£15,995 - £49,995 Price range
15 - 57 MPG
The Caterham Seven is a British institution – and rightly so. It offers more performance for your money than anything with four wheels alongside telepathic handing that force the driver to recalibrate their senses.
It’s not perfect, of course. It’s draughty, leaks when it rains, and is no good at all for the sort of jobs that normal cars excel at. You know the sort of thing; dropping the kids off at school, going shopping and collecting your frail mum from the railway station.
But, if you want a cheap(-ish) car that will offer a hugely rewarding driving experience, be cheap to run, and has solid resale values then the Caterham seven range will take some beating.
Basic. But what is there generally falls to hand OK, and is of good quality. Most of the sort of stuff that you take for granted in other cars is either an optional-accessory or simply not available.
Caterhams are all about saving weight to deliver stellar performance, so if you are expecting any real concessions to comfort or luxury – forget it!
The standard chassis doesn’t offer much space so taller and/or wider drivers should opt for the SV option, giving a wider body that also helps give more space for your feet in the crowded footwell.
The Seven’s unique selling point has always been its handling. Motoring journalists, professional racing drivers and enthusiastic members of the public rave about the immediacy of its responses; just one millimetre more or less throttle or steering input will have an effect on the way that the little Seven turns in or exits a corner. No other car flatters or rewards the driver so faithfully.
The CSR is the new chassis and offers the same dependable handling and awesome grip and also gives a much better ride. This really is a track day car that you can use on the road on a regular basis – if you really have to.
Obviously it’s no fun on a motorway – but why would you – unless you like being able to look up at lorries’ driveshafts spinning away metres from your head.
The Caterham Seven now comes in a wide range of formats that start with the entry-level Seven 160 that has a 660cc, three-cylinder turbocharged Suzuki engine that delivers 80 horsepower and a top speed of 100mph. This budget option is still not cheap, but it looks great on steel wheels.
Another model that is about the middle of the range is the Seven 620R, which is much more like it with its supercharged 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine that delivers 310bhp and a top speed of 155mph and a zero to 60mpf time of just 2.79 seconds.
There are also 2.3-litre Duratec and 1.6-litre Ford Sigma options, but the 2.0-litre Duratec is the most prevalent engine in the Caterham lineup.
Just remember that bigger isn’t always better and even the smaller engine offers a very high level of performance, thanks to the Caterham’s low weight.
The Caterham CSR 260 is based on the wide-body chassis and is the most practical and accomplished Caterham of them all. It’s not just that the Cosworth engine is unstressed and ultra-reliable in this 260bhp and 200lb ft incarnation. Nor is it the fact that the chassis is so much stiffer than the old one. It’s not even the superb damping that transform’s the Caterham’s ride while still allowing unbelievably high levels of grip. No, it’s much more than that.
Those who have driven the CSR say that the sum of these changes – and they are all significant, even taken individually – come together in one, perfectly judged sports car that “breathes with the road surface like no other car has ever done”. It’ll hit 60mph in 3.1 seconds (if you can find the traction) and will top out at (*coughs*) 155mph. There is also a CSR 200, which is still more powerful than most drivers will ever need.
Yes, it is an expensive toy, but it’s the best Caterham Seven ever made, and that makes it priceless.
The Caterham-tuned Ford Duratec 2.0-litre engine pumps out 175bhp in the R300 giving – yes, you’re ahead of me on this one – 300bhp per tonne with a 70kg driver installed. To give you a frame of reference to judge this by it is more than any current BMW M3, Porsche 911 or Mitsubishi Evo 360. And this is the baby of the range…
The Ford engine “hits harder” than the previous Rover-powered version, and gives more of an R500-style pounding according to the experts, although all of its performance is attainable on a public road, which isn’t something that can be said of some of the more insane variants.
It also develops 139lb ft of torque, and for those who like their statistics it’ll hit 60mph in 4.5 seconds and go on to a (highly theoretical, as the buffeting will kill you long before) 140mph.
The fragile K-series Rover engine has gone and in its place is a Ford Duratec 2.0-litre engine that makes – thanks to some fettling by Caterham - 212bhp and 152lb ft of torque. You probably imagine that this makes the Caterham quite sprightly – and you’d be right.
If you are skilful enough you can boot the R400 up to 60mph in 3.8 seconds, and if you are clinically insane (and deaf) you will keep going until the speedometer is reading considerably in excess of 140mph.
The fun to be had in a Caterham isn’t in drag racing, or inter-continental cruising at indecently-rapid speeds; no, the fun is to be had on a twisty country road or on a circuit, and the R400 is the sweet spot in the high-powered Caterham range (CSR excepted, as it’s a different chassis) according to the experts.
