2012 Porsche Cayman R review:

2012 Porsche Cayman R

Starting at $66,300
  • Trim levels R
  • Available Engine Gas
  • Body style Coupe

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

The Good With its rigid suspension and weight distribution, the 2012 Porsche Cayman R features incredible handling. The direct-injection engine is powerful and efficient, and Porsche's fast-shifting dual-clutch transmission is available as an option.

The Bad Getting into the Cayman R is a physical challenge. Road noise is very audible, and the climate control system blows air with about as much force as a chipmunk's cough.

The Bottom Line The 2012 Porsche Cayman R is an excellent car for fast driving on winding roads, but in daily use it can prove a little uncomfortable.


Photo gallery:
2011 Porsche Cayman R

As the 2012 Porsche Cayman R snaked over a road that never learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the car seemed to handle quite well. Then I glanced at the speedometer. The Cayman R was running about twice as fast as I had thought, and had plenty of room to go faster.

I hadn't driven a car this good in the turns since the Lotus Evora S. The comparison between these two cars is apt, as they take a similar approach to handling: light overall weight and a well-engineered, rigid suspension.

To earn the R trim, the Cayman does away with extraneous weight caused by pedestrian appurtenances as door handles, replacing them with simple straps. The sport seats use carbon fiber shells and aren't power-adjustable. Instead of a trick spoiler that automatically rises at speed, the Cayman R's downforce generator is fixed to the back of the car.

Nylon straps serve to unlock the doors, saving the weight of a metal door handle.

The Cayman R also gets a limited-slip differential, standard, to help it corner. Porsche seems to have left off some of the sound-deadening materials to save additional weight, as the pinging of pebbles flung up by the tires inside the fenders played clearly through the cabin. And as in other Porsche models, extensive use of aluminum helps keep overall weight down, resulting in an incredibly nimble car.

The car delivered to CNET lacked any electronics in the cabin more sophisticated than a CD player, so I initially thought Porsche had purposefully kept it as a pure sports car, similar to what Ford does with the Mustang Boss 302. But here I was wrong, as a look at the Porsche Web site showed the Cayman R can be optioned with navigation, a Bluetooth phone system, and a USB port for digital music.

Let me first say that Porsche's current generation of cabin electronics, packaged as the Porsche Communication Management System option, is quite good. I recently got to try it out in the Panamera Turbo S. Although the LCD is smallish, the maps show in good resolution and include traffic data. The Bluetooth phone system makes the contact list of a paired phone available on the LCD, and the stereo can handle iPods and other digital audio sources.

These optional electronics are all very modern, but I didn't mind that Porsche left them off CNET's car. Given the Cayman R's handling capabilities, I knew exactly on which roads I wanted to drive it, and I didn't want to be interrupted by any phone calls. The minimal sound insulation would have forced the stereo into competition with the excellent exhaust note, and the stereo would have lost.

Vents in the rear fenders help cool the engine.

That is not to say the Cayman R is some sort of bare-metal stripped racer, all roll cages and fire extinguishers. It did have a radio with a CD player, and a monochrome LCD to display the six radio presets (and that only). This car also came with the optional sport exhaust. This odd little extravagance makes a more aggressive exhaust sound at the push of a button.

Porsche engineering emphasizes efficiency, but the company does a little extra bowing and scraping to the gods of economy by including two drive modes, normal and sport. In the default normal mode, the throttle is detuned and an up arrow icon appears on the instrument cluster when the car thinks it should be shifted up a gear. As usual with these little helpers, it recommends sixth gear at anything above 50 mph.

The direct-injection engine sitting amidships lays its six cylinders flat, in Porsche style, and displaces 3.4 liters. Not a huge engine, yet it produces 330 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Although CNET's car came with the six-speed manual, another extravagance can be added in the form of the Doppelkupplung, Porsche's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

This spoiler is fixed in position, unlike on other Porsches, which get automatically rising wings.

Although not harsh, there was a decided mechanical feeling when shifting the six-speed manual transmission. I could feel each movement in the linkage up through the short shaft of the shifter.

