Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's not you, baby, it's me

Porsche Cayman R is hot; getting in and out, well...

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When my friend and fellow auto writer Andrew Pollreis from Sun Media handed me the keys to the 2012 Porsche Cayman R, he offered some sage advice.

"Be careful," Pollreis said as we stood in his driveway admiring this venerable rocket ship. Given that he'd just spent a week behind the wheel of what is best described as a street-legal race car, Pollreis knew exactly what he was talking about.

"Yeah, I bet its scary-fast," I replied, while gazing at the Peridot Green beauty like a high-school boy who'd just been dispatched to deliver a pizza to the Playboy Mansion.

Just as I was about to slide in behind the wheel, Pollreis sternly repeated his warning: "No, dude, seriously. Be careful," he practically shouted. "I almost threw my back out the first time I climbed in this thing."

Truer words have never been spoken.

Despite my best efforts, no one has ever mistaken me for a race-car driver. Motor jockeys are typically about six inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter than me. At first blush, it seemed the new Cayman R was designed for them.

Thankfully, there was only an audience of one as I contorted my neck into a most awkward position and literally fell down into the belly of this beast.

Pollreis stifled his laughter. Others surely wouldn't.

Despite the somewhat difficult entry, once seated I was amazingly comfortable. It was as though 40 pounds and 20 years had been erased from my memory. The Cayman R is, without question, a driver's car, and I was pleasantly surprised that Porsche realizes not all drivers are destined for Formula 1 racing.

At its root, the Cayman R is essentially a Cayman S that went on a diet. Thanks to lighter 19-inch alloy wheels, an aluminum hood and door skins and carbon-fibre shell sport seats, it's actually 55 kilograms lighter than a similarly equipped Cayman S. Although our tester was loaded, you can actually order a Cayman R without air conditioning or a stereo. Even the interior door handles are gonzo, replaced with red fabric straps that are simply tugged to open the door.

The Peridot Green paint may not be for everyone, but it's definitely bold. The single racing stripe and a Porsche graphic totally seal the race-car deal. Despite its very low stance, this car truly stands out in traffic. Everywhere you go, pedestrians literally stop and stare. Other motorists speed up or slow down to get a closer look, and cellphone cameras click at every red light.

Thanks to a more race-inspired exhaust system, the 3.4-litre direct-injection flat-six engine, planted firmly in the middle of the chassis, gains an additional 10 horsepower over a Cayman S. With 330 ponies on tap at an ear-pleasing 7,400 r.p.m., the Cayman R accelerates to warp speed in mere seconds. Of all the cars I've ever driven, this one begs hardest to be taken to a racetrack and flogged hard.

The handling is razor-sharp, the brakes are ridiculously awesome and the acceleration is mind-blowing. Even at legal speeds, the Cayman R is a complete riot to drive and bellows an exhaust note that rivals a fighter jet.

Although some would argue a Porsche with an automatic transmission is blasphemy, I've repeatedly sung the praises of Porsche's seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission. It intuitively knows what gear you should be in and shifts with buttery smoothness. There are also paddle shifters on the steering wheel that truly replicate the feel of a manual transmission. In Sport Plus mode, you can zing through the gears like Mario Andretti.

While scooting across town in what is arguably the sharpest knife I've ever handled, it occurred to me that I may actually require assistance to remove myself from this car. Images of firefighters with smirks on their fitness-crazed faces entered my mind: "Hey, Johnny, remember that time when that Willy guy got himself stuck in that Porsche? Man, that was priceless."

Upon arrival at my destination, a 70th birthday party for my uncle Jim -- who incidentally is a retired firefighter -- my nightmare became a reality.

As I pulled into the driveway, practically every single member of my family was looking out the window at the pretty Porsche. I pretended to check my BlackBerry for any new messages, but really all I was doing was buying time, trying to figure out my best means of egress.

There was no way to do it gracefully, so I grimaced and went for it. In my mind, I thought it went fairly well, until I entered the house and my cousin Kimberly said she thought she was going to have to come outside and help me. To add insult to injury, they fed me barbecued ribs and then watched me awkwardly climb back into the car.

Later, while driving alone down the Trans-Canada Highway to my rural hideaway, it dawned on me there really wasn't any need to get out of the car, at least not until Kenora. Two hours later, I gassed up in the dark, turned around and headed home.

Climbing in and out of the Porsche Cayman R may be a bit of a chore for a large lad like me, but once firmly planted in the seat, I can confidently report that speed, beauty and luxury have all been meshed together to create my new favourite car.

It's lean and mean, fast and furious, and indescribably sexy. In a nutshell, all the things I am not.

Perhaps there's a paradox at work here? With a price tag of more than $80,000, short of winning the lottery I'll probably never truly get into my very own Porsche Cayman R. But if I ever do, there's a good chance you won't ever get me out of it. Even if you call the fire department.

paul.williamson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2012 F3

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