The 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine, more usually found in the Mondeo, makes another appearance, this time in the R500. In this installation it develops 263bhp and 177lb ft of torque, which is heading towards a very silly amount of power indeed. About 520bhp per tonne, in fact.
Caterham claim that it’ll hit 60mph in 2.88 seconds and go on to hit 100 mph in seven seconds; the key is the optional launch control, which offers mind-numbingly high levels of acceleration.
It still handles, though. Like every Caterham Seven that has come before it streaks from A to B faster than just about anything else and flatters the unskilled driver almost as much as it rewards the skilful.
The R500 is edging towards being a fully-fledged circuit car rather than a usable road machine, but it will still cope with both roles – just.
The most basic Caterham on sale today is also, according to some, the best. It offers a no-frills driving experience that few other cars can match and is ultra accessible, thanks to its (relatively) low price.
The 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine delivers 125bhp and 120lb ft of torque via a five-speed gearbox, allowing the budget racer to hit 60mph in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 112mph. Cheap and basic then, but even with such a modest engine the performance is still stunning.
As is the roadholding. You still get the pure and undiluted Caterham handling and roadholding, and even in this specification you’ll need to recalibrate your senses; this is a very, very fast car that will stun you with it’s immediate handling and telepathic steering.
Like the Roadsport 125, the 150-spec model has the 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine, although it delivers 150bhp, which is 270bhp per tonne. Forget the R500 and the like, this is still enough power to allow the driver to pilot it to 60mph in 5 seconds dead and go on to a top speed of 122mph. That’s enough for anyone, surely?
According to those who have driven it the Roadsport 150 feels significantly faster than the 125bhp model, much faster than the raw figures suggest. This is thanks to that low weight, meaning that a small increase in power has a massive effect on the power to weight ratio.
The steering, handling and roadholding are pure Caterham and allow any driver, regardless of skill, to hustle this Seven down the road faster than he or she will ever have done before.
The Roadsport 175 (Roadsport is Caterham-talk for touring, so it’s a bit more civilised than the stripped-out models) has a 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine, tuned to deliver 175bhp and 139lb ft of torque.
This is enough to whip the frothy little Seven to a top speed of 140mph, passing 60mph in 4.5 seconds on the way. Like all Caterhams, you drive it with “with the smallest of inputs and the biggest of grins.” The 550kg of weight means that every last bhp and degree of steering angle is faithfully transmitted to the car’s chassis, allowing telepathic progress to be made along winding roads.
No car offers more fun per £ than the Caterham seven, and the Roadsport 175 is a worthy addition to the range.
The Superlight 150 is, as you might have guessed, a light version of the Seven, with a 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine stuffed in its snout. The 150bhp that it develops allows a 0-60mph time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 125mph, fun, but not as outstanding as some of the Caterham range.
The Superlight’s trump card is its handling, courtesy of that light chassis, wide stance and skinny tyres. This is a great combination that makes it very adjustable using the throttle, and provides huge fun powersliding out of roundabouts.
This isn’t the fastest model in the range, but it might just be the best fun, especially if you are only going to be using it on the road instead of the track.
The Supersport slots into the Caterham range underneath the Superlight range, and offers hard-core performance at a budget price. The 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine pumps out 140bhp, which is just enough for decent performance but not enough to turn the Seven into an unmanageable monster.
So how great is the performance? Well, it’ll hit 60mph in 4.9 seconds and go on to a top speed of around 120mph, figures that are helped by its svelte weight of just 520kgs.
It does come with a four-point harness, thinly padded bucket seats and no windscreen, making it the ideal model to do a spot of hillclimbing, or the odd track day in too. Softies (i.e. normal people) will appreciate a heater, which you’ll need to order, but other than that it’s a beautifully balanced car that would serve as a great introduction to the range.
Value for money is excellent – sort of. The engineering is superb and the performance along twisty roads is unattainable anywhere else at pretty much any price. Judged by the standards of ‘normal’ cars though, it does look expensive for something that is so basic.
If you go for the entry-level Seven 160, the £14,995 price tag looks pretty enticing for such an enormous amount of pure driving fun, although it rises to £19,145 if you want it fully built and painted.
However, if you want to get into some more serious racing you can go up to the SP/300.R, which starts at a whopping £72,500 plus VAT before you add any optional extras.
Caterhams do hold onto their value like few other cars, so you should get most of your money back when you come to sell it on.
If you are a car enthusiast then you’ll want a Caterham, it is as simple as that. Many buy one and keep it for years, upgrading the power as they go along.
If you’re struggling to understand the different models, the model number comes from how many bhp per tonne there is. The higher the number, the more scary it is
Just don’t expect to be warm and dry in the winter, will you?