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New Cayman R takes to the mountains

  1. Mallorca has blown a very big fuse. This is my first thought
    upon spearing out of yet another pretty-but-identikit rural village, because as
    soon as we leave the immediate environs, the night sky wraps around the Cayman
    like a black velvet shroud, turning the ice-white Porsche into a faintly
    glowing, unquiet ghost. Being let loose in the new Cayman R, the lightened and
    tightened version of one of the most useful sports cars in existence, up a
    Mallorcan mountain road at night sounds quite cool, but believe me, at this
    point there’s a horrible, gut-boiling sense of frustration running through me
    like a dirty infection. And it has nothing to do with dodgy tapas.

    Words: Tom Ford 
    Photos: James Lipman

    This feature was originally published in the April issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. The fact is that there are precisely no streetlights to give
    even the vaguest hint as to which way the road goes. Not one. Any ambient
    starlight or moonglow is diffused by heavy cloud, and the road is simply too
    twisty to get any solid idea of direction. The wraithlike little Porsche is
    fitted with the excellent optional xenons, but it’s still impossible to drive
    even vaguely quickly without risking inconvenient death. Worse, the roads are
    actually pretty good. But you can sense the doomy drops off the inky edges, and
    the corners have a nasty habit of tightening at the last moment. Like trying to
    run across a large room in pitch darkness, you can sense the space even if you
    can’t see it, and you belt along cringing, awaiting the moment when you meet
    the scenery with your face. It’s all about confidence, and I appear to have
    left mine at the hotel.

  3. I can’t believe this. Gifted a hardcore Porsche and a
    mountain range, and I can’t even find a decent bloody road to drive it on.

    Grinding the point home is the overwhelming sense of
    potential in this newest Cayman. Ghosting through these orange-lit Mallorcan
    villages, the R potters with sublime ease, riding better than a standard Cayman
    S, despite being lowered a not-insignificant 20mm, failing to graunch over
    speed bumps, sucking lumps into the dampers like a tiny, perfect magic trick.
    On light throttle openings, the 330bhp 3.4 sounds, frankly, like it has a
    blowing exhaust, the familiar flat-six hoarseness akin to a dog coughing up an
    angora sweater, but on brief revels to three-quarters of the rev-range, the
    wail starts to build. Just as I have to slow for the next village. Frustration
    becomes a familiar - and infinitely bitter - taste in the back of my throat.

  4. Eventually we stop to take pictures in a sleepy village and
    immediately cause a bit of a stir. It could be the sight of two men assembling
    a photographic rig that looks like some sort of siege engine in the middle of
    the street at 1am, or it could be the Cayman.

  5. A mallowy wobble of craggy old lady shuffles over to poke us with her walking stick, so I smile and point at the Porsche, miming picture-taking in some sort of bizarre late-night version of Give us a Clue, becoming increasingly camp during the whole wordless exchange. Apparently satisfied, the leathery old matriarch taps the side of her head, points at my face and undulates away. She likes the Cayman. She likes the fixed rear spoiler. She likes the massaged bodywork, the mascara’d black of the headlight-surrounds. She likes the Seventies graphics down the side, and she loves the lightweight black wheels. She even likes the interior, trimmed as it is in blood-leather and white plastic like some sort of futuristic abattoir. Probably. 

  6. What she doesn’t know is that if it were down to pure
    rationale, there would appear to be very little point in the R. Compared to a
    standard Cayman S, it’s a bit lower, a tiny bit faster, a smidge more powerful
    by 10bhp - though torque remains the same - has more downforce (15 per cent at
    the front, and 40 per cent at the rear) and a tad less weight. I’ll admit that
    55kg of weight reduction is significant in a car of this size, bringing down
    the total to 1,295kg, but probably not a deal-breaker.

  7. To get there, the R deletes the aircon and radio to save 15kg, gains aluminium doors, lightweight wheels and CFRP bucket seats to save 15kg, 5kg and 12kg respectively, adopts a slightly smaller fuel tank and loses a few other niceties like interior doorhandles - replaced by GT3 RS-style fabric loops - and cup-holders to save the remainder. Most of which, incidentally, you can then option back in. If you also option a PDK gearbox - which weighs 25kg more than a standard six-speed manual - the R ends up weighing pretty much the same as a lightly optioned S. With only around 10bhp more.

  8. So what’s the point? Bragging rights? Possibly. Personally,
    I’d probably buy the R package for the seats and interior trim alone, so
    wickedly perfect are they, but so far, dynamically, it just feels like a Cayman
    with a peculiarly sympathetic suspension set-up. It’s impossible to tell
    anything more significant, simply because of the ridiculous aggregation of
    factors denying me a decent drive. It’s 2am, and Jamie the photographer and I
    finally admit defeat and return to the hotel, ever so slightly broken. No road
    on Mallorca. No fun.

    During the night, I have a dream. And no, not that kind. 

