LIKE ALL the best stories, this is one that is a pleasure to revisit. The tale of how Caterham bought the rights to the Lotus Seven back in the 1960s is probably the best bit of car business this century, because the basic design has changed very little over the years: four wheels, two seats, one engine and one satisfied driver. With nothing but the bare essentials the Seven is about driving and nothing more, which is why is remains a byword for driving pleasure even in this high-tech turbocharged era.
Not that Caterham hasn't made any changes of course. As well as an options list that would make excellent bedtime reading, there are Seven models to suit every budget and need. The classic Roadsport is a simple charmer, while at the other end of the scale the R500 delivers thrills that a Eurofighter pilot could only dream of.
Now there's a new version dubbed the Supersport, and as the name suggests it's all about the sportier side to the Seven’s personality. Starting with the universal structure the Supersport borrows some tweaks from the cars used in the one-make racing series of the same name. What that gets you is the ultimate wind-in-the-face experience with no windscreen, just an aero deflector on top of the dashboard. There’s a five-speed gearbox with shorter ‘sprint’ gearing that lowers the top speed but makes the acceleration still sharper and sticky CR500 Avon tyres.
Under the slim bonnet lies a tuned version of the 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine delivering 140bhp. That might not sound like a huge amount, but don’t forget that the Supersport weighs a measly 520kg – less than half as much as the mid-sized hatchbacks the same engine happily pulls. Do the sums and you get a power to weight ratio of 269bhp per tonne, about the same as an Aston Martin Vantage. Better still the Supersport is fitted with a limited-slip differential as standard to help put the power on the road while the suspension has the same springs and dampers as the race car too. As if it didn’t already feel like a racer let loose on the road, there are four-point harnesses, a change-up light and composite race seats.
Squeeze yourself into that seat, buckle up then grasp the tiny steering wheel and it’s hard not to feel in the mood for some fun. You look straight down the bonnet with the twin headlights poking up above it, and the fact that the front wheels are visible gives you a level of awareness of what’s around you that no other car can deliver.
Turn the key then prod the starter button and the busy four-cylinder unit throbs into life, the side exhaust that vents on the driver’s side giving you an aural indication of the car’s intent. Like everything with the Seven, just the shortest of inputs deliver results. The accelerator requires just a dab to raise the revs, the clutch is firm and short in throw while the gearlever is a clearly-defined switch between ratios.
Pull away, and even at urban speeds the rush of wind, the burble from the exhaust and the immediacy of its responses will have your eyes wide open and your senses on full alert. Despite appearances the Supersport can do the traffic trickle – even though bigger bumps and ruts do make themselves well known to your posterior – but really you should only do this in order to get to some proper roads.
As you might expect, the Supersport does without any of the fun police electronics that blight the life of the keen driver, and that means you are in control of where you are going and which direction you end up pointing in – if that doesn’t appeal, this isn’t the car for you. Anyone with an interest in proper driving however will relish this car for the way it reacts so instantly and purely to your actions. The unblighted view out means you can place the car on the road with millimetric precision and scythe through bends exactly as you want: neat and tidy with tiny steering inputs, or with a bit more gusto and the Supersport will slide, drift and dance with the best of them.
The straight-line performance perfectly complements the amount of grip – 0-60mph takes a very brief 4.9 seconds, but unless you are deliberate the Supersport won’t bite you in the dry. On a wet road the power and grip balance shifts significantly the other way, but that’s part of the fun: no car will communicate so effectively when the grip is about to run out.
The Supersport is a play thing that won’t carry much shopping and certainly won’t be all that good at the school run, no question. And that purity of purpose is exactly why you would buy one.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Caterham Seven Supersport, £22,995 (£19,995 in kit form)
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol producing 140bhp and 120lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Five-speed manual driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 120mph, 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds
Economy: 25mpg (est)
Emissions: 200g/km (est)
- Power5 (high performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy2 (worse than average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups2 (higher than average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: