Porsche Cayman R On Track
by David Finlay (15 April 2011)
The Cayman R is the most powerful mid-engined Porsche you can buy. And that's probably the least interesting thing about it.
The claim is in any case a mild one. Just ahead of the rear wheels lies what is basically the same engine as you'll find in the Cayman S, but uprated to produce a maximum of 330bhp. Never mind the fact that other Porsches have 200bhp more than that - the Cayman S itself has an output of 320bhp. So we're not talking about a dramatic increase here.
Much more significant, though perhaps less likely to give you bragging rights at your local purveyor of alcoholic beverages, are the other things that make the Cayman R special. The first of these is the very fact that it's a Cayman. For decades, motoring writers have been swooning over the 911 and calling it the greatest driver's car in the world, but in dynamic terms it has never, and cannot possibly ever, overcome the weight distribution problems caused by having its engine hanging off the rear axle.
In these terms, Boxsters are better than 911s because their engines are in the right place, and Caymans are better than Boxsters because they have proper roofs and therefore superior body stiffness. You might not like this, but there it is.
Within the Cayman range, the R is particularly special because of two benefits discussed in our <feature article on grip>. First, it's 20mm, or about four-fifths of an inch, lower than the S, and if that doesn't sound like much you should bear in mind that even a small reduction in centre of gravity height has an important effect on weight transfer. All other things being equal, a lower car will be able to corner faster than a taller one before the tyres start to lose grip.
Second, the R has less weight to transfer. (A lighter car will be able to corner faster than a heavier one before the tyres . . . well, you get the idea.) Porsche has cut out 55kg by removing the air-conditioning and radio, fitting lightweight wheels, carbonfibre sports seats (with no reclining mechanism) and a smaller fuel tank, and using the aluminium exterior door skins from the 911 Turbo and GT3 and the interior door panels from the 911 GT3 RS.
As you can possibly imagine, even climbing into the Cayman R and shutting the door behind you (with a clang which echoes round the cabin) is rather a raw experience. I would guess that this is even more apparent on the road, but I don't know for sure because the car I've driven was available only for use at the Porsche Experience Centre Handling Circuit at Silverstone - which, if you were wondering, is why this article is being published as a feature rather than a road test.
But that's okay, because if ever a car had been designed for track use, it's this one. Never having been there before, I had assumed that the Porsche circuit, located near what has become the new pit straight on the Silverstone Grand Prix layout, was going to be a bit of a Mickey Mouse affair, but although it isn't particularly quick it does have an impressive variety of slow-to-medium corners.
(I asked Chief Instructor Gordon Robertson who had the lap record, but he said that they made a point of never timing anyone as there would be "carnage" if they did.)
The Cayman R did everything beautifully round here. The turn-in is fantastic, the mid-corner balance wonderful. The brakes were very strong and felt as if they could have managed dozens upon dozens of laps without losing performance.
The optional PDK gearbox, which gives a lower 173mph top speed but a slightly superior 4.9-second 0-62mph time compared with the standard manual, gave superquick changes and provided the next ratio when I asked for it, which is not always the case with semi-automatic transmissions. And the acceleration was glorious, partly because it happened so quickly and partly because it was accompanied by such a lusty roar from the 3.4-litre six-cylinder engine.
My favourite part of the Porsche track is the approach to the final corner. It's preceded by the quickest straight, after which the tarmac eases slightly to the left before turning sharply to the right. You have to take that lefthander seriously unless you're prepared to mess up your line something terrible, and you also have to be hard on the brakes as you turn into it if you want to keep your imaginary lap time respectable.
All in all, this section is a bit of a compromise. The Cayman R squirmed and squiggled through here, and I couldn't really blame it, but it never came close to feeling out of control. If my turn-in to the righthander was occasionally clumsy, that was because of a lack of judgement on my part, and not because the car couldn't cope.
The Cayman R is not a race car, but in these circumstances it felt very like one. And I couldn't help noticing that of all the 911s on the track at the same time, not one was remotely capable of keeping up with it. There is always a sense of occasion when you're driving a 911, but when it comes to what I would describe as a driving experience, the Cayman R is the best Porsche I have ever encountered.