To many Porschephiles, the Cayman is the next best thing to a 911. If the stopwatch is your main yardstick, the new R version makes the 911 Carrera almost obsolete. The Cayman R has shed 121 pounds, gained 10 hp, and received a lowered chassis (by 0.8 inch) and a more dynamic suspension setup, along with an all-black fixed rear wing that looks about as subtle as the huge Porsche decals on the flanks. Costing some $10,000 less than the brand's iconic halo model, the 330-hp two-seater can be perceived as a performance-car bargain, despite the fact that the more versatile Boxster S is arguably an even better buy.
Although the R goodies include lightweight wheels, slimmer seats, and doors made of aluminum, you'll now be charged extra for essentials such as air-conditioning. Like all Porsches, this one exudes solidity. However, the cabin doesn't look or feel particularly special, the ergonomics are outdated, and the packaging is tight even by Evora S standards. With one twist of the ignition key, though, the Porsche spell takes hold. After all, nothing sounds as raw and pure as a boxer engine, and nothing steers better than two front wheels that must neither carry the weight of an engine nor assume propulsion duties.
The Cayman R feels light, is agile, responds immediately, carves around bends like a slalom ace, constantly checks the motions along and around its axes, and is an expert at matching orders with execution. Boot the accelerator in the middle of a damp bend, and you get a wheel-spin warning in first, a kick in the butt in second, a dummy slide in third, and a brief protesting yell in fourth.
Next, we go through the getting-to-know-each-other routine by setting the chassis and transmission modes in Sport, then Sport Plus, and finally turning off stability control. Sport Plus loves high revs but hates gearchanges and is thus irrelevant on public turf. Disabling stability control (PSM off) introduces a looseness that could mean understeer but more likely becomes oversteer, which keeps both the driver's arms and right foot busy. Although the Cayman's front end is light and in some situations a bit wayward, it contains enough nerve endings that the driver can keep the car on course by modulating steering and throttle. This Porsche is a very tactile machine, and it calls for a switched-on wheelman who knows how to time and gauge his inputs.