By on February 2, 2012

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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49 Comments on “Review: 2012 Porsche Cayman R PDK...”

  • avatar

    If Porsche put their blessed “N spec” winter tires on, then that there might be your drifting/hydroplaning problem. Winter tires are more closely related to summer tires, just with cold weather formulated rubber, than to snow tires. What kinda hoser are ya, eh? Should’a had Hakkapelittas.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      I think that’s it, although I’ve heard the summer-spec car is a bit slidey in the wet too. I’m thinking it’s the reduced travel, eh? Also, Hakkas are wonderful!

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t get used to your style of writing. It was okay for your first few articles, but I stopped reading this one part way through the second paragraph. Too much silliness.

    Great pics though. The north shore is always beautiful.

    • 0 avatar

      Same. I’d have to read a few of the sentences over and over to figure out what I just read. It has an odd flow.

      • 0 avatar
        Brendan McAleer

        I haven’t TTAC’d for about a month, and it took me slightly longer to write this than usual, so perhaps the flow is a bit herky-jerky. Fair criticism.

        The silliness though, well reviewing a Cayman R with snowies… I mean, it demands a little wackiness methinks.

      • 0 avatar

        Still a fun read. Perhaps I just don’t know how to speak Canadian.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree. Welcome to the world, Brendan. Keep doing what you do, and we’ll keep getting to know you. This is not my type of car, but I live where winter is a reality, and I enjoyed seeing how this type of car handles it – just about the way I thought it would.

      Keep writing.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s one of the best written reviews I’ve read on TTAC in a long time. I really enjoyed reading it.

      Seconding the motion for true winter tires.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought it was a fun read. Normally I don’t make it through the longer articles….

    • 0 avatar

      God forbid someone has fun test driving a Porsche for a week, and then shares that fun with us. I liked the article, Brendan. Keep it up.

    • 0 avatar

      See, I demur. I think young Mac is getting better. I struggled with the first couple of pieces he published here, but find myself enjoying his newer articles more and more. He has tacked away from Baruthian-level hyperbole and injected some light-hearted self-deprecation. (The opening paragraph re: The Truth Aboot Cars truly made me smile over my coffee).

      Now, Brendan, you owe me five bucks.

    • 0 avatar

      As a Canadian, I can testify that such writing would result in poor marks in a high school English class here.

      But, of course, the high school system is not known for recognizing writing talents.

  • avatar

    If they’ve taken 20mm out of the rear travel, that may well be why the rear no longer sticks on anything but a smooth track. Unless the camber has been adjusted for snow (and Blizzaks! didn’t even know they sold those in such low profile sizes), that may have something to do with it as well. Track focused alignment isn’t necessarily optimal for street and street (snow) tires.

    The issues I’ve had with grip (On a 1st gen Boxster S), was all about the front becoming a skipping stone out of bumpy 1st and 2nd gear corners. Never about the rear. But this thing sounds pretty specialized compared to the regular issues, and Blizzaks are a bit weird on a track car.

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    You know me, I never agree with anyone. I loved the review Brendan. It’s the “different styles” aspect of TTAC that I truly love as both a writer and a reader. I really dislike the monotony of sites where there may be 30+ writers but they all sound the same.

    • 0 avatar


      Where else can you tell who wrote a review without checking the byline?

      I don’t write reviews like Brendan’s (partly because I can’t!), but always love reading them.

      Whatever your taste in reviews, you should be able to find it here. Don’t like one style? We have the others.

  • avatar

    I find Brendan’s posts to be very fun to read, great job! I also love this car, and I live someplace sunny. Just can’t afford it!

    Our MR2 Spyder does the same thing in the rain. I think its part of the charm.

  • avatar

    “Porsche provided the vehicle tested and insurance.”

    So, does it means Porsche still love TTAC with the exception of JB?

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    The answer is “Because he can.”

  • avatar

    Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I had a blast reading this. Keep it up Brendan!

  • avatar

    The reason you don’t drive a car like this in the winter is not because it can’t handle the snow or ice….it’s that other driver’s can’t seem to handle the snow or ice and are liable to run into you, and the traumatic experience of even a scratch would be too much to handle. But maybe that’s my paranoid self. However I garaged my Cayman this winter for this very reason, and after being rear-ended in my Protege 5 at a stop-light by some inattentive trophy wife, I’m glad I did.

    On the occasional that I do take it out in the winter, it’s been pretty solid (mind you I have the welfare-special base model, so not quite as much power to work with). I drove my Cayman from NYC to Alberta on summer tires in early December, and apart from a few hair moment on ice-covered backroads in Saskatchewan, it wasn’t much of an issue.

  • avatar

    “and red seatbelts.”


    Nice review. Funny on the cordless mouse. Nice pictures too.

  • avatar

    Brilliant storytelling. Well conceived and crafted. Fun to read. Your best effort yet. Keep up the good work. Liked the photos, too. Did you shoot them?

  • avatar

    I get nervous driving my Z in the rain down here in FL, but a Porsche… in the snow?!? Have you gone mad? Oh wait your in Canada, that explains everything. Entertaining read.

    So how much do door handles weigh these days? The fabric pulls are stuuuupiddd. Reminds of a finding on the Z forums where someone actually took the time to weigh their carbon fiber hood… and guess what? The stock (aluminum) one was LIGHTER! Whoops.

  • avatar

    I laughed out loud several times, Brendan. ‘…Like a complete Delta Bravo,’ that got me good. But hows aboot you ask Skip Barber aboot a little instruction, eh?

  • avatar

    I kind of tuned out after the “in the dry” comment but that’s because I live in SoCal where we have breaking news for a light drizzle over a 5 square mile patch of land. Pretty fun up to that point though. If I were to get a Cayman, I’d probably stick with the S.

  • avatar

    Great article! I think Porsche was irresponsible to even hook you up with this car knowing the weather and driving conditions. You would have been sooooo much happier with a 911 c4, then you would have shown that Range Rover who’s boss!

  • avatar
    word is bond

    Whale tail.

    I think a whale tail spoiler would make the Cayman’s awkward rear end, very pretty.

  • avatar

    The green works on the outside, but is not the right accent color for the interior. The door strap reminds me of the RS America.

  • avatar

    Doing winter driving testing in Vancouver is akin to doing wet weather testing in Death Valley.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, if you’re going to do winter testing in Canada try New Brunswick or Nova Scotia after a dump of 30cm of heavy wet snow that won’t be plowed for several days. It’s far more entertaining taking a lowered suspension out in that than in the rain in the lower mainland.

      Or, do the testing in Manitoba and Saskatchewan during a January cold snap with the potholed highways, unplowed backroads and ice-coated city streets. Nothing like a daytime high of -35C to test the heater and defrost, as well as the gear-shift and cold start abilities. Most fun of all will be negotiating ingress whilst wearing a parka, heavy duty mittens, a toque and giant Sorels.

      Snow tires on a Porsche Cayman in Canada just sounds way too much like a lead-in to a great stand-up routine.

  • avatar

    I enjoyed the review, and let me add that I like the variety of writing styles available on this site.

  • avatar

    Dare I ask, but how much? $70,000? $80? Are we hitting 911 territory?

  • avatar

    Nice review – my sort of sarcasm. How does this snow-mobile react to the stuff y’all put on roads, salt and chemicals, etc. What’s the rust factor in the quarter mile?

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    I’ll go along with the idea, except for leaving out A/C. You may not need it in Canada, but it gets hot here in summer. I’ll leave out the A/C when you Canucks leave off the heating and ventilation system.

  • avatar

    I have no damn idea why sports car manufacturers keep pushing lowered, lightened, firmed up versions of their cars. Who are they all kidding?

    Take a ride to S. Florida and you see all these race-d up S, M, R, AMG’s tooling around on impossibly low profile tires and flashing their yellow or red brake calipers like a socialite does her panties when getting out of one of these cars… Do you really need a lightened, stripped down car to drive around town?

    Less than 1% of these will ever make it to a track. Car writers love to talk about crisp suspension and edge of lateral g handling, but, really, I’ll take a second or two 0-60 time and a fraction of a g to ride around in a comfortable Porsche and not one that beats me up on crappy roads. Just like I’d never buy an M BMW, unless I was planning to enter it in a weekend racing series and beat the hell out of it.

    To all the posers, shod your German cars in high profile tires, set the suspension to “cushy” and go sit in traffic in comfort, take a 4 hour pain-free drive, not swerve around potholes and nearly hit the poor bastards in the bike lane.

    • 0 avatar

      Thats the attitude that killed sports cars. All the sports car and sports sedan manufacturers already make softened commuter versions of thier cars for people who want that. IMO, the people who drive those are the posers. If you care about being comfortable while you drive to work then don’t buy a Porsche. Toyota sells a perfectly nice Camry for those duties.

      I for one wouldn’t consider buying a BMW that wasn’t an M-model, a Merc that wasn’t an AMG, or a Porsche that wasn’t at least an S. Those are the only models they sell that are made for drivers, and not for trophy wives. Back in the day, sports cars were built for performance, no compromises. Guys who drove them for daily drivers were a different breed and you dealt with the faults to get that extra turn of speed on the rare chances you got to use it.

      I dont mind that they sell softer models for people who dont need or want the performance. But why complain that they do offer them?? Sure many of the buyers dont even appreciate what they have, but who cares?? The more of the S/M/AMG/R/V models they sell, the more likely manufacturers will keep offering them.

      • 0 avatar

        …because most people with a 80 grand burning sensation in their wallet would be best served with a well-executed grand tourer (something that is essentially dead in modern automotive parlance unless you can write Ferarri a 300k check) and instead have to deal with ze Germans’ attempts at force feeding us cars that try to be luxurious, safe, sporty, and race-ready in one (some might even try to be off road ready SUVs). And since you can’t defy physics, you get choppy ride, scary handling, and tire-melting torque.

        Roads and weather in America are crap. Track excursions result in voiding of warranty and expensive repairs to systems costing nearly as much as the purchase price of the car. You can’t drive over 80 anywhere without losing your license, and roadgoing lateral g maneuvers will result in loss of license, life, or both.

        Most people buy a lightened performance sports car to talk about what it CAN do, live with it in agony as a daily driver because of all the compromises, then spin it out on greasy pavement when merging on a highway in sleet.

      • 0 avatar

        No one is force feeding us a Cayman R, or an M/AMG/V etc. If anything, they are much rarer than any standard model of the same car. At my BMW dealer you are lucky if they have even one M3 on the lot, among DOZENS of 328i with automatics and navigation. You are lucky to even find a sport pkg or a stick on the lot without pre-ordering. The Cayman R is a glorified badge job, just to make some extra $$ off the diehard Porsche fans. If I had $70k to spend on a car, I probably wouldnt buy one, as much as I love it… I would rather have a perfect 80s 911 Turbo instead. But if I had my heart set on a new Porsche, yeah, I would get one, just to be different. I dont care if my needs would be better met by a GT, I dont WANT a GT. If I dont mind “living in agony” with my track ready Porsche, why do you care?? It’s not like there arent a hlaf dozen non-R Caymans sitting there, possibly available at a discount, for you to tool around in, laughing at me in my discomfort!

        None of us NEED a performance car of any kind. A CamCord would be perfectly fine for almost every driver in the US. But I dont want one, I like having choices, and I like being able to choose something completely impractical if I feel like it. Which I usually do… :)

  • avatar

    Add me to the “great review” crowd. I work with Canadians daily and enjoy the very slight change in perspective. But even without the Canada references, it was an honest assessment of the car, amusing and a good read.

    I have an older 911 for my daily now. Yes, I live in Oklahoma, but soon after getting it decided it would be my year round car. I just enjoy driving it too much. It rains here a lot in the spring and I do spent a lot of time staring at a flashing TC light and hearing my engine cut out when I round a corner a bit brisk, but I have a few friends with quasi-high end cars that drive them year round as well. It’s an aspect of the review that gets left by wayside a great deal unless it is a discussion of a more ration choice of conveyance.

    …and yes, those are stunning pictures

  • avatar

    Great write-up, Brendan. The most enjoyable, well-written car review I’ve read in quite a while.

  • avatar

    Sharing some of who you are and where you’re coming from in the Canadian sense of humor style was great, thanks, enjoyed the review. So there’s gold miners and timber barons up there that buy this sort of car?

  • avatar

    Porsche has mastered the art of creating models out of the same car. If you question this proposition, take a look at the myriad “models” of the 911, all of which are variations on the same car.

    Given this Porsche penchant for creating more out of the same, the R should come as no surprise. What does surprise me is the auto press in general gushing over the thing. It’s approximately 112 pounds lighter than the “S”. But by the time you add back in things like A/C, radio and maybe some cupholders to boot, the weight savings is negligible. The “S” gives you 95% of what the “R” offers without sacrificing creature comforts. Or you can wait for the next gen Cayman which will weigh close to the “R” with creature comforts included. And I seriously doubt that the added “edge” created by the lowered height or tuned suspension are exploitable any place other than a track or noticeable outside a track as well.

    The Cayman is versatile, but hardly an all weather car. I’ve actually read ads bragging that their car wasn’t even taken out in the rain! The Cayman is the best daily driver mid-engine car on the market. It has a staggering amount of storage space for a car in its segment. And it has the refinement to be a DD as well. I was at the Washington Auto Show this week and the salesman had to give me a quick lesson on how to get in Evora! And the trunk is a joke. But the reality is that hardly anyone treats any Porsche sports cars as DDs, certainly not Caymans or 911s. Most are garage queens that average 5,000 miles per year.

    IMHO, the “R” is just another example of a car manufacturer putting a little “lip stick” on an existing model to keep things a little interesting until the new model arrives. Car makers do this all the time. It is only a big deal this time because the lip stick went on a Porsche.

  • avatar

    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!

  • avatar

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

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