Caterham 7 review

Our Rating: 
Caterham Seven 160 front static
Credits: Matt Vosper
2013 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Caterham 7 is a completely driver-focused sports car, offering supreme handling capability

Fantastic driving experience, Sense of occasion, Unique looks
Expensive to buy, Cramped interior, Lack of safety kit

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The Caterham 7 can trace its roots all the way back to the Lotus 7 that arrived in the late 1950s. The original model was created by gifted motorsport engineer and racing driver, Colin Chapman, whose mantra when developing his road and race cars was ‘simplify, then add lightness.’ The 7 is the embodiment of this phrase, and the car has continued to adhere to this philosophy ever since. The car became a Caterham in the ‘70s, and has grown to become a range of 10 different models, each tuned to give the driver the biggest thrills, whether on the road or track. As with the original Lotus, you can still opt to build some of the models yourself, rather than ordering one fully built from the factory in Dartford, Kent.

Engines, performance and drive


This is where the Caterham 7 comes into its own, but it’s important to choose to right model to suit what you plan to use the car for. The entry-level 160 is softly sprung and uses an 80bhp 660cc turbo engine and is a great option for a Sunday morning blast on your favourite B-road. Likewise, the three different Roadsport models are at their best on road rather than track, and can cope with all weathers. Higher up the range, there are the Supersport and Superlight models – which are OK on road but much better on track. Then there’s the CSR that features hi-tech suspension and a 260bhp 2.3-litre engine, while the 620R is Caterham’s fastest-ever car, with 310bhp and a 0-60mph time of just 2.8 seconds. However, the latter is an intimidating car to enjoy on the road, especially if it’s wet, and is better suited to track use. As long as you pick the right version, all 7s offer a very enjoyable driving experience with a level of connection to the driving experience that very few cars can match at any price. There’s very little in the way of driver aids, so driving a 7 can take time to master, but they’re fantastic once you do.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


Caterhams are designed to Colin Chapman’s mantra of adding lightness, so all weigh in at around 500kg, depending on spec. But despite the weight, they’re designed to be driven hard, and the harder you do this, the higher the cost of the car to run. Fuel economy of even the entry-level model will just about get to 35mpg, while if you hit the track in a hotter version, it’ll fall considerably. Likewise, if you drive hard, expect bills for tyres and other consumables to be high, plus don’t forget to factor in insurance for track use. However, if you’re thinking about running a Caterham, then the higher running costs will be prices you’re willing to pay to make the most out of your 7.

Interior, design and technology


The Caterham 7 was designed in the mid-1950s and its looks haven’t really changed since. That’s particularly true of the new entry-level 160 model, which uses 14-inch steel wheels like the original Lotus 7. Cars can be had with or without a windscreen, and have a rear roll cage, exposed exhausts which run down the car’s side and tiny headlights which pop up above each front wheel. The CSR model has inboard front suspension, but other models have a suspension strut poking through the front wishbones. The interior is extremely basic, with very few concessions to comfort.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


A 7 does have a boot, of sorts. Unclip a fiddly cover and you can slot a couple of small bags in between the roll cage at the rear. However, don’t expect luxuries like cupholders to spoil Caterham’s pursuit of lightweight perfection, while you’ll have to pay extra for things like a windscreen with wipers, the flimsy doors, or the roof. It also helps if you have a garage to keep it in. Caterhams are noisy on the move, and the more hardcore variants can be pretty uncomfortable on a long run. However, the road-biased models are much more softly set up, with supple damping that allows for much longer trips.

Reliability and Safety


Caterham 7s have excellent visibility, extremely agile handling and very communicative controls. And that’s what you’ll have to rely on to keep you out of trouble, as the 7 doesn’t really have anything in the way of driver assistance systems, or airbags, or crumple zones, or much else really. The engine line up is all sourced from Ford or Suzuki, and shouldn’t be stressed to much thanks to the car’s light weight. Caterhams are extremely simple so should be easy to fix if they go wrong, especially if you build the car yourself – a process which takes around 80 hours.

Last updated: 29 Oct, 2013