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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 horsefaced 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.
The article 'In search of the perfect road in Mallorca' was published in partnership with BBC's Top Gear magazine.