Caterham 1.6 Classic

Famous stripped-out thriller delivers uncompromising performance

An average-sized budget doesn’t mean high-performance thrills are out of your reach – and here’s the car to prove it. Caterham has been building its Lotus Seven-based sports car for decades, and the 1.6-litre Classic represents the affordable end of the range. While flagship models stand out with their supercar-rivalling pace, less powerful examples actually make much more sense.

Why? Well, if you’re going to invest in a stripped-out sports car that’s likely to spend the winter months sheltering in a garage, this 120bhp model provides 80 per cent of the fun of the company’s storming £30,600 R400 for 50 per cent of its price.

Then again, you’ll need to be good with a set of spanners to bring the two-seater in on budget – as the £14,300 price is for the kit, which you’ll need to assemble yourself. Opt for a factory build, and the price rises to £17,300, although the less powerful 105bhp 1.4-litre model is cheaper still, at £13,300 for the kit and £16,300 fully assembled.

Whichever you choose, you’ll get the legendary Caterham look, which is directly related to Colin Chapman’s original Seven design. Its long nose and low body are unlike anything else on the road, and the car attracts attention everywhere you go. We would recommend splashing out an extra £920 for the proper windscreen fitted to our test car, though, as the standard wind deflector is for hardcore drivers.

The snug cabin feels more like an aircraft cockpit than a car interior. You’re exposed to the elements, and the tiny pedals are close together in the narrow footwell. An optional race-style removable steering wheel (£270) improves access, but with the hood in place it’s another matter. Threading yourself through the tiny door feels as if you’re being posted through an odd-shaped letterbox!

The workmanlike dash and confined surroundings make perfect sense from behind the wheel, where you enjoy a distinctive view down the louvred bonnet. Fasten the four-point safety harness and you’re ready to go – although it’s best to leave the flimsy sidescreens in position, because turbulence is severe when they’re removed.

An intoxicating driving experience is guaranteed with the Caterham. Even with only 120bhp on tap, acceleration is lively and the 0-60mph sprint takes only 5.9 seconds. With the seat just inches above the tarmac, the wind rushing through your hair and the noise of the exhaust blaring away beside you, it feels even faster – and it gets better when you arrive at a corner.

The tiny steering wheel commands an instant reaction – a flick of the wrists is enough to get through even tight bends. Once you’re tuned in to the Caterham’s immediate responses, short-throw gearbox and amazing agility, you can cover ground really quickly.

It’s reasonably comfortable, too, and buffeting at motorway speeds is surprisingly low. So aside from the obvious practical constraints, the legendary Caterham is an above-average new car choice.

In detai * Price: £14,300 (complete kit) * Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000): N/A * Benefit in kind tax bracket: N/A * Annual tax liability (std/higher rate): N/A * Road tax band: N/A  Insurance group: N/A * Driver Power position (manufacturer/dealer): N/A * Euro NCAP (adult/child/pedestrian/overall): N/A * Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol * Power: 120bhp at 6,000rpm * 0-60mph/top speed: 5.9 seconds/112mph * CO2: N/A  Urban/extra urban/combined economy: N/A * Length/width: 3,530/1,685mm  * Wheelbase/height: 2,305mm/1,140mm  * Kerbweight: 550kg  Boot capacity: N/A * Standard equipment: Five-speed gearbox, wind deflector, 14-inch alloy wheels, roll bar

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