Porsche Cayman R: Out of the Shadows

Launched in 2011 to great acclaim, the Porsche Cayman R has since flown under the radar while a period rival, the BMW 1 M, has topped almost every future classic listing. Does the Cayman R deserve a fresh look?

I'll never forget my first drive in a Cayman R. It looked sexy in its bright red paint, it was the weekend, and I had nothing better to do than to go and hunt for great driving roads which, happily, I found.

The thing about the Cayman R is that, on paper at least, it shouldn't be all that much better than its already excellent S sibling, but then again Porsche has a way of giving its most special cars a certain x-factor that is hard to attribute to any single facet. The Cayman R is such a car.

Yes, it's slightly lighter than the S because of the use of aluminium and other little tricks like replacing the interior doorpulls with straps, and those serious-looking sports seats. But once you've added in the optional air-con and sound system, much of the weight loss have been regained.

It does ride a significantly 20mm lower though, the front and rear tracks are slightly wider and there's more negative camber on both axles. Importantly, it also features a limited-slip differential that has been tuned with track use in mind. 

The 3.4L flat-6 is tuned to deliver 243kW (only about 8kW more than the S), but Porsche's boffins also fiddled with the engine control software and modified the exhaust system. The purpose of all these little tweaks? Responsiveness... 

At the time (late 2011), I rated the Porsche Cayman R the best sportscar on the market, but it was significantly pricier than the BMW 1 M. Better, yes, but not that much better. Since then, however, prices for the 1 M have ballooned while the Cayman R's have stayed relatively stable - that is, if you can find one. 

Happily, we have a Cayman R in the greater SentiMETAL collection, and this one has done just over 30 000km, and was acquired 2 years ago from Crossley & Webb in Cape Town.

Time has not diluted the appeal of the Cayman R's exterior design. Yes, this one might not be bright red, but the dark metallic grey colour of this car accentuates its curves. The previous owner opted for a different wheel to standard Cayman R spec, but the car is otherwise as it left the factory, with air-conditioning, a sound system and the Sport Chrono package. With its prominent rear spoiler it looks almost like a smaller version of the Carrera GT.

The seats are firm, but the driving position just as I remember it - perfect! Although subjected to a weight-saving diet, its definitely not a bare-boned racer. And judging by the lack of rattles or scuff marks, this car was built well, using quality parts. Even a particularly poor patch of road fails to lure a rattle or squeak out of the cabin. Pottering around town, you won't really notice the extra firmness - it's an easy daily, this one.

Find an open stretch of road, however, and the R addiction will be immediate and all thoughts of merely "pottering about" banished. With that flat-6 wailing and the slick PDK 7-speed 'box effortlessly finding the right gear, and in such a responsive manner that it almost feels as if it is directly connected to your brain, the R is clearly the type of car that you wake up early for... just for the drive.

You'd expect a 9 year-old sportscar with 30 000km+ on the odo to feel slightly "baggy", but not this one - its solidity speaks volumes of Porsche build quality. The steering is as sublime as I remember it being on the original test unit, perfectly weighted and pin-point accurate. And while the lower centre of gravity means it's more hunkered down in the corners, it hasn't lost the suppleness of the "S".

In fact, this car treats bumps upon corner entry with disdain, allowing the driver to focus on the steering rather than feeling unsettled and unsure. Pull back on the left steering-mounted shift-paddle, nail the throttle, and the Cayman R appears to pivot around its centre, before it blasts into the desired direction, the engine (and driver, possibly), wailing in delight!

For the record, the Cayman R (equipped with PDK, and Sport Chrono with launch control) boasts a claimed 0-100kph time of 4.7 seconds. But I remember us beating that claimed time back in the day at CAR Magazine (even with air-con, audio system and both seats taken). Also... it runs all the way to 280kph.

So, then... does the Cayman R deserve to feature higher on the lists of future classics. I very much believe so. It is estimated that only 3 500 were built (far less than the 1 M), and there aren't many in South Africa either (50 is the guess), and limited-edition Porsche do tend to escalate in value eventually. Meanwhile, 1 Ms are far easier to find, and their prices put them close to the Cayman R (when one comes up for sale, occasionally). 

The Cayman R is the better car. It is a Porsche. It is rarer... you do the maths...

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