Ever since driving a 911 (both a 996 and a 997), I have been fixated on owning one some day. However, used 911s that are quite a few years old are still not as cheap as I'd like them to be and so I found myself becoming more and more interested in the Caymans, many of which can be obtained in the high $20K to low $30K range. They seem to be a perfectly suitable alternative to the 911. Sure, it's not the same as owning a 911 but the Cayman is a car that can be appreciated in its own right.
The opportunity to drive a Cayman recently arose thanks my buddies over at LRA who happen to have a Cayman R as part of their track fleet.
This is the one car that I should definitely drive at the track because I hear it's amazing. This particular 2012 Cayman R, nicknamed "The Frog", is finely tuned to be raced the hell out of and is one of LRA's most popular cars. It certainly looks the part.
Stepping into the car, the first thing I noticed is that the interior is pretty much the exact same as the one in the 2007 Porsche 911 turbo I sat in the other day. In fact, the interior isn't all that different from even a 996's interior that was built over a decade ago!
It must be so boring to be a designer working in Porsche's "Department of the Interiors". Considering the fact that the overall design hardly changes, what do you all day? Go to work, stare at the design, admire it, review it from every angle possible, have multiple meetings about it and then go home? Then, rinse and repeat.
Kind of sounds like my job.
Of course not. I do much much more. I actually have a pre-meeting about a meeting before having the actual meeting itself.
Porsche has ripped out everything non-essential to reduce weight and turn a regular Cayman into the "R" version. For example, there are no door handles in the Cayman - just straps.
Because the carbon-fiber backed seats had very little padding, I fully expected an uncomfortable driving experience but Porsche actually did a fantastic job of making these seats feel supportive and non-intrusive to the point where you don't even notice any discomfort.
What I really loved about the Cayman R was starting it up. The exhaust noise was raw and guttural and because there wasn't much insulation in the car, I could actually hear the sounds. Because the engine is right behind your head, it only added to the visceral experience of driving the Frog. I think, overall, the Cayman R sounded better than the 911s I've driven.
I'm sure many people will think that this car is too harsh, too noisy and too uncomfortable to be a daily driver but it was such a breath of fresh air to be driving something where you feel like you're actually engaged. So many of today's cars insulate you so much from the road that it doesn't feel like you're doing much of anything.
The Cayman R provides an incredibly rewarding driving experience. The thought of wanting to take a nap behind the wheel doesn't even cross your mind! That's a win in my book.
The standard Cayman R doesn't come with A/C or a radio, but this one did. It had to, because trust me - you would not want to sign up for an LRA class in the summer in Austin, Texas to drive a car without A/C because within the first 30 seconds, you would be drenched in sweat. And then you'd look like you peed your pants.
I loved driving the Cayman R. It had 330 hp which is a slight bump over the Cayman S from that year. It was plenty for this car because it weighs less than 3000 lbs thanks to replacing those tremendously heavy door handles with straps.
I kept the car in "sport plus" mode the whole time because there is no other mode that the Cayman R should be driven in. I had to have the maximum amount of "sportiness" that this car had to offer at my disposal; otherwise, I would be doing the Frog a disservice.
This was even more important because I was mostly stuck behind slow trucks in slow Austin traffic and it was important for me to feel the "sportiness" whenever I could, even if it meant that I was never able to go beyond 35 mph.
I'm kidding - I did have a chance to drive above 40 mph. It was wonderful.
As I was plodding along behind what I think were the slowest cars to have ever graced the streets of Austin and surrounding areas (Doug DeMuro - I disagree, Austin does, in fact, have the worst drivers in the world), I was starting to regret the fact that I didn't take the Frog out for a couple of laps around the track because I'm sure I would've loved it.
If I can have fun in this thing going slow, imagine how awesome it would've have been where I could have really let it loose.
My experience driving the Cayman on the roads reminded me of the time I did a few charity laps at Texas Motor Speedway many years ago where we were not able to get up to a speed that would be considered exciting even by my grandma. So I did with the Cayman what I did back then: slow down to a crawl (we were already crawling anyway), and then punch it to experience the acceleration, and more importantly hear the wonderful noises this car makes.
The Cayman was equipped with PDK, which was fine but I what I was really wanting was a gear lever to shift. The PDK would've been undoubtedly fantastic on the track, but on these boring streets, shifting would've infused a little more excitement into the drive.
There were a few chances to take some high speed turns and those were all thrilling in the Cayman R. The handling was super precise and the composure of the car was amazing - especially under acceleration while taking the turns.
My spirited driving did attract some attention from an Altima who felt the need to make some kind of a point (not sure what it was) as he flew by me. A little while later, a C5 Corvette carried out its trademark throttle blip to show me how much better his V8 was as he slowly passed by me.
Here is one thing that annoyed me. You cannot get to the engine without tools!!
I thought it would be easy to lift the carpet and take off an engine cover that's held down by tabs or something simple. But no - you need tools!
If you take your Cayman to the Porsche dealer, don't be surprised to see a line item in your bill that states: $500 —> removing engine cover.
At least it's easy to add oil.
Just make sure you don't spill any on the carpet.
Here is a piece of weight reduction that I actually liked - a fixed spoiler. I do prefer the look of the Cayman with the spoiler always visible as opposed to the motorized version that pops in and out at will.
Overall, I liked this car so much that I immediately started looking for them after my time with the Cayman R was over (as much as I didn't want it to end). Unfortunately, these are rare and and fairly pricey as well.
But I'm sure a Cayman S would be just fine.
It doesn't seem like there is really a huge difference between the Cayman R and the Cayman S. There are plenty of threads where they talk about how easy it is to "R" your S: doing this makes more financial sense than paying so much more for an "R".
Then again, unless you really want to brag to someone out there who could care less about your lap times that you shaved 0.0001 second off your lap time after "R"-ing your S, it doesn't seem worth it.
There are lots of articles out there about how Porsche deliberately kept the Cayman from being as good as 911 to retain the "high and mighty" status of their flagship product. As hard as they might try, the Cayman can't help but be a brilliant car and it's only getting better.
The 911 can wait - time to go look for a Cayman S!