Saturday 25 March 2017

Austerity measures as Cayman lightens up its pure Porsche power

Porsche's Cayman R might lack the 911's iconic status, but if it's austerity, says Kyle Fortune, roll on Armageddon

PITY the Cayman driver. No really. He or she has picked wisely, but everyone will still assume they can't afford a Porsche 911.

The Cayman is at an immediate advantage, as without the weight of history overseeing its development Porsche could put its engine where it should be: in the middle. That's always caused Porsche a bit of a problem, as the Cayman does indeed sit below the 911 in the range.

And Porsche sells a lot of 911s. Even here in Ireland, where there's currently nowhere official to buy one. Having a model that's -- whisper it -- more balanced and friendlier to drive has always resulted in Porsche capping the Cayman's performance, leaving a neat gap between it and the entry-level 911 Carrera models.

However, that's no more, as this new Cayman R is the first Cayman to offer performance to properly match the entry-level 911 Carreras. Porsche has finally uncapped the Cayman -- even if it's done so relatively tentatively.

It has not simply increased the power (which is only a modest increase over the Cayman S); instead Porsche has gone down the tried and tested route of putting its cars on a diet.

there was ever a manufacturer that does well out of lightweight specials, then Porsche is it. Usefully, the car industry is the only one where customers happily pay more for less -- at this level of the market anyway. It's also a clever tactic, as Porsche's lightweights are typically seen as compromised in terms of comfort -- which cleverly distances the R from entry-level 911s.

In the case of the Cayman R the drop in weight is 55kg. Some minor modifications to the engine increase the power by 10 -- to 330bhp, too. Combined, that's enough to allow the Cayman R to reach 100km/h in just five seconds -- or less if you tick the option box for the paddle-shifted, seven-speed PDK automatic transmission. To do so not only adds some weight and expense, but robs you of one of the finest shifting manual gearboxes you can buy. Stick with the manual: you'll not regret it.

Best, too, to return some of the kit Porsche has removed to lighten the car in the first place. You'll want some air conditioning, so thankfully Porsche allows you to re-specify its most basic system for free. Even Ireland gets the sun, sometimes. Likewise a stereo -- sure, the engine is melodic, but not every journey is an opportunity to blast down a favourite road with nothing but a sports exhaust in accompaniment. Sadly.

As ever with Porsche, the Cayman R is a demonstration of percentages. Lots of seemingly insignificant small changes add up to a greater whole package. There are R badges on the rear and side sills to remind you that this is no ordinary Cayman, while Porsche scripting along the bottom of the doors is a neat nod to racing models of old. There's a fixed rear wing too, and lightweight alloy wheels. Inside there's an Alcantara-covered sports steering wheel, and some hip-hugging lightweight sports seats. The whole car may be slimmed down, but it's perhaps not quite the hardcore model we'd expect of a Porsche wearing the little-used R badge.

Think of it then as being a Cayman Clubsport, rather than an R. Porsche's naming of its lightened Cayman is pretty much our only gripe with what's otherwise a deeply impressive sports car.

Find a tricky, quiet road and the Cayman R is a revelation. All Caymans are good, but the R's lower suspension, lighter wheels and revised suspension allow it to cover ground with such impunity you'll find yourself going back over the same stretch of road slack-jawed in wonder. That it's incisive and immediate is no surprise, but the way the R adds another layer of ability without upsetting the ride quality is. It's this as much as the additional power that allows you to travel so quickly, so easily.

A Lotus Evora S might, just, see it off on a seriously tortured stretch of tarmac. Thank Lotus' unerring ability to deliver a magic carpet-rivalling ride for that, but the Porsche should last forever, and the interior feels like it's worth the money, too. Which leaves only one other car to consider alongside it: a 911.

Sure, the 911 has a pair of extra seats, but who's ever seen anyone in the back of one? A basic Carrera's starting price is more than a sensibly specified Cayman R, too. Start adding options to the 911 and the gap soon becomes a chasm. But forget about that: it's about driving, and the Cayman has always impressed. That the R adds so much by taking so little away only makes the decision easier. It all comes down to whether you can live with your richer friends questioning your choice.

Take them to Mondello Park for a few laps and show them why you're right, as the Cayman R really exhibits its brilliant balance. If that doesn't convince them, then nothing will.

If this is a poor man's Porsche, then bring on the austerity, even if most of us still can't afford it . . .

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