It’s 3 a.m. and we’re in the airport parking lot in Long Beach, California, hollow-eyed after delays turned the flight from New York into a 12-hour ordeal.
In front of us is the car I’ll be testing for the weekend. My fatigue flutters away. I’m thrilled. My wife: Not so much.
“It’s puce,” she says.
“It’s a Porsche,” I answer.
“A puce Porsche.”
Just a trick of the overhead fluorescent lights on the paint job of the $66,300 Cayman R. Actually, the sports car is an odd shade of green that reminds me of diluted absinthe. Peridot, Porsche calls it, like the gem stone. So that’s better. Sort of.
“Look how practical,” I say, throwing Miranda’s rolling bag and my two backpacks into the rear hatch. Impressive for a two-seat sports car built for speed.
We’ve got more than an hour of driving ahead, so I insert the key into the left-hand ignition, a peculiar Porsche idiosyncrasy, and start the six-cylinder, mid-mounted engine. I hear a pleasant buzz behind my head.
“This trip is already worth it,” I declare, illustrating the danger of marrying a car nut.
The sports seats are narrow and extremely firm. Ideal for cradling you during G-turns on the track; not so great after being crammed on an airplane.
Porsche first released the Cayman in 2006 as a fixed-roof sibling to the Boxster roadster. Both are light and have motors located behind the cockpit. The R is lighter, faster and more expensive than the regular $51,900 Cayman and $62,100 Cayman S models.
The car takes to corners like a bloodhound sticks to the trail of a chain gang escapee. Point it in the right direction and its instincts are irrepressible.
Catching the 911
The conspiracy-minded among us believe there’s a good reason Porsche has never released a Cayman with an engine as powerful as the venerable 911 -- it just might whip its more expensive uncle. The 911 has a rear-mounted engine, a quirk that is also an engineering liability.
The R model Cayman we’re driving would give a base 911 a run for its money. That’s $66,300 versus $79,000; 330 horses versus 345. The R has dumped 121 pounds over the Cayman S, weighing only 2,855 pounds. It also bumped up the engine by 10 horsepower. The bloodhound’s diet has given it more bite.
The vehicle gets a small fixed wing in the rear and rather immodest Porsche lettering along the sides. Peridot is not the only available color.
We zoom onto the I-405 South, and I engage a switch that opens flaps to the muffler -- a $2,810 option that lets the engine bark more freely. Snick-snick-snicking through the perfectly situated manual gears, we’re soon in sixth. A double-clutch, PDK automated transmission is available for $3,660 more.
Those who spend time on the race track might also consider the $8,150 ceramic composite brakes.
At this hour there’s still traffic, but fellow drivers are bombing along at speeds far above the posted 65. A simple dip of the gas is all that’s needed to keep up. The weight of the gas pedal and steering are perfectly tuned and utterly harmonious -- better than any Porsche I’ve driven.
There’s no doubt that the Cayman R would handle miraculously on the racetrack. In the real world, however, the less-weight/more-power formula requires a bit of explanation.
“What’s with these dorky pull straps?” my wife asks, fingering a floppy piece of fabric where the interior door handle should be.
“Taking off the handles saves weight,” I reply.
“Really? Then why does it have that huge clock?” she asks, pointing to the dial atop the dashboard. Not a clock, I explain, but the sport chronographer, which records laps times on the racetrack. “Now that’s needless weight,” she says.
What she can’t see are the lighter aluminum doors and re-engineered wheels, which also whittle away pounds. Oh, there’s no air conditioner, either. That’s a $1,760 option.
We exit on a toll road leading toward the ocean, taking us through rolling hills. It’s extremely dark and misting lightly. It feels as if we have this part of California to ourselves and I leave the stereo off, enjoying the sound of 19-inch tires confidently grabbing slick pavement.
There’s something about the feel of a two-seat Porsche that remains mechanical and linear, divorced from the cold digital sensation of many new sports cars. The Cayman R embodies this.
It’s after 4 a.m. when we finally arrive at our rented house in Oceanside, north of San Diego. Some dozen friends are already here, gathered for an annual 10K charity foot race. Every year I show up in a different sports car. It’s become part of the event itself, somehow.
The next morning several early risers are sipping coffee and standing around the Cayman R.
“Awesome ride,” says one. “But what’s up with that color?”
The 2012 Porsche Cayman R at a Glance
Engine: 3.4-liter six-cylinder with 330 horsepower and 273
pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 19 city; 27 highway.
Price as tested: $81,685.
Best features: Drives like a purist’s vehicle; space for
Worst feature: Pricey add-ons.
Target buyer: The driver who likes a car lean and mean.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)