  9. I have a dream that Dan from the office emails me the
    location of a mythical road on Mallorca. An amazing driving road. A road not
    two hours from where we are. Confused as to whether dream emails actually count
    and fretting at the edges of sleep, I finally give in to the siren call, rouse
    Jamie and we head back out in the Cayman. It is 5.30am. Jamie does not look
    overly pleased.

    Two hours of driving later, as we crest the top of a coastal
    mountain range and enter what can only be called low-lying cloud masquerading
    as dense pea-souper fog, Jamie has what we describe in the North of England as
    ‘a slightly mardy face on’. No road. And now, as the sun starts to rise, no
    forward vision. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Hard to be phlegmatic when the cards
    are stacked and the capricious gods are pissed and feeling vindictive. But just
    as we’re about to turn back, we roll around a wall of russet rock, the mist
    lifts, and…

  10. …my eyes pop out of my head. It’s like fumbling through the
    back of a musty wardrobe and plopping out in the lean, little Porsche’s private
    Narnia. I coast to a stop at the top of the mountain road, lean forward over
    the steering wheel with hands gripping 11 and 1, and say things my mother would
    not be proud to hear. Ahead and below, across and down and away is the most
    stupefying road I have ever seen. The island valley opens itself like a book,
    and between the pages is a slick of bitumen designed by a madman. Or an artist.
    Ropes of tarmac hang loosely around the shoulders of the mountain like an
    indifferent noose, trailing down the side of the hill in lazy loops. There are
    straights and curves and switchbacks and even, at one ridiculous point, a loop
    where the road curves back, around and under itself like a bow. 

  11. Not only is this vision wrought in civil engineering
    perfectly surfaced, free of potholes and shimmying traction changes, it is
    utterly, bleakly empty. Not a damn soul. Turns out this road, this awesome Sa
    Colobra road, is a dead end, servicing a small seaside town at its watery
    terminus. Hit it at the right time of day - ridiculously early in the morning,
    say - and you have the place to yourself. At last.

    I look right and down the first section, prod Sport, Exhaust
    and PASM off on the dash, slot first and dump the clutch. I then stop again,
    remove the handbrake, and repeat, leaving in the kind of dramatic fishtail you
    only ever see in Seventies B-movies. It feels good. Scratch that, it feels
    incredible. What follows is a dirty blur of exhilaration. For the first time,
    the Cayman R is allowed its head, rearing towards the right-hand side of the
    rev-counter, the breathy freedom of modified exhaust-headers finally announcing
    their presence. 

  12. The gearbox snaps a little clunkily once, twice, three
    times, before the road ducks right, down and back, so the standard steel brakes
    are forced into heavy work early on, dipping the nose of the Cayman, forcing it
    to snort hard at the tarmac. The exhaust woofles and pops, amplified by the
    rocks to the left, just as the gradient tries to suck the rear of the car away
    from the apex. But nothing happens except an insane increase in lateral g. The
    Cayman’s steering places it perfectly, the front end staying true, even when
    you would forgive it for wandering. And all the time, the road reveals a little
    more of itself in a teasingly burlesque fashion, glimpses of hairpins, flirty
    little hints of racetrackish madness. I miss two downchanges simply by becoming
    lost in the view.

  13. Very much like the Nordschleife, there’s no rhythm to this
    road, no easy cadence. Corners tighten from regular radii down to last-gasp
    90-degree bends that have your buttocks puckering so tightly they begin to gum
    at the Alcantara of the seats. Some parts flow and allow you speed, others have
    you chunking through second and third like your life depends on it, the
    Cayman’s tail slewing wide in glorious unfettered arcs. The standard-fit
    limited-slip differential helps, nudging the nose forwards into understeer and
    then allowing you to punt the rear away, never quite getting past a half-turn
    of countersteer. It is, without being overly emotional about it, sublime.
    Truthfully? I’m not that good a driver, but there’s something about this Cayman
    R that sells you on the idea of invincibility.

  14. You sit in the middle, with the engine close behind, and you
    become the pivot. This is no pendulous 911 - no matter how well disguised that
    car’s dynamic shortcomings have become - and the Cayman R is genuinely small,
    reliably connected and utterly faithful. It’s a Cayman with added salt and
    pepper - the basic meal is satisfyingly the same, but the flavour has been
    subtly and significantly improved. There are very, very few cars you would dare
    drive this hard on this kind of road, a road where a slip, or a snap of
    oversteer, would likely prove expensively bloody. The Cayman R is one of them.
    There are no surprises. Just joy.

  15. After what seems like an age, but is in reality little more
    than an hour, it starts to rain. We have traversed this little 10-mile stretch
    of brilliance to the sea and halfway back, but with a light smattering of water
    on salty tarmac, the surface becomes slick and treacherous. After one flail to
    the lockstops and back while staring at a rock wall through the passenger
    window, I opt for discretion over valour, dry-swallow my heart and pick my way
    back over the mountain. Back to real life. And just before I swing around that
    last corner and disappear into the cloudy mist, I look down the valley and grin
    like a horse-faced loon. One of the world’s best secret roads, just made for a
    car like the Porsche Cayman R, on a tiny island like Mallorca. It’s easy. You
    just have to know where to look.

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