From £19,9959
The Caterham Seven 160 offers truly accessible fun, though more tenacious and less slidey than we expected.

What is it?

This is it the moment we’ll find out if we were right. Right to have been boring on about manufacturers not increasing power and speed, but reducing grip and weight, in order that we have more fun. This is the most significant embodiment yet of the idea. This is the Caterham Seven 160.

We’ve talked about it a lot already, and there are many things in the confirmed spec worth noting. Cubic capacity is just 660cc, in the form of a mildly blown Suzuki (car, not bike) engine. Suzuki installs it into various Kei cars and the like, and in rear-drive form in little delivery trucks (think Bedford Rascal a few generations on) it mates it to a five-speed manual gearbox with a live rear axle.

Caterham has bought the whole unit as a job lot, stopping to increase power from its standard 64bhp to 80bhp, made at 7000rpm, before slotting it into a Seven’s chassis. 

In taking the drivetrain whole, the Caterham 160 utilises drum rear brakes too, and some 4.5J x 14in steel wheels that have a different stud pattern to other Sevens: thus making the option of bigger rubber impossible. Tyres are of just 155mm cross section, in 65 per cent profile. A sticky compound? Er, no. They are Avon ZT5s and cost less than £40 a corner. 

All up, weight is just 490kg. The entry price is £14,995 in component form, £17,995 turnkey. 

Like the old Caterham Classic you might remember, standard equipment is thin. Not as thin as it was: the only gauge fitted as standard to the Classic in the early 90s was a speedometer. These days you get a full complement.

But, stock, the 160’s aluminium body panels are left bare, the plastic ones (nose and all four wings) offered in just four basic colours. There are adjustable cloth seats, inertia-reel belts and a Moto-Lita steering wheel (our test car’s Momo, like the screen, is an option). And that’s it. At least you get a rev counter. There’s a payoff in that kerb weight is a claimed 490kg.

That’s not a lot for even a modest output like 80bhp to propel, so Caterham claims the 160 has a 0-60mph time of 6.5sec, and that it’ll run out of puff at 100mph. 

What's it like?

If you’re familiar with Sevens, your immediate thoughts will not be about how fast it is (or isn’t), but how soft it feels. 

Soft of everything: the clutch is light, the gearshift, though short and positive, lacks the outright precision of Caterham’s other ‘boxes and the steering is lighter at manoeuvring speeds; the rack’s the same, weight and tyres provide the difference. And, by gum, this car rides

Curious thing to be thinking about in a Seven, I know, but the way it the body is immune from potholes and bumps is truly remarkable for a car so small and light, and with a solid rear axle. It’s very easy to live with, too. The turning circle is great, Sevens are tiny, visibility is (obviously) world class and those generous tyre sidewalls mean manoeuvring in rough car parks or onto kerbs is concern-free. That, plus watching the skinny wheels bob up and down, especially with this colour bodywork, puts you in mind of a classic car.

There’s something of a classic about the way the engine makes its power, too. Not because it’s an intractable git who hates the cold or full throttle from idle, of course: it’s as impeccably mannered as any new car. But the best of the delivery comes through the mid-range. It’ll pull from 1500rpm but when it’s beyond 2000 and the turbo starts spooling, until about 5000rpm (there’s very little lag in the middle), sees it at its best. 

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It gets quicker beyond 5000 but general mechanical racket overtakes the peashooter exhaust’s parp and the archetypal triple thrum at that point. You have to be committed to stay in that rev range, but to enjoy brisk progress (though there’s loads to enjoy at lower efforts too) it’s a necessity. At one end of its model line-up, Caterham has the 620R, whose first gear will take it to the high side of 60mph. Here, it has a car whose limiter (around 7750rpm) in second gear arrives just after the speedo flashes past 40mph.

That’s fine, by the way. The 160, despite its relaxed low-speed demeanour, is a sports car after all, and if you want a sports car, you should be prepared to work for it. 

You’ll find it’s bundles of fun if you do. The steering is deliciously lucid, adding weight and feel in beautifully linear fashion as you increase cornering force. The 160 feels more agile than all other new Sevens, as well it might, but still, on softer suspension, leans into corners and settles quickly on its outside tyres. 

