Caterham Roadsport 175
We take to the road in the Caterham that claims to offer sportscar thrills and everyday usability
Take it to a track and the Roadsport’s lighter and firmer relative, the R300, will show it a clean pair of heels, but blasting across a B-road and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference. If you’re looking for a full-fat Caterham experience, but with enough comfort to make long-journeys enjoyable and everyday usability feasible, the Roadsport 175 has to be the default choice.
Comfort and practicality are not words you’d normally associate with a Caterham – but the new Roadsport 175 is as close as the British manufacturer gets to a long-distance cruiser. So what better way to put it to the test than with a road trip to the Isle of Wight, along with the Caterham owners club and 90 other of the firm’s flyweight sportscars.
Essentially a watertight and less spine-shattering version of the popular R300 Superlight, all Roadsport models include 14-inch alloys for an improved ride, a five-speed gearbox with less closely-stacked ratios and a carpeted interior – quite a luxury at this stripped-out end of the market.
To keep the elements out you also get a full windscreen, heater and a hood as standard. Specify the wide-bodied ‘SV’ chassis, as modelled by our blue test car, for an extra £2,000 and increased interior and luggage space make it more feasible as an everyday driver.
Swing your legs over the sills and slide into the well-padded leather seats and it’s obvious this car’s built with comfort in mind. The boot is easily big enough for a pair of weekend bags, and there’s even a sliver of storage space behind the seats.
Once on the move the short-throw gearlever has a rare mechanical sensation to it, you can actually hear and feel the cogs meshing underneath you. The longer ratios make it more docile proposition around town and at low speeds, while comfort levels, even on the motorway are entirely acceptable – just remember to wear a hat if you’re planning to have the roof down.
But whatever ratios you have and however supple the suspension, 175bhp and a 550kg kerbweight is an explosive combination. On the well-sighted winding lanes that zig-zag across the Isle of Wight, the Roadsport 175 shows a savage turn of speed. Keep your right foot welded to the floor and the exhaust reaches a spine-tingling crescendo as it approaches the 7,000rpm red-line.
The design might have been conceived over 50 years ago, but it still drives with a purity that nothing, barring perhaps a Lotus, can match. The steering feedback is so detailed you’re constantly aware of the amount of grip at the front wheels, and with the seats so far back in the chassis, you know exactly what the rear tyres are doing too. Add to that an exhaust just inches from your right ear, and it’s a sensationally exciting driving experience.