A few weeks ago I reviewed the new Audi TTS, and although it was a very capable machine for covering ground rather quickly, it left me a bit numb, a bit cold. It seemed as if it had no soul and it felt too…efficient. In this review, however, I have a car that costs a similar amount, and it’s even finished in Audi’s famous Nardo Grey paintwork, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Say hello to the Caterham Seven 620S. No, this isn’t the R model that everyone raves on about, but to be truthful, this could well be the better car. For those of you that have just raised your eyebrows in skepticism, let me explain.
The R has no windscreen for starters, meaning you can’t attach a roof, so when the British weather gets bored of being sunny, you’re likely to get rather wet. The S version gets such a luxury and not only that, I’ve got a heater, and heated seats. No, really, I do! Ok, I’ll admit the heated seats are an option, but considering they cost just £200 extra, I’d argue it’s an option worth having.
Anyway, enough about the seats, back on to the car itself. The S may not have the sequential gearbox like the R does, but more importantly, it has the same engine. It’s a 2.0 litre Ford Duratec engine, which may not sound overly exciting to begin with, but it’s been mated to a supercharger, meaning it now offers 310bhp with 219Nm of torque – that’s 162 in lb ft.
The torque figure may not seem that impressive, but the BHP is where things get really interesting, especially when you bear in mind this car weighs just 610kg, meaning this car has 375bhp-per-tonne – that’s more than a Porsche 918. Work the 5-speed manual quickly enough and you’ll blast your way to 60mph in just 3.4 seconds, which is faster than a Lexus LFA. Keep going, and you’ll hit a top speed of 145mph, which is bound to feel like plenty, considering your arse cheeks are only a few inches from the tarmac.
The engine is extremely responsive, in fact, all you really need to do it look at the throttle and the 620S is ready to propel you into next week using a surge of power and noise. Pin the accelerator and you’ll be going past the legal limit quicker than you can say “speed ticket”, so you certainly need big dollop of restraint if you want to keep hold of your licence.
Despite the savagery, the 620S is a reasonably easy car to drive. You’ll need to consider your footwear, though, if you go for the smaller, standard, chassis, as the footwell is cramped, meaning you may hit two pedals at once, which is literally an accident waiting to happen. Speaking of safety, as with other Caterham models, the 620S has no driver aids whatsoever, it doesn’t even have airbags or ABS, so you’ll need to be pretty switched on when driving this car. In fact, it doesn’t even have power steering!
However, I do have a four point harness as standard, as well as a limited slip diff, Bilstein dampers and sticky Avon ZZS tyres that are wrapped around the optional 13″ alloy wheels. The tyres once warm, offer a shedload of grip and the handling, as you would expect, is pin sharp. I know I’ve probably said this before but a Caterham is so light and nimble that it makes my MX-5s feel a bit wooden, and cumbersome.
This is a razor sharp scalpel, whereas my MX-5s in comparison feel a bit more like an old mallet. The 620S corners with the kind of ability that some sports cars could only ever dream of, and you feel connected to everything the car has to offer. The communication this chassis gives you is at an all-time high, it feels almost telepathic. If this car isn’t able to excite your tingly bits, then there’s a good chance nothing ever will.
There is a drawback to this, though
The Caterham Seven 620S may well be sharper and more precise than other sports cars on the market, but you do have to make sacrifices. For starters, it’s not what you’d call practical. Before you comment and complain, I know this was not built for practicality, but cars such as a BMW M2, or the Audi TTS I had a few weeks ago offer more space, and will be easier to live with day-to-day.
The roof is pretty pitiful, it looks like something you would get from Millets, and it’s not something you can put up in a hurry. Mind you, as I said earlier, it’s better than having no roof at all, in comparison to the 620R. The four point harnesses may prove tiresome to use but then again, this is unlikely to be your daily driver. Mind you, you never know…
Then we have the boot, which is about the same size as your average holdall. Pack it smartly enough and you could get enough in there for a weekend away – I should know, I’ve done it – but it’s not what you’d call gargantuan.
At this point you may think I’ve completely missed the point of this car, but I just wanted to demonstrate the lack of practicality compared to other sports cars which cost a similar price.
Back to the driving
Yes, this car is not the most practical, but this is not a car you buy with your brain, this is one you buy with your heart. This is not going to be the most sensible car purchase – no offence, Caterham. This is more likely to be a weekend car, a toy for when you want to excite and scare yourself in equal measures.
