Only twice in nine years – that’s how often a Caterham has missed our Greatest Drives shortlist. This tells you all you need to know about the success of the firm’s design philosophy. Simple engineering and low weight result in an undiluted driving experience.
And the new Sigma Roadsport 125 is the best example yet. Unlike last year’s firebreathing CSR260, the newcomer has a modest 1.6-litre motor. The Ford Focus-based unit has a bespoke throttle body and engine management adjustments, and now produces 125bhp. In a car weighing only 550kg, that makes for a huge performance.
A new welding technique has produced a 14 per cent stiffer chassis. As a result, the suspension geometry is more accurate, and the handling is sharper. At the track, it set a lap time of 68.9 seconds, which put it only half-way up the time sheet. But every moment in the car was great fun. Narrow rubber combined with relatively soft suspension to give a beautifully balanced, forgiving drive.
Once turned into a corner, the Sigma could be directed using a mix of throttle and steering, making it perfect company for expert and novice drivers alike.
On the road, though, being at the wheel of a Caterham can be tiring. A windscreen and pop-on roof are a nod towards practicality, but it’s still an extreme experience. Heat and noise from the engine in particular make long journeys challenging.
The Roadsport can’t match the sharp responses and staggering grip of the Lotus 2-Eleven, but it’s a wonderfully engaging track-day machine. In fact, it’s in this basic, low-powered specification that the Caterham makes the most sense.