In the dry, in any gear, you can then hammer down the throttle, no danger, even though the tyres are pretty ordinary. With no limited slip differential, the most drama you’ll find is all tyres squealing and an inside rear threatening to spin. It feels like you’re going fast, but the fact is you can find these limits easily on the road. If you then exit said corner with throttle pinned, a glance at the speedo usually shows a number lower than you expect.

What the Seven’s less interested in (in the dry, at least), is indulging in ridiculous, churlish, pointless, stupid, hateful powerslides – of the sort we like. It won’t do it in the way its brethren do (or it does in the wet), on power alone. Finding the cheapest, crummiest rear tyres you can and overinflating them would probably do it. Most modern rubber – even modestly sized and unsticky – is too good for 80bhp. They make the 160 feel like a great friend who goes home just when you want him to stay out until the pubs close.

Should I buy one?

Sure. You’ll be buying something very lovely indeed. Just make sure you won’t crave more power on a circuit: what’s surprised us a bit, given the talk, is how capable and sensible the Seven 160 still feels.

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If you want to get it sliding, you need to give it a big ‘send’, which takes space and/or commitment. Then it’ll happily slip foursquare for a bit, like an historic racer, before normal service is quickly resumed.

Given normal service is being one of the most agile and engaging sports cars on the planet, that’s fine by us.

Caterham Seven 160

Price £17,995; 0-60mph 6.5sec; Top speed 100mph; Economy 35mpg (est); CO2 180g/km (est); Kerb weight 490kg; Engine 3cyls in line, 660cc, turbo petrol; Power 80bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 79lb ft at 3400rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Soakee 24 October 2013


I want one of these for my daily driver.

275not599 24 October 2013

Not at all convinced

Caterham can be like Porsche, they headline a low ball price but the cars can end up costing much more. Let's be serious and spec a 160 factory built, with windscreen and hood, heater, spare wheel and paint. That'll be 21,145, up 40% on 14,995 (+ another 400 if, like me, you are tall and want the lowered seats).

I know it can be silly to compare used car prices with new, but if you are buying a Seven you are buying a toy with disposable income, not something on a company lease that has to be sensible. The used Caterham market is so rich with alternatives that I wouldn't even consider a new 160.

Purely as an example, this is the first ad I found (offered at 13,995):

2005 Caterham Super 7, 1700 Super Sprint in aluminium and British racing green, polish revolution wheels, 5 speed gear box, full weather equipment - which has never been used. 1300 miles (YES - THIRTEEN HUNDRED MILES ONLY !!!)
from new, one owner, immaculate condition, complete with period Cosworth rocker cover, Weber carburettor, stainless steel side exit exhaust system. New Lotus 7 for a third of the cost of an original, history service book, heater and heated windscreen.

russ13b 24 October 2013

old isn't new!!

the old live 7 used a ford axle, from an escort (i think), and as such was far too heavy, but no different to anything else available. this axle isn't, and isn't, hence the report saying that it goes properly.

the 1.0 ecoboost has a cast iron block so it weighs pretty much the same as the 1.6 (aluminium block), and as such really is the wrong engine for a 7.

i've been waiting for this car for years!! a 7 was always "twice the fun of a ferrari, at half the speed", and that seems to have been forgotten a bit. this is all about feel and physics, and not loosing your license.

bcr5784 25 October 2013

live axle

My experience of a live axled 7 with one of the first Academy cars was remarkably positive . In my case it used a Marina axle which was indeed very heavy. Despite that - and seeming to defy the laws of physics - it rode remarkably well and, dare I say it, actually felt quite sophisticated (!!) provided you didn't set the rear dampers too hard. Nor did it have the lack of directional stability that some comments seem to suggest. Having owned both a Europa before and an Elise since I have some elevated benchmarks to compare it with. I dismissed the 7 without even driving it when I bought the Europa - you live and learn! In the case of the 7 appearances couldn't be more deceptive.

Caterham have used both A frames and watts linkages for lateral location. I wonder if Caterham are now using a simpler - and less geometrically satisfactory method. Nearly any other method of lateral location - such as a Panhard rod - will produce some rear wheel steering.

Anyone know, the Caterham site is completely vague on the subject?