In traffic or dealing with the interminable stop lights of city streets, this overtly mechanical shifter, and the car's other brutish elements, made it a chore to drive. The only civilized thing about it was a hill hold feature, essential on San Francisco's steep streets.

Frustrated by the tedium of driving in the city, I tended to leave the sport exhaust on and let the engine rev high. If I couldn't go fast, at least the car would sound fast.

On the freeway the Cayman R was more in its element, cruising easily at speed. But it still wasn't the most comfortable place to be. Along with the increased road noise was an unforgiving suspension, not exactly harsh but eager to communicate the state of the road surface to the cabin.

High seat bolsters make it difficult to get in and out of the cabin.

And the climate controls seem like a cruel joke. Cranking the fan all the way up, I could almost detect a faint stirring from the vents, a slight bit of air pressure vague enough that it could have been a figment of my imagination.

Getting into the cabin in the first place involved a little contortion. The sport seats have such high bolsters that it worked best to run them as far back as they go, so I could get my feet in the foot well and butt into the seat. Repeat the process on exit.

I also like to sit forward for good leg action on the clutch, but in my usual position, my hands hit my thighs when dragging the Cayman R's wheel around. That may be a good way to prevent oversteering, but I ended up notching the seat back a little more to cope with the hairpins on my route.

While driving in city traffic, I might have been wishing the Cayman R were a big, fat luxury roller, but my perceptions changed drastically on tightly curving back roads. As I mentioned above, the car stayed tight in the turns at speeds much greater than most other cars can handle, and the Cayman R wasn't even pushing its limits.

Third gear would have been right for most cars on these roads, but the Cayman R's tachometer kept pushing toward redline, so I put it in fourth, which meant 5,000rpm at 60 or 70 mph. The car felt untroubled taking the turns at these speeds. It was truly exhilarating.

The Cayman R is a star on winding roads.

This car came with Porsche's ceramic-composite brake option, a little overkill for public roads. Slight pressure on the brake pedal produced little effect. These brakes are the opposite of grabby. They allow quite a bit of modulation, but I didn't end up relying on them too much, as the car handled so well at speed.

The Cayman R was excellent at conveying load balance through the driver seat, where I could easily feel it shifting weight to the right or left side depending on the turn. Trail braking for extra front-wheel grip, I found the suspension was telepathic about how much the nose was down.

The only time I got it out of shape was through a particularly tight left-right-left sequence. On the last left turn it started to lose grip, going into oversteer, something I noted early it was prone to doing. But a minor bit of wheel work corrected the problem, with a little more throttle to straighten it out.

Driving these types of roads, or, better yet, a track, was definitely what the Cayman R was made for. I exulted in its handling prowess, forgetting its atrocious city manners, and determined to spend as many hours as possible looking for the next good right and left turns.

In sum
The 2012 Porsche Cayman R delivered to CNET was not optioned with cabin tech, but most of what Porsche offers is available. Although I would not really want to weigh a car like this down with the full cabin tech suite, an iPod connection would have been nice. For its rating, I give the car credit for having these options available, and have previously tested them in other Porsche models.

The Cayman R really excels in its performance, delivering the best in handling due to a well-engineered suspension and body. However, Porsche did not give it the kind of high-tech suspension that could make it good in the turns but also comfortable in the city. Porsche's engine is technologically top-notch, and you can get the car with either a six-speed manual or the higher-tech Doppelkupplung dual-clutch transmission.

The high bolstered seats mar its ergonomics, and the tight cabin does not help much, either. But as for aesthetic design, the Cayman R is an excellent-looking car.

Tech specs
Model2012 Porsche Cayman
TrimR
Power trainDirect-injection 3.4-liter flat 6-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy19 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy19.8 mpg
NavigationOptional hard-drive-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone supportOptional, with contact list download
Disc playerMP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player supportOptional iPod integration
Other digital audioOptional Bluetooth streaming audio, SD card, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio
Audio systemOptional Bose 13-speaker 385-watt audio system
Driver aidsOptional park distance sensor
Base price$66,300
Price as tested$81,665

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