The first Porsche model that instinctually comes to mind is the 911 and that’s because it’s long been associated with racing and is one of the most fulfilling performance cars to drive. Purists often regard other vehicles in the Porsche line-up as pariahs because they’re not as track-honed and don’t offer the same sense of telepathy you get from piloting a 911 model. This, however, doesn’t mean the other derivatives aren’t any fun to drive – take the Cayman for example. It’s essentially a coupé version of the second-generation Boxster and, although it’s often criticised for its lack of oomph, the refined handling makes it one of the best driver’s cars on the market. Producing 195kW from a 2.9-litre flat-six engine, the Cayman never really caught the attention of enthusiasts so to spice things up the Cayman S was launched. This elevated driver involvement to another level with a functional, driver-focused package and uprated 3.4-litre engine. However, it’s the Cayman R that’s garnered most interest from Porsche disciples – perhaps it’s that R badge. You see, the R moniker is reserved for models that not only encompass the brand ethos, but also deliver a race-peppered driving experience. The main aim of the Cayman R developers was to improve the overall performance by reducing weight. So out went all superfluous items and in came lighter parts such as 19-inch Boxster Spyder wheels, carbon-fibre racing seats, aluminium doors from the 911 Turbo, door straps and a lighter fuel tank. Together these slimline parts shave 55kg off its kerb weight. Not much, I know, but every kilogram counts.
Porsche has also fiddled with the suspension geometry, lowering it by 20mm, with shorter and stiffer springs culminating in a lower centre of gravity. There’s no body roll, either, especially when shimmying from side to side – instead, the car listens to your every input and behaves impeccably when changing direction. The handling does come at a compromise though: the lowered suspension lends itself to a hard ride quality but it’s tolerable and sucks up most imperfections the road throws at it. It’s only when you hit undulating surfaces that your internal organs start to take abuse. That said, the steering is sharp and responsive. In fact, the feedback from the steering wheel is so accurate that it feels as if you’re gliding your finger tips over the surface of the road. The cabin offers a sporty yet ergonomic interior that’s garnished with body-hugging bucket seats and a clearly positioned instrumentation cluster. In standard trim, the car comes without amenities such as a sound system and an air-conditioner but can be ordered as optional extras. Porsche has created a minimalist interior that takes driving back to its purist form – even the door handles have been replaced by door straps. Apart from the vintage Porsche vinyl lettering running along the bottom of each door, the Cayman R comes standard with an Aerokit package consisting of a black rear spoiler, smoked headlights and taillights and matching side mirrors. Porsche’s engineers have managed to squeeze 8kW from the flat-six mid-mounted 3.4-litre engine by installing the ECU with revised software and fitting a custom-made, less restrictive exhaust system. Power is rated at 243kW and 370Nm, which sounds fairly impressive on paper but out on the road it could do with a little more torque. There’s also a mechanical limited-slip differential (LSD). Forming part of the rear axle arrangement the LSD keeps grip levels in check and delivers maximum spread of power to the road.
Acceleration is from nought to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds but you’re going to have to order it with a seven-speed double-clutch PDK transmission and Sports Chrono Plus Pack to achieve this. This allows the driver to tailor how the car’s drivetrain behaves by selecting either Sport or Sport Plus. Both settings change the throttle sensitivity/shift times and are more intuitive than the regular mode delivering super-fast spine-jolting shifts. While its nought-to-100km/h time may not be as quick as its stablemates, the throaty tone from the sports exhaust makes up for it. If you’re after a spicier soundtrack you can always push the exhaust button. Once activated, bypass valves in the exhaust open to transform the hard-edged exhaust note into a rich baritone – a sound that never gets old. The off-beat boxer crescendo encourages you to drive it at the limit and as the revs climb into the upper echelons of the power band the seamless gear swopping of the PDK transmission sees to it that you don’t lose any momentum going forward. The top speed is impressive, too. If you manage to find a deserted road you can reach 282km/h, which is on par with the 911 Carrera and Targa 4.The brake set-up is also very effective. Comprising four-pot calipers all round with discs measuring 318mm at the front and 299mm at the rear the Cayman R can scrub off speed without any fuss. According to Porsche, the Cayman R will return pretty reasonable fuel-sipping figures of 9.4l/100km. I managed to return a dismal 300km per tank, granted I did drive it hard – I’m sure with a disciplined right foot a figure like 10l/100km is more realistic. What about the competition? Strangely, many consider the BMW 1M Coupé and the Audi RS3 as worthy adversaries. Both cost around R300 000 less than the Cayman and deliver similar performance figures but aren’t anywhere near as engaging to drive – well, the 1M Coupé does come close. The Cayman R is all about the relationship between car and driver and the unrelenting performance and driving experience that comes standard – no fancy gadgets here. Unlike the RS3 and 1M Coupé, the Cayman R doesn’t need a turbocharger or two to compensate for a dearth of cubic centimetres. Instead, everything about it feels natural and instinctual, and that’s the feeling you get when you drive it. A feeling its rivals can’t emulate.
Engine: 3.4-litre six-cylinder boxer
Power: 243kW and 370Nm
0-100km/h: 4.7 seconds (PDK)
Top speed: 283km/h
Price: R839 000
Porsche Cayman R road-test video: