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2012 Porsche Cayman R

Achim Hartmann/Porsche

Overall Rating
Porsche's purest track car, but debatable whether the on-road differences over a fine-handling Cayman S would be worth the luxury tradeoffs for most folks. You'll like this car if you're: an extroverted Porsche enthusiast who loves the idea of slicing as many tenths of a second as possible off your weekend lap times.
Looks Rating
Strikingly sleek, outside the rigid spoiler, but arguably not as attractive as the similarly lightened Boxster Spyder.
Interior Rating
It has door fabric pulls instead of door handles, button-free steering wheel and no standard air conditioning, cup holders or stereo (the latter two no-cost options).
Ride Rating
Could be the best-handling Porsche sold, and the ride - while firm - is not brutally punishing
Safety Rating
Active safety in spades, but its tires really don't like the combination of rain and single-digit temps.
Green Rating
Lightest and among the most fuel-efficient new Porsches available, and better than most track-ready rivals, but still has a healthy appetite for premium fuel.

Paying more money for less car is inherently dumb. On purely rational terms, paying more money for the all-new Porsche Cayman R sports car that lacks even basic amenities makes little sense.

But Porsche builds the Cayman R for a small group of performance masochists willing to endure perhaps more than a little suffering themselves. These are buyers eager to sacrifice basic amenities, such as interior door handles, for driving euphoria on the track. Adrenaline-addicted buyers who believe that snaky, memory-producing roads provide more entertainment or luxury than any mere stereo or air conditioning, both of which are not included in the Cayman R two-seater.

Sure, worry warts concerned about resale value can add on both features to their Rs as no-cost options. But the two together will negate 15 kg of the 55 kg of weight savings that Porsche engineers have determinedly pared from a Cayman S starting point.

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This is a similar formula used to such fantastic effect with the Boxster Spyder convertible, a lightweight version of Porsche's mid-engine two-seat convertible. Porsche's marketing geniuses are the only ones in the auto business who have been able to convince their customers that they should actually pay more for a coupe (Cayman) than a convertible (Boxster), the justification being slightly more horsepower, a more track-ready body, and well, er, the convertible came out first.

The new Cayman R starts at $75,600, or about five grand higher than both the 20-kg-lighter Boxster Spyder and the Cayman S, but at least there's some more justification to the higher price in this most extreme R version. Many tracks severely restrict convertible use, unless they have a full aftermarket roll cage bolted in. And since Porsche Canada announced price reductions in January on the vast majority of its Canadian lineup in response to the dollar's continued strength, the R costs only $1,700 more than what a Cayman S cost in December, 2010.

That extra moolah does not just buy you a stripper Cayman, but adds a variety of performance upgrades. A new fixed rear spoiler is said to reduce rear lift by 40 per cent, a sharpened suspension setup now leaves the body 22 mm lower, which combined with stiffer springs results in less body roll, plus reworked software in the optional PDK transmission provides shorter shift times.

Then there are lightened components, which contribute to that 55 kg weight loss, the most significant being the aluminum doors that come straight off a 911 GT3, saving 15 kg, and lighter manual sports seats, which save the same 12 kg as the deleted air conditioning. An available lithium-ion battery and the lightest wheels in Porsche's entire lineup are also part of the R's diet.

Interior niceties such as sound insulation, a gauge-topping binnacle and cup holders have also been stripped away, making the car notably louder on the road. Strangely, a heavy, Yellow Pages-thick owner's manual is still stuffed into the glove box, making the lack of real door handles and cup holders seem more gimmicky than truly representative of an obsessive desire to pare down the pounds.

Luckily though, that lack of sound insulation means the driver can experience even more of the wonderful exhaust note produced by the 3.4-litre, horizontally opposed, six-cylinder engine, with or without the available sports exhaust. This engine produces 330 hp, or 10 more than in the Boxster Spyder or Cayman S.

On the road, the Cayman R provided wonderfully direct steering, the affectionate but not clingy seats holding you nicely in place in corners, and plenty of redline-ripping gusto.

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But in the surprisingly chilly single-digit temperatures and rainy conditions we encountered in normally sunny Mallorca, the tires continually lost grip at even modest enthusiasm levels, on the road and on the track. This is a car that would need winters mounted on it in September, and ideally keep them right through to the end of April.

The standard transmission is a fine six-speed manual, but a seven-speed PDK is available, which offers slightly quicker acceleration (down to 4.7 seconds, a barely noticeable 0.1-0.3 second improvement), quicker shifts, as well as overall fuel economy better by 0.4 litre/100 km, down to a 9.3 average.

The Cayman R's outgoing personality is also clearly communicated in its looks, starting from the bright green that's exclusive to the Cayman R, the available black hood and wheels, the Porsche script along the lower body sides, and that stuck-on rear spoiler. Its insides feature bright accents in whatever body colour you choose, along the dash and in between the front seats. It all works to differentiate the Cayman R, but it doesn't have the killer lust-inducing looks of the Boxster Spyder.

Yet in the end, the Cayman R is easily one of the best-handling Porsches built. Most buyers wouldn't notice a huge difference from the Cayman S on public roads, but for hot-lap-loving Porsche enthusiasts willing to sacrifice some conveniences on the altar of all-out performance, this Cayman R will be one rewarding sports car when it arrives in April.

Tech specs

2012 Porsche Cayman R

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Type: Compact sport coupe

Base price: $75,600; as tested, (estimated.) $82,800

Engine: 3.4-litre, flat-six

Horsepower/torque: 330 hp/273 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual/optional seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic (PDK)

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.2 city/7.1 highway (NEDC Euro ratings); premium gas

Alternatives: BMW M3, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Lotus Elise, Mazda RX-8, Nissan 370Z Nismo

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