By Amos Kwon
on 7.6.12
Photo by Amos Kwon

If ever there was a car that could make you an instant superhero with the neighborhood elementary school boys (and girls, for that matter), it would be the Porsche Cayman R, specifically painted in Peridot Metallic (a.k.a., Chernobyl Green). Consider it the ultimate Hotwheels sports car, come to life. We had the chance to toss the Cayman R around town in Chicago for a week, and it made just about every other car we’ve driven this year seem like a post-Thanksgiving meal nap.

Read our full review and photo essay after the jump.

Porsche did the Boxster/Cayman rollout all backwards. The convertible was introduced prior to the hardtop and that’s typically not how things are done in the automotive industry (unless you’re the Dodge Viper SRT10/GTS). Let’s just say we’re glad because the wait for the Cayman was more than worth it because it brings us into a world where near-911 performance can be attained for thousands less. The Cayman R houses a mid-mounted, naturally aspirated 3.4 liter flat six engine that delivers 330 horsepower, 10 more than the very capable Boxster Spyder, the very car that gave rise to the Cayman R. And the Cayman R is easier to drive than a 911 due to its lightness and engine position, which lends to more neutral handling characteristics.

Consider it the ultimate Hotwheels sports car, come to life.

Initial Impressions

But first things first. The bright green metallic paint job does not lend to subtlety. It doesn’t bark. It howls its presence like a timber wolf hooked up to a power grid. But this is a good thing because the Cayman R is no ordinary car. Its goal is performance, whether on the track or on an unsupervised expanse of curved asphalt goodness, and the car begs to be noticed. The black fixed spoiler, side mirrors, wheels, headlight trim, and rocker panel graphics add just the right touch of sinister. The red brake calipers nicely punctuate the look. Neighbors either wonder what armored car you knocked off to buy it or question what happened to your classic suburban taste. Perhaps both.

The interior is refreshingly purposeful. Though our model came generously equipped with satellite navigation and air conditioning, it was the alcantara/leather seats, the fat-rimmed, small-diameter steering wheel, the nifty chrono lap timer, and the flaming red seat belts and matching door pulls that informed us that this car means serious driving business. Men in tassel loafers or capri pants need not apply. The interior is both comfortable for everyday driving and well-focused for spirited (politically correct for “testicles required”) driving. Nothing is overdone. The tach and speedometer are crisp and large and the commanding driving position allows you to concentrate on what matters most… heel-and-toeing, apex-hitting and throttle mashing.

What It’s About

Though the Cayman R is insanely quick (0-60 in 4.7 seconds, though we’re sure that’s pretty conservative) and blisteringly fast (175 mph), Stuttgart had no intention of threatening their bread-and-butter 911’s performance. The Cayman R’s 3.4 liter, six-cylinder boxer engine spews out 330 horsepower at 7,400 rpm, while the 911 Carrera hits 60 in 4.5 seconds, tops out at 179 and has 350 horses at its disposal. But the 911 is $15,800 more and has 20 more horses. So you have to ask yourself if $790 more per horse is really worth it for the 911, when you can have the Cayman R, which probably won’t send you into the weeds if you push it as hard as you do the 911. All this, and you can go buy yourself a loaded Ducati Monster 1100 Evo with the change. Now that’s solid economics if we ever saw it.

The Cayman R’s excellent performance numbers and sweet handling are aided by significant weight savings (especially in the hugely satisfying six-speed manual, like our tester). A 121 pound weight reduction gives credit to lighter wheels, aluminum door skins, seat belt material door pulls, and carbon fiber backed sport seats. We’re sure the optional nav and air conditioning diminished that weight-savings, but we certainly appreciated the additional technology and the ability to dry our sweaty palms. The now ubiquitous novelty of the push-button starter is seriously overshadowed by the guttural growl of the engine as it springs to life. Were it not for wear and tear on the starter, I’d probably do that 100 times a day if left to my own devices. The clutch is heavy but certainly appropriate for this car. It feels right. And the shifter feels great in the hand and sure when roping through the gears.

The Drive

The power is nothing short of intoxicating. I gingerly engaged the throttle when pulling out of my quiet neighborhood and the Cayman R surged forward with muscular haste. I could barely contain my excitement, and I hadn’t yet gone over 40 mph. A few minutes later, I was on the interstate whipping through less capable transportation and simultaneously attracting onlookers as if I had a scantily clad Kate Beckinsale riding next to me. The car collected the “thumbs up” by drivers in an Audi A5, a Subaru WRX STi, and by a clearly affluent gentleman in a Fisker Karma. The only frown we got was from a poor chap in a Cayman S, who most likely went home to drink himself to sleep after our brief encounter at an intersection. Once the lanes cleared out, the hurtling leap from 60 to 120 brought me the kind of joy that’s reserved for 5-year olds on Christmas morning. The Cayman R simply wanted to go faster. The power at your back and the hunkering-down of the entire car at speed was pure German ferocity.

The only frown we got was from a poor chap in a Cayman S, who most likely went home to drink himself to sleep after our brief encounter at an intersection.

The drive through downtown Chicago and then back home through some undulating and quite challenging twisties proved to positively exhilarating. The Cayman R acts like an extension of your own body (no, it’s not chubby), in that it’s nearly telepathic. The steering responds immediately and precisely and the mid-engine layout provides sure handling without worrying about the car completely killing you as you hammer it out of the turn. I believe the number of times I turned around to re-engage the curves amounted to at least twenty. The seats held me in place, the pedal placement was excellent and the chassis was unflappable. I forgot about food, a doctor’s appointment and the 40 mph speed limit posted liberally along the roadside. The Cayman R is a sports car that is true to the category, moreso than just about any car I’ve driven to date.

The final note on this drive is the pure joy the car illicits from bystanders. Little boys on street corners scream, “Your car is AWESOME!!” and grown men outside grocery stores stand agape as the Cayman R rolls by slowly. I gladly drove my neighbor’s kids for a quick run around the block, and peals of crazy laughter filled the cabin. It was the icing on the cake of the wonderful week Behind the Wheel of this remarkable automobile. Now comes the hard part… convincing the wife that this should be our next car.

Buy Now: $66,300 (base)

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