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It's 5:30 on a Saturday morning. We sneak silently down to our garage, trying not to wake the wife. As the garage door glides open, the low morning light reveals a shiny Peridot Metallic 2012 Porsche Cayman R.
Our hand caresses the Porsche's right front fender as we pass. We envision the flat-6 music that will soon burst from the Cayman R's large, twin-outlet center exhaust. We ponder the "R" badging on the deck lid, the fixed rear wing and the four-piston cross-drilled brake rotors. Serious stuff.
We slide ungracefully over the seat's huge bolsters and twist the key to fire up the 3.4-liter six-cylinder. We press the Sport Plus button. Then the PSM off button. And then the Loud button. Yes, there really is a switch on the center stack that fully opens the $2,810 sports exhaust system.
Sleeping wife and neighbors be damned, we stab the throttle a few times, the exhaust returning a burbly rasp, like it's trying to clear its throat.
Then we're off, blitzing past the local early-morning-stand-around-and-talk car cruise. This day isn't about chatting and eating doughnuts. It's about driving, and nothing else. Our destination: Glendora Mountain Road, one of Southern California's finest driving roads, and a ribbon of pavement that we know all too well.
What's in an R?
It's not what's in an R, it's what was taken out. Air-conditioning. Radio. Cupholders. Floor mats. Door armrests. All of them gone in the name of weight savings. That's why it has fixed-back carbon-fiber seats, aluminum door skins and the lightest 19-inch wheels Porsche builds, at just 88 pounds for the set. In total, Porsche says 121 pounds were shaved.
If you want, you can order back in the creature comforts at no cost, somewhat defeating the purpose of the R.
For the honor of sweating bullets in the California summer heat, the 2012 Porsche Cayman R tipped the Edmunds scales at 3,048 pounds, which is 140 pounds heavier than the 2011 Boxster Spyder but 58 pounds lighter than the last Cayman S we tested. It's important to note that our Cayman R tester's $3,660 seven-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox adds 55 pounds versus the standard-equipment six-speed manual, which both the Boxster Spyder and Cayman S had.
PDK = Pretty Darn Kwik
You're not just paying an extra $4,200 over the cost of a Cayman S for Porsche to take parts away: The R also gets a power upgrade — a whopping 10 extra horses over the S — bringing the output of the direct-injected 3.4-liter flat-6 to 330 horsepower.
The fact that the PDK adds 55 pounds to the Cayman R seems counterintuitive. That is, unless you care about acceleration numbers. In which case, you would also want to order the $1,480 Sport Chrono package, which brings quicker-than-humanly-possible shifts and Launch Control into the equation.
With Launch Control engaged you simply press the Sport Plus button on the center stack, put your left foot on the brake, quickly stab the accelerator and watch revs hold at 6,800 rpm as the Launch Control display lights up on the steering wheel. Then release the brake and the festivities begin.
The 2012 Porsche Cayman R jumps out of the hole with startling force, the midengine/rear-drive layout helping it achieve the perfect amount of wheelspin. Naught to 60 mph hurtles by in 4.3 seconds (4.0 with a 1-foot rollout as at a drag strip), and you reach the quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds at 110.2 mph. The engine is a little soft low in the revs, but loves to be wound out to its 7,600-rpm redline.
Stops good, too, needing just 105 feet from 60 mph, despite the fact the R uses standard-issue Cayman S brakes: 12.5-inch vented and cross-drilled rotors clamped by four-piston calipers up front with 11.8-inch four-piston rears. Fade? If it happens, we didn't notice it.
Glendora Mountain Road
We're onto the never-ending curves of GMR by 6:30 a.m. At this hour, the road is clear of cyclists, longboard punks, sportbike riders and Johnny Law. We gradually pick up the pace, and as we drive harder and faster, the Cayman R comes alive.
The steering, which felt too light at low speeds, is phenomenally direct and quick, guiding the Cayman R perfectly through the turns. The stiffened suspension, which is overly firm on the highway, is utterly composed in attack mode.
With the Cayman R, every action elicits an instant reaction from the chassis, whether it's on-throttle, off-throttle, steering or braking. You can overwork the front tires if you ask too much in terms of late braking, or jump back on the throttle too early when exiting a turn. Luckily, Porsche allows some brake/throttle overlap to help left-foot brakers balance the chassis.
Accelerative traction is tremendous. You have to really try to get the tail to step out with power-on oversteer. But when it does break loose, it's easy to control the amount of slip angle, making for an extremely fun 5 miles on Glendora's East Fork. All the while, the exhaust crackles and bounces gloriously with each perfectly rev-matched downshift from the PDK transmission.
The brakes, which performed so superbly at the test track, don't give you that same firm pedal feel at less than full pressure. But you can feel the front tire grip right through the pedal, and the Cayman R stays planted under hard braking.
True to its serious nature, the 2012 Porsche Cayman R does without the Cayman S's optional electronically controlled Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), instead using non-adjustable twin-tube dampers, slightly stiffer springs, a thicker rear antiroll bar, increased negative camber at all four wheels and a 0.8-inch lower ride height.
The aforementioned wheels wear Bridgestone Potenza RE050As, size 235/35ZR19 front and 265/35ZR19 rear. We've tested a Cayman S that had both more and better Michelin Pilot Sport rubber. Probably because of that, the Cayman R is not the fastest Cayman we've ever tested despite stellar handling numbers — 71.3 mph through the slalom and 0.97g around the skid pad. (The Cayman S with Michelins, for example, went through the slalom at 72 mph.) The Cayman R does what it does despite its Bridgestones, not because of them.
Don't Sweat It
The 2012 Porsche Cayman R starts at $67,250, including $950 for destination. Order the PDK gearbox and bi-xenon cornering lights ($1,560), plus some of the creature comforts the R dispenses with, and you'll not only bump the price to our test car's $78,150, but your Cayman R will weigh pretty close to a Cayman S — with just a 10-hp advantage to boot.
But you are getting more precision, a stiffer suspension and the most serious seats fitted to a Cayman. And it's a set of sticky tires away from knocking down the 911's door. But of course, Porsche would never allow that. Ultimately, the reason you'll buy the Cayman R is because you absolutely, positively need to have the ultimate Cayman, even if it's by only a small amount.
If you're willing to sweat and sing your own tunes for that distinction, go for it. You won't regret the Cayman R's purity. As for us softies? Give us an R with air-conditioning. We'll make up for the extra 26 pounds by sticking with the lighter, more entertaining six-speed manual.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2012 Porsche Cayman in WA is: