With the GT4 RS becoming a reality, the Cayman has finally realised its full potential. Thus inspired, we take a look at the first crocodile to offer a better power-to-weight ratio than a contemporary 911; the 987 Cayman R from 2011. Photography by Jake Thomas
Porsche is a talented manufacturer of cars - possibly the best - but it's arguably a company that’s at its zenith when refining and evolving rather than revolutionising. The company’s bread and butter these days might be high-margin SUVs, however, when that profit filters its way back to the sports car division and years are spent honing the details, magical things can happen. This is because Porsche invests in getting the basics on point - or in the case of the 911, doggedly overcomes inherent flaws.
One of those magical moments occurred in the 987 Cayman R. This was a sublime mid-engine sports car with a perfect 47:53 balance, a vocal flat-six engine and stripped of non-essential luxuries with a tightened chassis. It was driver-centric. It was lighter. It was tighter. It was faster. 55kg had been axed from the kerb weight and the engine was massaged, but it had a major problem - a huge metaphorical weight rested on its lithe shoulders - its name.
You see, in die-hard Porsche circles, the R designation is sacred, a holy grail that resides above even an RS. Only once before had it graced a Stuttgart product - the 911R of 1967. Just 20 were made and each was a hardcore road-going version of a racecar. It was a homologation special before the term existed. Only it went much further - almost every component was lightened, resulting in a car that weighed an astonishing 210kg less than a regular production 911. With 230bhp, the original 810kg(!) 911 R is the pinnacle, and rightly revered.
Porsche dusting off the name and the marketing department talking the Cayman R up as the most hardcore yet did it no favours. The Cayman had no factory racing program. It was a well-known dirty secret that the two-seater had the goods to outshine the superstar 911 if truly let off the leash. But why would Porsche shoot itself in the foot? The 911 is an icon - and far more profitable. Consequently, the Cayman didn't receive an LSD until 2009 (even then it was an expensive optional extra) and the power output was always pegged to keep the junior car in its place.
The Cayman S got close to the base Carrera in pure performance terms, but a sneaky tactic of fitting excruciatingly long gearing (with third stretching to 110mph) stopped an upset. However, the R had been on just enough of a diet to tip the scales in its favour - this was the first Cayman to offer a superior power-to-weight ratio than a 911.
The Cayman S was already a class-leading performance car. It started out in life in 2005 as a Boxster with a fixed roof, but the result was much more than that. With a massive increase in structural rigidity, the Cayman could really handle. So when Porsche announced a more focused version in 2010 complete with five extra years of refining, it was a mouthwatering prospect. Calling it an R however, upset the status quo and some couldn’t forgive it, no matter how brilliant the car was. Had this £51,728 derivative been called a Club Sport, the car world would’ve lost its collective excrement.
But like Porsche’s engineers, opinions are evolving. In a current landscape where manufacturers regularly abuse their back catalogue (looking at you Lamborghini), the R is quietly garnering the praise it deserves. Whilst the R was not a limited-run model, Porsche UK only imported 250 cars meaning it has rarity on its side - resulting in an appreciating asset. If you can see past Porsche's marketing faux pas, you’re looking at one of the very best driving experiences for under £50,000, and one of the most secure investments. Factory in great reliability and reasonable running costs and it’s a slam dunk. So without further ado, let's get stuck into our Porsche 987 Cayman R buying guide.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION: Porsche 987 Cayman R Buying Guide
The R is powered by a mildly revised version of the M97.20 3.4-L 24v flat-six from the Cayman S, fitted with the optional power kit. This increased peak power by 9bhp to 325bhp at 7,400rpm due to a revised ECU map and a larger, 55mm exhaust manifold. Equipped with a PDK gearbox, the R could hit 60mph in 4.5 seconds, with the manual clocking in at 4.7s.
The 55kg weight saving over the S resulted from incremental gains. The R featured the lightest 19” wheels fitted to any Porsche, as liberated from the Boxster Spyder. Aluminium door skins in the same vein as the 911 Turbo trimmed a few kilos, as did slender bucket seats (the GT3’s carbon shell buckets were also on the options list). Deleting the sound system and air conditioning saved 15kg, although this could be optioned back into the car at no cost, however, Porsche charged to fit full climate control. Minor savings also came from adopting door pulls instead of handles, and deletion of selected storage bins.
Chassis-wise, the R omitted Porsche’s PASM active suspension, sticking by good old-fashioned fixed-rate dampers. These were firmed up and paired with shorter and stiffer springs, resulting in a car that sits 22mm closer to the ground. The anti-roll bars have also been beefed up to suit. Cosmetically the R introduced a subtle, fixed rear wing and a mild front apron. Both were functional, however, cutting lift by 40% and 15% respectively. The side apron also gained the iconic Porsche decals and stripes. Eye-catching Peridot Green metallic was unique to the R as an optional extra.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
At this point, you might expect us to start talking about the infamous bore scoring and IMS bearing failure. Thankfully the R is a member of the 987.2 family, the facelift model that included engine revisions which eliminated the issues. Another thing the engine eliminated is the RMS (Rear Main Seal), removing another concern. Porsche also added a second set of oil pick-ups (bringing the total to four) to circumvent the cylinder heads' starvation during persistent high-speed cornering in situations such as a track day.
One area that warrants close inspection is the nose of the car. All Caymans are prone to stone chipping due to their low snout, and the air conditioning condensers are located by the radiators, meaning they are vulnerable. A rebuild will cost circa £1,300 - expect a lifespan of around 6-8 years. Likewise replacing a damaged AC radiator will cost around £600 per unit, some owners fit aftermarket guards for extra protection.
If you are brave enough and handy with the spanners, you can go for a quality aftermarket option that is just as effective as OEM replacements and will cost a measly £100 aside in comparison. Afterwards, you will need to re-gas the air con, which will cost approximately two hours’ labour - around £200. The coolant cross pipes can also fail due to an inherent design flaw - steel hose ends slot into aluminium cross pipes, which causes galvanic corrosion. This is a case of when not if. Expect to pay £1,200 at an OPC.
Check the operation of the tailgate is sound. Although less likely to affect the later build cycle cars, the tailgate can rattle which is the result of perishing seals or poorly aligned hinges. Otherwise, the Cayman R is a rock-solid bet, and due to its higher value and focused nature, is more likely to have been owned by a true enthusiast.
Another advantage of the Cayman, in general, is respectable running costs. This certainly doesn’t mean you can afford one on a shoestring, but yearly bills shouldn’t set you back more than the average top of the range, premium saloon. The recommended service intervals are every two years or 20K miles, whichever is reached first - although as always we like to stick to the good old fashioned yearly oil change, or more frequent if the car gets out on track.
Routine checking of the coolant system should be a priority. Servicing costs can vary depending upon whether you prefer a licensed Porsche Centre or an independent specialist. Expect to pay upwards of £400-750 depending on whether you need a Minor (Intermediate) or Major (Maintenance) service. This excludes wear and tear items such as brake fluid or spark plugs. A clutch replacement is likely to cost in the region of £1,000.
The Cayman R specifies 235/35R 87 (Y) front tyres and 265/35R 94 (Y) rears. As of the time of writing, Michelin PS4S tyres will cost £175 fully fitted per front tyre, and £276 per rear. As the Cayman is such a well-balanced car, some owners can see over 18,000 miles from a set of tyres, although, considering the focus of the R, enthusiastic use will curtail this.
Brake wear again depends on driving style, but pads should typically last at least 20,000 miles. To replace the front discs, pads and pad wear sensors is likely to cost £650 with a similar amount for the rear brakes via an OPC. However, another insider trading tip is to look up Textar, the manufacturer of the discs who will sell you a set for a fraction of the main dealer mark-up.
It is difficult to pin down an exact pricing structure for the R, as many wise owners are currently holding onto their car safe in the knowledge they have something special. At the time of writing, there are only four cars advertised on Autotrader, with the prices all circulating at around £42,000 +/- 10%. As always with Porsche, the expansive options list and colour have a bearing on values, so it is best to prioritise what matters most to you. Don’t be afraid of a car with low miles and relatively high ownership turnover as many are only used as a weekend toy.
As always, cars with the full R ensemble are the most desirable - in particular the Spyder alloys, carbon bucket seats and Sports Chrono package with the gnatty clock timer on the dashboard. This comes with the ability to sharpen up the throttle response and slacken off the traction control to an intermediate setting. Further driver-focused options include the sports exhaust and short shifter kit, which tightens up the action of the six-speed manual. As far as we can tell, there seems to be no premium attached to either a manual or PDK transmission, with original sales split 50:50 between the two.
OWNERS POV - Paul Davies
I would like to say that I set out to buy, and had thoroughly researched the Cayman R when I bought mine back in 2014. I hadn’t. I had actually moved the “Maximum Price” slider on the Porsche Approved Used website from £30,000 to £50,000, spotted a Peridot green Cayman R at OPC Glasgow and called speculatively to see what it would cost me. Negotiations to buy the car didn’t go as hoped and I walked away, only to be called a few days later to be offered the deal I had originally wanted. Four days later I picked the R up having never driven one. After my Litchfield Type 20 Impreza, this was going to be quite a change.
Did I make a mistake then? Well, seven years on the R still resides in my garage while the Impreza only lasted 18 months; so that probably gives you the answer. As to why it is still there – it’s fantastic, and I can’t think of anything I’d swap it for that isn’t at least twice the price. A GT4 might be the obvious replacement answer, but some owners have reported the R to be a better road car with the GT4 the choice if you track your cars, which (so far) I haven’t. And would it really be nearly twice the car? I doubt it.
The placement of an R badge on the back of this “best of the 987” Cayman will always annoy some. And that’s fine because if the biggest criticism of this car is the moniker attached to it, well, that tells you all you need to know really. The Cayman R is a greater than the sum of its parts car. It may be a modded S, but those mods are significant, especially concerning the handling. The unique to the R suspension setup is fantastically judged for spirited driving on British B roads and the mechanical LSD makes a subtle but definite improvement to the car's corner exit ability.
The downside can be a front end that can want to understeer a little more in certain conditions, but some 5mm front spacers and getting the front camber set to the maximum negative the stock components allow – around -1.2 degrees – more than solves this, plus delivers a sharper turn-in than the stock geo ever did.
The weight reduction and power increase over the S is minimal, but does result in a car that feels more urgent, if not massively faster. You don’t buy a Cayman R because you want a “fast” car, however, you buy one as it is a fantastically enjoyable car on your favourite country road. The 27,000 miles I’ve done in mine have almost all been on Scotland’s fantastic array of drivers’ roads, and every drive it reminds me how good it is (and why I still have it).
Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to have driven more expensive and exotic cars, but there is something about the R that is just so right and it really does hold its own against many much more expensive machinery. Power and grip levels are well judged for road driving and the noise of the flat-six at higher revs means you won’t be too upset that you get the best out of the engine by revving it out; although the (typically Porsche) long gearing means that by the time you reach the red line in second, you’ll already be on the naughty side of the NSL. The redline in third sees you into three-figures.
Practicality would never be the primary reason for buying any sports car, but with two generously sized boots (front and rear), the Cayman is ideal for road trips. Ownership costs are quite reasonable too and other than servicing, all I’ve done to mine is tyres, pads, discs, coolant pipes, AC rads and a control arm. Pads and discs are an easy DIY job if you’re even vaguely handy, but while I did the coolant pipes myself, I wouldn’t recommend it! Mine’s a keeper.
PORSCHE CAYMAN R; TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION
Engine - 3,436cc naturally aspirated flat-six, DOHC, 24v, max 7,500rpm
Output - 325bhp @ 7,400rpm, 273lb.ft @ 4,750rpm
Weight - 1,296kg, bhp/tonne – 251, lb. ft/tonne - 211
Transmission – mid-engine, RWD, 7sp dual-clutch/6sp manual, LSD
Performance - 0.60 – 4.5s (PDK), 4.7 (manual), 1/4m – 13.0 @ 110mph, max 175mph
List price - £51,728 (2011)
Value today - from £40,000-£65,000 (July ‘22)