animals two-by-two. In these conditions, the Cayman R surprised me.

It’s not a handful by any means: the chassis is so composed and predictable that any slippage can easily be caught. There just isn’t any grip at the rear.

Maybe it’s the Blizzaks, maybe its the fact that, as we all know, I’m not our resident race-car driver. But under perfectly neutral throttle, curving on-ramps cause the Cayman R’s back end to step out at surprisingly low speed. Having the sport button engaged makes it nearly impossible to get away from a stop without crabbing sideways and engaging traction control. Same thing for low-speed right-angle turns.

Is all this sideways-action fun? Yes, sort of. But it’s not very fast and, based on personal experience, accidentally dorifto’ing past your elderly neighbours in a bright green sports car with “2 CAYMAN” vanity plates makes you feel like a complete Delta Bravo.

Taking the R up the looping road to a local ski hill to try it in the snow was a good core workout, but only because of all the clenching. If you have never been passed by a flume-throwing full-size Range Rover at seventy-five miles-per-hour, in a corner, inches from a concrete barrier, may I perhaps not recommend it to you?

And then, to compound things, the passenger-side windshield wiper stopped functioning. No biggie, as it turned out, just a loose nut, but not really the sort of thing a newish car does if it’s all-weather capable.

So how did it do in the snow? Irrelevant, excepting I didn’t get stuck. Yes, you can drive a Cayman R in the snow, but as Chris Rock pointed out, you can also fly an airplane with your feet: that don’t make it a good idea. Buy a TT-RS, buy an EVO, buy an STi and take it to COBB.

Or, buy a Cayman R, and treat it like a proper sportscar. Don’t bother with the A/C and sound packages, just option the Sport Chrono and the cornering lights. Forget the snows, buy some proper R-Comps and get yourself some good driver instruction.

On the very last day with the R, I came out to find that the morning’s light showers had stopped, and that there would be dry tarmac for the short drive into downtown to drop it off. The fifteen-minute trip from the North Shore through Vancouver proper isn’t a winding country road or a race-track. The way is clogged with harried rush-hour traffic, and local drivers aren’t going to be nice to a green Porsche with Ontario plates.

But when the flat-six thrummed to life, I knew I would be taking the longest route I could figure out, and that half-hour drive was, without question, the highlight of my day.

In summation: it’s fast, it’s flawed, I loved it, so will you. Just, y’know, move someplace sunny.

Porsche provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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  • Ccd2 Ccd2 on Feb 04, 2012

    Slight correction: the car does not come with cup holders. They are also taken out to save weight. You must have gotten a "loaded" R! lol! Note that the R with no cupholders, A/C or stereo saves just 112 lbs. The tested car with just PDK and A/C is just 24 lbs lighter than a regular S with manual. And I didn't take into account the added weight of the cupholders on the R! lol!

  • RKmann RKmann on Feb 05, 2012

    Come onnnn, driving it up to Cypress Bowl in Vancouver hardly constitutes winter testing.

  • Arthur Dailey For the Hornet less expensive interior materials/finishings, decontent just a little, build it in North America and sell it for less and everyone should be happy with both the Dodge and the Alfa.
  • Bunkie I so wanted to love this car back in the day. At the time I owned a GT6+ and I was looking for something more modern. But, as they say, this car had *issues*. The first of which was the very high price premium for the V8. It was a several thousand dollar premium over the TR-7. The second was the absolutely awful fuel economy. That put me off the car and I bought a new RX-7 which, despite the thirsty rotary, still got better mileage and didn’t require premium fuel. I guess I wasn’t the only one who had this reaction because, two years later, I test-drove a leftover that had a $2,000 price cut. I don’t remember being impressed, the RX-7 had spoiled me with how easy it was to own. The TR-8 didn’t feel quick to me and it felt heavy. The first-gen RX was more in line with the idea of a light car that punched above its weight. I parted ways with both the GT6+ and the RX7 and, to this day, I miss them both.
  • Fred Where you going to build it? Even in Texas near Cat Springs they wanted to put up a country club for sport cars. People complained, mostly rich people who had weekend hobby farms. They said the noise would scare their cows. So they ended up in Dickinson, where they were more eager for development of any kind.
  • MaintenanceCosts I like the styling of this car inside and out, but not any of the powertrains. Give it the 4xe powertrain - or, better yet, a version of that powertrain with the 6-cylinder Hurricane - and I'd be very interested.
  • Daniel J I believe anyone, at any level, should get paid as much as the market will bear. Why should CEOs have capped salaries or compensation but middle management shouldn't? If companies support poor CEOs and poor CEOs keep getting rewarded, it's up to the consumer and investors to force that company to either get a better CEO or to reduce the salary of that CEO. What I find hilarious is that consumers will continue to support companies where the pay for the CEOs is very high. And the same people complain. I stopped buying from Amazon during the pandemic. Everyone happily buys from them but the CEO makes bank. Same way with Walmart and many other retailers. Tim Cook got 100m in compensation last year yet people line up to buy Iphones. People who complain and still buy the products must not really care that much.
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