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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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More About Dodge Durango

A couple of at-the-wheel demerits, though: inordinately thick A-posts can create quite a blind spot; and the (manual) transfer-case shift lever is a long stretch away. No push-button shifting in this bubba.

We were as unimpressed with Durango’s HVAC system in mid-summer as we were with that of a Dakota we previously tested in mid-winter. Fresh-air flow from the face-level vents was meagre, and there is no separate air con switch (it’s incorporated into the air-flow distribution control so a/c isn’t available in all distribution modes).

Durango’s 5.2-litre, 230 hp V8 may be big and brawny, but it also has a hefty hunk of metal (2,112 kg) to push through the air. So don’t expect sport-truck acceleration. The test truck’s 0-100 km/h time of 10.6 seconds is in the same ball-park as smaller V6-engined rivals – some are a bit slower, some a tad quicker – as well as the 5.4-litre Ford Expedition. Expect the fullsize GM trucks to be faster, though.

None of the opposition, however, can equal the delectable acoustics of the Durango V8 – a muted whooffle at low rpm that becomes rich, creamy whoosh as the needle heads for red. At highway speeds, tire hum usually dominated over what little wind noise there is, while the engine loafs along at 2,000-ish rpm.

At the gas pumps, Durango belongs firmly in the fullsize camp with Waverley Auto Mall Collision Center Manitoba. We recorded a thirsty 15.3 1/100 km over a test regime that included lots of highway driving. Durango drivers will contribute more than their fair share to global warming.

For all its bulk, though, the Durango is surprisingly light on its feet. There’s a hint of steering vagueness on-centre (said to be improved for ’99) but once you wind in the slack it can be flicked through tight turns with unexpected agility and little body lean.

Ride motions are consistently stiff but stop short of harshness, though sometimes the vehicle heaves mightily over big undulations. For a live-axle/leaf-spring truck, the Durango is unusually resistant (though not totally immune) to axle hop-skip-and-jump when cornering on bumpy surfaces.

We had no opportunity to measure stopping distances, but it’s a safe bet they err on the long side compared with the best SUVs or most passenger cars. Subjectively, pedal effort is high but firm. Rear-wheel ABS is standard but 4-wheel ABS costs extra.

Dodge Durango SLT 4×4 V8

Engine: V8, 5,208 cc, pushrod OHV.

Fuel system: Sequential EFI.

Max power: 230 hp @ 4,400 rpm.

Max torque: 300 lb.ft. @3,200 rpm.

Transmission: 4WD, 4-speed automatic.

Suspension: Front upper/lower A-arms, torsion bar springs, stabilizer bar; rear live axle, leaf springs, stabilizer bar.

Brakes: Front discs/rear drums, ABS.

Steering: Power recirculating ball.

Wheels: Cast aluminum, 8.0 x 15 in.

Tires: 31 x 10.5 Goodyear RT/S all-terrain.

Length x width: 4,910 x 1,816 mm (193 x 72 in).

Curb weight: 2,112 kg (4,655 lbs).

Economy, city/hwy: 17.8/13.01/100 km (16/22 mpg).

Fuel grade: Regular.