What Caterham does, is to provide the type of motoring that is difficult to find nowadays. This is driving joy in its rawest form, this is a grade A hit of motoring euphoria, the ultimate high. I’m pretty sure Caterham doesn’t know what the word autonomous means, and if it did, it would wave a big two finger salute to it. This is a car for drivers, enthusiasts and those who want to experience just how a proper lightweight sports car should feel.
People have asked me whether cars like this are road legal, and they most definitely are. However, it does make you think how long Caterham can stick to its roots before its forced to bring in hybrid or electric models. Don’t get me wrong, electric cars can be exciting, but it doesn’t isn’t the same as a a supercharged coal burner if you ask me.
Cars like this, may not be around for too much longer, and for me, that is a shame as this is really the closest you can get to getting a classic sports car feeling wrapped in a modern(ish) sort of package. I salute Caterham for making cars like in 2019, and I would urge any keen driver to find a way of driving a Caterham as it’s an experience that is difficult to match.
However, I think it’s time to address the elephant in the room…
It’s about time I get on to a topic that I’ve been avoiding for quite some time now, and that’s the price. Earlier, you may recall that this car is a similar cost to the Audi TTS I had a few weeks ago, and that car was over £53,000. Well, this car, despite its lack of virtual cockpit and other sophisticated technology, is around £52,500. Yes, that price does include options – base price is £48,890 – but the Audi had options as well.
As much as I love this car, it’s hard not to ignore the price tag when you consider you’re not actually getting a lot of car for your money. There’s no touchscreen, there’s no air con, there’s no parking sensors – I don’t even get cupholders for God’s sake! Mind you, you do get two USB ports… However, it’s not necessarily the car itself you’re paying for.
It’s all about the experience
No, it’s the experience that goes with owning a Caterham that really makes it special. The ownership is charming, quirky, sometimes frustrating, but never boring. I’ve probably said this before, but every drive feels like an occasion, even if you’re just popping to the shops to get some milk.
This is a car that makes pedestrians stop and stare in wonder, it’s the sort of car that will be commented on if you cross someone in a car park or in a petrol station, and I’d like to think that everybody likes a Caterham – it’s a British classic, much like the original Mini. I really wish I could own a Caterham, I really do, as every time I drive one, it just feels ‘right’.
This car isn’t perfect, though. For example, the petrol gauge seems as trustworthy as a re-offending criminal and the windscreen wipers only have two settings – a bit too fast, and “Holy crap, we need to build an ark”. It’s a very snug cabin, too, so you may find changing gear a bit of a faff dependant on the size of you passenger.
Then you have the mirrors, which are nigh on useless when you get to any kind of speed as they shake like a jelly in an earthquake. Also, the wing mirrors aren’t much use in the dark as the bright lights on the dashboard cause a reflective glare on the windows. And I’ve got a a car that’s over £52,000 and the gearknob isn’t even on straight. Before you ask, yes I have tried to screw it back on straight, but it seems destined to be forever wonky.
None of this matters
However, the real truth is, none of this really matters. This car is compromised, and it has its faults, but in my eyes it only gives it more character. This feels like a living being, it feels like it has a soul, which is more than what I can say for the Audi TTS. This may seem like a bit of a paradox, but sometimes a car can be better by being worse.
If you ask me to choose between this or the Audi, I’ll pick this every day of the week as it just has that the X factor the Audi simply cannot offer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing the Caterham like-for-like with the Audi as that would be silly, because they’re different cars aimed for different people, but this more of a loose comparison as they are both sports cars I recently driven that cost almost the same amount of price.
Speaking of a similar cost, you could have the 620R, which will be even more unhinged than this car, but as I said earlier, the S could actually make more sense as it has some form of creature comforts, and you get the same supercharged 2.0 litre engine. The 620S, then, is the more comfy way to overhaul your senses with a lot of power in light package.
This is small, nimble and grey, so this is essentially a supercharged squirrel! You know what, though, despite the hardcore image, the ride is actually pretty agreeable. I’ve used this as my daily – yes, really – and I’m yet to get to a point where it feels like my spine has been beaten in to submission, so I have to applaud Caterham for that.
I also need to applaud Caterham for making a car like this in the first place, as it certainly feels like cars such as this are getting ever so closer to extinction. Could this car be one of the last of its kind? I sincerely hope not, but if it is, it’s not going out quietly!
Find out more about Caterham here.