Earlier this year I drove my first ever Caterham – the 160S. With it being the base model, it had a 660CC engine that produces 80bhp. That may seem slow, but in practice it certainly isn’t. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked, what I’m trying to get at is that the 270S is the next model up, which means more power.
More Power, More Fun
How much you ask? Well, underneath the infamous and unmistakable bonnet lies a naturally aspirated 1.6 litre engine which is lifted from, wait for it…a Ford Focus. Fear not though, that has been tuned and fettled so it’s more exciting. 135bhp is on offer with 165Nm of torque, meaning you will be propelled to 60mph in 5.0 seconds with a top speed of 122mph. This power is mounted to the rear wheels via a 5-speed manual gearbox, which is slick but requires a firm change. Not that I mind of course, as it feels old fashioned and manly.
So…The ‘S’, Does That Make It Sportier?
No it doesn’t. Like the ‘S’ pack in 160, it’s designed to make a Caterham easier to live with on a daily basis. I know, that’s like putting on an extra t-shirt in the Antarctic in the hope you won’t freeze to death. What this £3,495 pack will give you is windscreen, roof, doors, heater, leather seats, momo leather steering wheel, carpeted interior and a 12V socket. I know, luxury right?! Now the model tested did have a fair few options on it so let me run through them.
Right then, the options. I’m going to need a deep breath for this – and a fair few bullet points…
- Factory build: £2,500
- Wide body chassis: £2,500
- Wooden dashboard: £300
- S Pack: £3,495
- Painted headlamp covers: £150
- Brown leather seats (as opposed to the standard black): £1,000
- Embroidered logo on seats: £300
- Painted seven logo on grille: £75
- Leather Rollover bar: £700
- Painted stripe: £395
That means this car is over £33,000, which is a fair ol’ whack for something that is very unlikely to be used as an everyday car. Mind you, the car starts at a much more reasonable £21,995, but you will be required to build the car yourself and you won’t get the desirable S pack.
What’s It Like To Drive Though?
Yes, enough prices, let me talk you through how the car drives. Once you’ve shoehorned your way in to cabin and pushed the red start button you’re greeted with a deep burble as the 1.6 Ford engine roars to life. The first bout of serious acceleration is enough to question if it’s too early to write a will and you get the sense you’re about to hit warp speed. And that is not even at full revs, the car will scream its way to a hairy-chested 8,000 before you hit the limit.
The 0-60 time of 5.0 seconds seems to be incorrect as it feels like it will hit the magic 6-0 in less than that. The 5-speed manual is a joy to work with and thankfully the pedals are better spaced out than the 160S. Despite this, I still felt the need to ditch footwear when I was driving as I found I had better communication with the pedals without them. Despite the lack of turbo, the power comes quickly, although there is a lot of fun to be had by taking this engine by the scruff of the neck and revving it until it’s begging for you to change gear.
The lack of turbo also means that you get no wastegate noise like in the 160S, but it makes up for it with a satisfying spluttering sound. Lift off the throttle at around 1,800 revs and you can hear popping noise coming from the exhaust, rather reminiscent of a popcorn being made – I like that.
I also like – wait, love – the way how the 270S handles. As with all Caterhams you can see exactly what the front wheels are doing and the fact it has no power steering means that you can really feel what the front wheels are doing. The grip from the 14″ Avon tyres is very good and you can really throw the car in to corners at what feels like a ludicrous speed. Despite the exclusion of a limited slip diff – that’s included in the R pack – you get a sense the 270S would be a complete hoot on a race track.
No race track for me though, instead I had to settle for some of the lovely scenic roads around Goodwood – far from a poor compromise. In the summer sun you get a sense that there is no other place to be as you thread your way through corner after corner as you and the car work in perfect harmony. The sheer sensation of driving a Caterham is an experience any worthy driver should take part in.
It’s not as uncomfortable as you think either, it’s far from a Rolls-Royce, but it’s certainly not going to force you to consider calling your nearest chiropractor. I would go so far to say the ride is supple; it soaks up small bumps pretty well. It won’t deal with bigger bumps that well, but let’s face it, with the Caterham’s low ground clearance and open wheel design, you’ll want to avoid any bumps in general – and speed humps for that matter.
Could I Live With One?
The chances are this will be bought as a plaything, or something to bring out on a nice weekend, but I wondered if one could actually use a Caterham as a daily proposition. This may seem barmy, but bear with me on this one. As I’ve said, once you’re in the car, it’s a surprisingly comfortable place to be and as long as your route lacks massive speed humps – I know, impossible in London – then you should be fine.
Yes, you will have to put up with a roof that takes so long to put up, you feel a stopwatch would not be up to the task, and you’ll need to live without creature comforts such as air con, radio, sat nav and so forth. Despite this though, as I drove Caterham back to the brand’s base on a traffic-filled M23, I sat there with a massive grin on my face. “What a wonderful way to spend a Monday morning”, I thought.
There’s not many other cars that have achieved that level of satisfaction and that alone makes the Caterham 270S worth having. I look forward to the next one!
Find out more about Caterham here.