From £24,4958
The Seven remains as entertaining as a sports car has any right to be, but pick your options carefully - and don’t think about what they might cost

What is it?

It’s a new member of Caterham’s more simple range, called the 270R. But, given that by the second paragraph of the 270R press release you’re into three-asterisk modifier territory, all things are relative. Buying a Caterham is never going to be simple.

In as short as I can make it, though: there are now five models, whose numerals roughly equate to their power-to-weight ratio. Deep breath: there’s the base three-cylinder 160 (80bhp), a 1.6-litre 270 (135bhp), 2.0-litre 360 (180bhp), 2.0-litre, dry-sumped 420 (210bhp), and the range-topping, supercharged 2.0 620 (310bhp).

Only the 160 and 620 haven’t been affected by the change. All the others have had a Roadsport, Supersport or Superlight model dropped to allow their existence. And all are available with an S Pack, which is tailored for road users, or this R Pack, which contains racier elements. 

Except? Except that the 160 is only an S and the 620 is only an R. The wider-bodied version is also still available and - look, buying a Caterham is still an experience that involves a lot of looking at options lists and ticking the right boxes.

As well it should be, because detail, when it comes to Caterham specifications, is important. Example: the car you see here is a 270R, which arrived at Millbrook shortly before it was registered. But we also drove a 270S on the road and at the test track. 

What's it like?

At face value it ought to be the same as the 270S. But, that car's wider body, bigger wheels and no limited slip differential meant the gap between how they drove was vast. And given the option, it is the narrow-bodied R that remains the one to go for. By a mile.

In the form as tested, it’s as close as the Seven remains to the old Supersport, which we’ve long thought is as peachy a Seven as they come. 

The engine is a 1.6-litre Ford Sigma unit making 135bhp. The R pack adds a wider front track, sports suspension, an adjustable rear anti-roll bar, bigger brake master cylinder, a lightened flywheel and a limited-slip differential, plus some other options – seats, harnesses, and so on – that don’t affect the mechanical spec.

It adds £3995 to the £19,995 base price. Factor in another £3000 for Caterham to build it for you and an £800 ‘on the road package’ and here you have a £27,790 car, before other options. I’ll come to those later. 

On top of all that, alloys of 13in diameter rather than 15in are an option, but at least at no cost, and you should also tick that box: they wear 175/55 Avon CR500 tyres both front and rear, and Caterhams have always handled most sweetly on small wheels.

Certainly, this one does. Our drive was confined to Millbrook Proving Ground’s Hill Route, but given that was designed with one thing in mind – to give a car’s chassis a tremendous workout – that’s no bad thing. 

This Seven might have a new name, but the intrinsic character of the old Supersport is still well and truly intact. The driving position is like slinking into a tight bathtub – and sometimes just as wet, from experience – and the footwell snug.

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But as driving environments go, it’s as good as they come. The Seven seats you not far forward of the deDion rear axle, and presents the wheel to your chest. If you stretched out a pair of braces, Bobby Ball style, the apogee of your stretch is where the wheel would be (Autocar: always on the pace of contemporary cultural references). The position is even better in this Seven because of the optional lower floor (£395).

The engine fires with a pleasing brap, and throttle response is deliciously crisp. Try as you might with a turbo, there’s no substitute for a small-capacity naturally aspirated engine with a lightened flywheel. Our test car had the optional six-speed gearbox (£1495) fitted, but the standard five-speeder is easily as lovely. 

Once you’re rolling, the responses are every bit as engaging, precise and instant as you dared hoped, dream or remember they would be. The ride (race dampers, er, £1525) is hard, but body control exquisite. Turn in is sharp, and the unassisted, 1.9-turns steering weighty through the tiny (and £150) Momo wheel.

Feedback is superb, too, and probably telling you that there’s the merest hint of understeer, which can be quelled easily by braking or applying power. You’ll need serious revs going to unstick the rear but on these tyres it’s possible, even in the dry. 

Should I buy one?

Absolutely. At all times this Seven is so delicate, so accurate and so pure that very little else is so compelling, at any price. Just remember that, and Caterham's legendarily strong residual values, when you’ve finished totting up the options prices. 

Caterham 270R

Location Millbrook; On sale Now; Price £27,790 (built, including R pack) Engine 4cyls in line, 1596cc, petrol; Power 135bhp at 6800rpm; Torque 121lb ft at 4100rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 540kg; Top speed 122mph; 0-60mph 5.0sec; Economy 30mpg (est); CO2/tax band tbc

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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3304hl 31 March 2015

they charge £395 for the

they charge £395 for the optional lower floor?
Just because they can, that's why.
400 quid for something that takes little extra to produce.
Caterham is almost Porsche-like in their ability to pad a bill...
A34 24 March 2015

Retro rocket

It's amazing there is not much competition for the 7. How hard can it be to do a road/track car with some bad weather option, off the shelf mechanicals, 2 seats, and great performance? Obviously harder than one thinks (choose any 2 of price, performance, quality)...