The decade which began in 2010 comes to a close next week, and it’s got me feeling a little nostalgic for the good times. When were the good times you ask? Why 2012 of course! When you consider the lineup of incredible new models that Porsche has built across the last ten years, there is only one that stands out to me as the best.
Better than the technological prowess of the new Taycan Turbo S, better than the out-and-out performance of the 918 Spyder, better than the comfort and speed of a Panamera Turbo S eHybrid, it’s the 2012 Porsche Cayman R. In a world of Papa Bear cars, the Cayman R is Baby Bear’s ‘just right’. This car is a reminder of Porsche’s original roots, providing a well-balanced sports car that inspires the driver with a glorious mechanical limited slip differential, incredible steering, a connected feeling shifter, meaningful weight reduction tactics, and just enough power to keep you happy. The changes between a Cayman S and a Cayman R were largely incremental, but it is the complete package that wows. It’s more than the sum of its parts, as all good Porsches are.
Power was not improved dramatically from Cayman S to Cayman R, as they use the same direct-injected 3.4-liter flat six engine. The R gained a state of tune producing 10 additional ponies for a grand total of 330. Ten horsepower is nothing to write home about, but 330 is a good round number and some of the most fun cars I’ve ever driven had far less than 330 horsepower. It’s more than enough to have a good time, and I’d even go so far as to say anything more than that is just criminally excessive.
Weight was pulled from a standard Cayman chassis to create the R, but not enough to make the cabin an unforgiving place to spend time. A little sound deadening here, lighter wheels there, it was a piecemeal change rather than a wholesale one. Aluminum door skins and carbon fiber bucket seats make up the lion’s share of the weight reduction, but it’s always good to shout out the factory removal of air conditioning and stereo.
There were minor aerodynamic changes to the Cayman R, cribbed directly from the rarely selected Cayman Aerokit option, which I admit feel largely aesthetically motivated. The little carbon rear spoiler isn’t noticeable from the driver’s seat, but it looks cool. The more aggressive front fascia spoilers give the R a purposeful look.
The suspension of the R is 20mm lower than a standard Cayman S, but was available as an optional Sport Suspension package on the S. No matter, it’s an excellent setup as it allows for aggressive cornering without breaking your back over the rough stuff. In comparison to today’s Cayman GT4 it is a bit less stiff and has a bit more capacity for tolerance on the streets of our crumbling infrastructure. It strikes a remarkable balance. And those lightweight 19″ wheels are visually and dynamically exquisite.
There is a purity to the Cayman R that Porsche has not been able to replicate in anything it has built since. While the German sports car maker we all love has made quite a few cars that are quicker, faster, more impressive, and more expensive, it hasn’t built anything as pure as this in the intervening 8 years. Don’t get me wrong, I love a GT3 RS, a Cayman GT4, a Boxster Spyder, or a Carrera T as much as the next guy, but those are larger, less connected, and far more expensive models. I’d still take the R over any of them.
Looking at a Porsche dealer lot today, the Cayman R’s price of $66,300 seems laughably inexpensive. It’s difficult to get a base 718 Cayman for that kind of money these days, and oh boy it isn’t better. The 987 was the sweet spot of Porsche’s history, and the Cayman R is the best version of the 987, hands down. Don’t believe me? Ask Mike Spinelli over at The Drive.
The only thing I don’t like about the R? That letter. At the time Porsche had only used R on a very special lightweight racing version of the 911 which was much more hardcore than any RS, and while an incredible street car, the Cayman R was no race car. Like the 911 R that followed a few years later, I think the name is misplaced.