It’s the ultimate road racer
Barmy, back-to-basics driving sensation
Goes like a firework
A cheapish thrill
Rabbit-hutch levels of comfort
Fiddly roof
Virtually no mod-cons

First Drive review: Caterham Seven 270 R (2015)

Poop, poop! Toad’s found Rocket mode

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First drive review: Caterham Seven

2015 Caterham Seven 270 R at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★★
  • Performance: ★★★★☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★☆☆☆
  • Practicality: ★☆☆☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★★☆

Caterham Seven 270 R, £27,790

IT MUST be 16 years since I last drove a Caterham Seven. I have a photograph from that time, taken outside my house, of my son and a chum of his, then toddlers, standing inside this cheery, bug-eyed go-kart, looking thrilled.

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Seconds after the photo was taken, I started the engine, which came to life like a bomb going off. Both children had to be retrieved from the car, howling in terror. It’s not for everyone.

And now here I am on the M23, ears ringing and spine vibrating, wondering about doing some terrified howling of my own. With its canvas door flaps and its brutal, race-ready purism, the Caterham Seven surely duplicates more accurately than any vehicle currently being built the sensation of being dragged up the road on a tin tray.

When the road in question is three lanes of fast-moving traffic, by no means all of it discernible in your juddering wing mirrors, it’s only natural that the range of emotions available to the driver should include primal fear.

First drive: Caterham Seven

Accordingly, my jaw is clenched and I am gripping the Momo steering wheel, which is marginally bigger than a compact disc, like a buoyancy aid in a furious sea. The part of my brain still capable of reasoning above the noise (bellowing engine, road rumble and air rush in one deafening aural sandwich) is reassuring me that I’m quicker than nearly all this traffic — and definitely more agile going into corners. But it may not count for much if someone absent-minded in a BMW X6 simply runs me over from behind.

Of course, ideally, I wouldn’t be on the M23 at all. I would be at Brooklands, probably at some point in the mid-1930s, possibly wearing a cravat, and certainly rounding another Caterham Seven on the inside of a banked bend with a delighted cry of: “Gotcha, you bounder!”

But sadly I’m not. I’m on the M23, in 2015, approaching Coulsdon, south London, having collected this 270 R model in the late afternoon from Caterham’s headquarters by Gatwick.

“The little car place?” the taxi driver had asked, and he lowered his hand, palm downwards, to make a gesture of the kind you might use to describe a small dog. “That’s the one,” I said.

In the Caterham range the 540kg Seven 270 sits above the entry-level 160 and below several models of still more power and madness, but they’re all fundamentally racing cars and therefore ragingly bonkers by the standards of ordinary road behaviour.

First drive: Caterham Seven

This one uses a tinkered-with 1.6-litre Ford Sigma Ti-VCT engine that generates 135bhp — a considerable amount of power to put under what is essentially a reinforced rabbit hutch. The R pack, which costs £3,995, adds racing essentials. You get the aforementioned Momo steering wheel. You get a four-way harness and a rear anti-roll bar. And you get a pair of rock-hard composite racing seats that don’t qualify as seats at all, unless your idea of something to sit on is a factory floor.

With the roof up (stiff, time-consuming work involving canvas and poppers), every burst of acceleration brings a new wave of dry, Saharan heat blowing in from under the dash, although you can un-popper the lower half of the door flap and nudge it with your elbow to create a draught.

Absurd, then — and yet, in its own single-minded way, utterly brilliant. As it starts at just under £24,000, cheap too. Because this is sports driving and it doesn’t come much purer. Cries of joy or cries of terror — it’s up to you.

2015 Caterham Seven 270 R specifications
  • Price: £27,790
  • Engine: 1596cc, 4 cylinders
  • Power: 135bhp @ 6800rpm
  • Torque: 122 lb ft @ 4100rpm
  • Transmission: 5-speed manual
  • Performance: 0-60mph: 5.0sec
  • Top speed: 122mph
  • Fuel: Not available
  • CO2: Not available
  • Release date: On sale now

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