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Preview: 2012 Porsche Cayman R

PALMA DE MAJORCA, Spain – With the new Cayman R, available in Canada as a 2012 model, Porsche has borrowed just about every page from its Boxster Spyder playbook to create the lightest and fastest Cayman ever. The power-to-weight ratio is the end-all of automotive performance, so making the car lighter while giving it more power will significantly improve its dynamics. This is precisely what the engineers at Porsche have done with the Cayman R, which is 55 kilograms lighter than the Cayman S. And its engine develops 10 more horsepower for a total output of 330 hp. The Cayman R’s chassis is also 20 mm lower and its centre of gravity is 22 mm lower than the Cayman S. And its engine develops 10 more horsepower for a total output of 330 hp. The Cayman R’s chassis is also 20 mm lower and its centre of gravity is 22 mm lower than the Cayman S. The numbers might not read like much, but, believe me, this new car raises the bar significantly in terms of performance. Here at the RennArena race track, the Cayman R proved to be totally at ease, thanks to its perfectly weighted and exceptionally communicative steering. With the optional ceramic brakes, the braking action was stellar, with immediate response and very good pedal feel, while the standard locking rear differential made for quicker corner exits. The Cayman R is available with a standard six-speed manual gearbox, which delighted thanks to the very precise, short-shift lever throws. But Porsche’s latest track-day weapon can also be had with the seven-speed double-clutch PDK gearbox, which now features proper steering wheel paddles that are set up exactly like those on its competitors – upshifts selected via the right paddle and downshifts via the left. Porsche has finally seen the light and ditched the previous arrangement consisting of awkward and counter-intuitive steering wheel buttons.

Acceleration times are quicker with the PDK gearbox, but the Cayman R is more satisfying to drive with the manual transmission.

Aside from a few laps of the race track, most of my time with the Cayman R was spent driving on the extremely slippery, wet roads of Palma, which compared with snowy or even icy roads in Canada. Under these conditions, the car’s electronic aids proved to be very useful, especially given the fact that it comes standard with a locking rear differential and high-performance tires.

The electronic stability control was very busy on the drive up mountainside switchbacks – not only when power was applied but also during the turn-in phase to help overcome the prevalent understeer. Applying power at mid-corner, with the locking rear differential sending power to both rear wheels, had the electronic stability control working to effectively control acceleration.

Under these treacherous conditions, the challenge was to drive just fast enough to remain below the threshold where the electronic stability control kicks in. This was easier said than done, given the peculiar pavement I was driving on, but I was secure in the knowledge that the electronics were constantly on the alert should the need arise.

With its standard fixed rear wing and more pronounced front spoiler, the Cayman R certainly looks the part and can easily be differentiated from a run-of-the-mill Cayman or Cayman S.

Inside, the extreme weight-saving measures mean the car does not have regular door handles but red cloth pullers. It’s also devoid of an air conditioning system (which can be added as a $2,010 option) or even a radio (a basic unit can be added as a no-cost option). The standard one-piece sport bucket seats are very form-fitting and can be adjusted fore and aft. Wide adjustable seats are available from options list.

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The V-8 Powered M56 and M37

During back-to-back stints on the same roads with both cars, it quickly became apparent that the M37 is the weapon of choice for carving up back roads where the M56 felt more ponderous in the twisty sections. Open up the throttle, however, and the V8 delivers a steady power surge that is constant but not explosive. You know that 420 ponies are at work because the scenery goes by quicker but you don’t quite feel the rush.

There are also noticeable differences in the driving dynamics of the M cars equipped with the Sport package, which feel even sharper on corner entry with a more immediate response to steering inputs owing in part to their 20-inch alloys and high-performance tires. Sadly, the Sport package is offered only on the rear-wheel-drive M37 and M56, and not on the volume-leading all-wheel-drive models.

Amazingly enough, fuel consumption figures for all variants of the M cars have improved substantially partly because the automatic gearbox is now a seven-speed unit.

In keeping with the recent trend adopted by the Japanese luxury carmaker, the new M is chock full of electronic driving aids offered in various option packages and identified by three-letter acronyms. The list is long and most of these have been designed to reduce the stress of driving, according to Infiniti. Among them are the BSW (Blind Spot Warning) already featured on many cars, but there is also an industry-first BSI (Blind Spot Intervention) system that will actually prevent you from driving into a vehicle that is in your blind spot by alerting you from driving into a vehicle that is in your blind spot by alerting you with lights, then beeping before finally applying the brakes on the opposite side of the car to help return your vehicle to its lane.

Fortunately, the M features a single button on the steering wheel that deactivates all of these electronic nannies, and another below the dash on the left side to disable the various warning systems for those who can actually look where they are goin when driving .

Infiniti has had a lot of success in challenging the German brands in the lower spectrum of luxury cars with its G models, but the M competes in a higher league where the brand’s image is more of a factor in the buying decision.

It’s clear that the new M can hold its ground in driving dynamics and that it enjoys a significant price point advantage vis-a-vis its direct rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but making the transition from figuring on a buyer’s list to becoming that buyer’s car of choice is a different matter and the final decision is not always a rational one.

The M cars were to arrive in Canadian dealerships, with different price ranges.


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Road Performance

Pro: Both four-cylinder engines are smooth and quiet now that counter-rotating balance shafts have been adopted this year. The Si’s 2.3L 160 hp powerplant is a more logical sport coupe engine, but it comes at a premium price. Handling is more responsive and the ride is more comfortable this year. This is due mainly to suspension refinements, electronic steering and four-wheel disc brakes (the Si has slightly larger discs).

The transmissions are smoother shifting, require less effort, take shorter throws and are more precise than last-year’s gearbox. The clutch is light and smooth. Steering is direct and precise. Suspension travel has been increased, lessening the Prelude’s tendency to bottom out when fully loaded or when encountering irregular terrain. Ride is not as firm and less bouncy than last year’s version. Body roll is minimal due partly to the chassis’ increased stiffness. Handling is excellent in all conditions, even without the 4WS option. Very good brakes.

Con: The Accord’s single-cam engine gives the base Prelude 135 horses – more than sufficient for most driving conditions – but a bit wimpy for a car that’s touted as being somewhat above the typical mid-level sport coupe in both performance and price. This car cries out for a V6 powerplant. As is the rule with cars of this type, the ride is firm, and may be too busy for some. Four wheel steering still seems more gimmick than essential.

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More Clout for Calibra

Sleek, attractive, and well finished, the Opel Calibra coupe came out of the box a pretty strong offering for the GM Europe team. Its 150-horsepower 2-liter 16-valve twin-cam four gave the top-line model an 8.2-second 0-60-mph capability and a top end of 138 mph. But the playing field changes quickly in the sport coupe game, and with Volkswagen fitting its new Corrado with a 178-horsepower 2.7-liter V-6 and Ford launching the 227-horsepower Escort RS Cosworth, GM felt it was time to give the Calibra a stout under-hood upgrade. Enter the Calibra Turbo. With the addition of a force-feeding system, engine output jumps to 204 horses and torque to 207 pound-feet. Matched with a new Getrag six-speed gearbox, it’s sufficient to propel the Calibra-in either front- or all-wheel-drive configuration-0-60 mph in under 6.5 seconds and push it to speeds in excess of 150 mph. Torque is so plentiful that sixth gear is useable from as low as 2000 rpm. Comfortable, quiet, and competitively priced, the Calibra Turbo is destined to be one highly sought player.

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