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Thursday, 24 October 2013

Caterham Seven 160 Is A-O-Kei

Caterham Seven 160 (and my current wallpaper)
In the post below this one, you will find a new small, lightweight, rear-wheel-drive roadster powered by a Japanese 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that probably won't cost very much. So, to mix things up a bit, here's a new small, lightweight, rear-wheel-drive roadster powered by a Japanese 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that, would you believe it, doesn't cost very much. But this one's even cooler, because it's a Caterham.

Now, some of you might have fallen over upon reading that a Caterham is now available with something other than a four-cylinder engine. A similar number might even be shocked at the concept of a Caterham with forced induction, although evidently they haven't seen the bonkers R500 Superlight or 620R versions with their superchargers. But of course, even a relatively low-volume car company like Caterham can't escape the need to downsize and improve average CO2 output. Thus we have this new base model, the 160. Following the new naming system of naming models after their approximate power/weight ratio (they include the driver for some reason, even though their weight is completely variable...), this features a wee inline three from Suzuki, making it the first turbo Caterham ever. A year ago they tested the Ford 999cc EcoBoost engine that Ford uses in the Fiesta, Focus and a one-off road legal Formula Ford, but that engine would've cost the Caterham-based organisation (which turned 40 this year, by the way) three times as much as the current four cylinder Ford unit used in their base models, so they had to look elsewhere. The presence of this car has sparked rumors of a new Suzuki Cappuccino, which would probably goad Honda into building that S660 Concept...

As I mentioned in the Honda S660 post, Japanese 'Kei' class car engines are limited to 64PS, or 63bhp in imperial terms, but because this engine isn't sitting in a Kei car, it's been tuned up by Caterham's own boffins to make 80bhp and 79lb/ft of torque. Now, that doesn't sound like a lot, but because this car is so small, simple and pared-back, it only weighs 490kg (including that mystery driver weight), or about half as much as a typical supermini like a Fiesta or Punto. Logic says that that's the same as a 980kg car having 160bhp, so this has the potential to be hot hatch fast. A 0-60mph sprint time of 6.5 seconds backs that up, but the lack of outright power is revealed by a top speed of just 100mph. The Citroën diesel I rented a fortnight ago has a higher top speed than that and does 100 in warm, un-windy comfort, although really, on a nice day, I know which car I'd rather be in. Sorry Citroën.

Yup, I'd rather be in the car with no proper roof and 14" steel wheels. It is often said that there is no real substitute for a Caterham. An evolution of the Lotus 7 originally from 1957, the changes from Chapman's design ultimately add up to removing the Morgan-esque running boards, adding optional weather protection and updating the mechanicals and lights. The switches look the same as those in my '80s Mini, and it really is tiny. You have to lower yourself in carefully while grabbing hold of stuff, and before long your foot will get hot, because it's resting next to the gearbox with only a sheet of metal in between. I suppose that's a plus in the winter months, of you're brave enough to drive a car with optional plastic doors in winter. This particular Seven has tyres that are only 155-section (meaning the tread section across the top of the tyre is 155mm wide). For perspective, a new Mazda MX-5 uses 205-section tyres. This means that a boot full of throttle can still get the car sideways despite only having 80 horsepower, a philosophy similar to that of the Toyota GT86, which interestingly has the same power/weight ratio as this Caterham despite having 200 horsepower. Lightness is rightness!

But how is it so light? Well first of all that dinky little engine is 26kg lighter than the Ford Sigma engine in the 125 Roadsport that used to be the base model in the range. Fitting narrower wheels/tyres and making the rear track narrower means the rear wheel arches are 28mm narrower as well, which all adds up. The Seven was never a heavy car - all are hovering somewhere around the 500kg mark - but lightness begets more lightness. A lighter car only needs smaller brakes, for instance, and less substantial anti-roll bars and so on. In fact, this is the first Caterham in well over ten years to use a solid rear axle, this time from the Suzuki Jimny along with the 5-speed manual gearbox. Normally modern Caterhams use a DeDion rear axle (ask an engineer...), but that set up has been making the cars increasingly expensive. The 125 Roadsport is £19,995 basic, and for that price you have to build it yourself. If you require your car to be assembled beforehand then you pay an extra £3000 for the convenience. The 160 undercuts the Roadsport by a whole £5000, opening the range up to a wider audience of open-minded people who want the purest driving experience they can find, and possibly giving more people the opportunity for an exciting weekend car to park next to their eco-friendly commuter box.

Or, alternatively, you could demonstrate the change in the size of cars over the last 56 years by parking it next to a Jaguar F-Type, a car which in isolation is quite petite, even in person:

Tweeted by @JethroBovingdon
Wow. It takes a lot to make Jaguar's smallest car for about 50 years look like an SUV. Or rather, very little...

But which would you rather have? Well, that rather depends on your attitude. If you're only interested in driving, it has to be the Caterham. If you need leather everywhere, useful air conditioning and a roof you don't have to erect yourself like a tent, then I'd suggest the Jaguar Heft-Type.

Y'know, I think they might actually be the same switches as the ones in my '80s Mini...
Personally, I'd love one of these little things. Sure, it has no doors, heater (aside from the gearbox), alloy wheels, sound system (aside from the thrummy huffing and puffing turbo three up front) or particularly useful storage space, but think what it must be like to drive! Everything's undiluted, with movements from the front wheels going directly into your arms, movements from the rear wheels going directly into the seat of your pants situated mere inches away from them, a tiny steering wheel with no power assistance and a manual gearbox operated by a stubby little ball on a stick right next to the steering wheel. That little engine in this cute little car makes an attractive package to my eyes. In fact, I like to think that if I get a job as a designer and never have to take anything bigger than a portfolio and boxes of pens to work, I could buy this as an every day car. I'd only be shopping for one or two, so bags can go where the passenger isn't, and because it's so light and has a tiny engine, it'll manage excellent fuel economy, too.

You can buy one for £14,995 as a kit, or £17,995 fully assembled. In mainland Europe you can buy it as a 165, but the windscreen isn't allowed by European regulations, so you have to make do with a little aero screen instead. Keep an eye on the weather, though, and you'll have the purest driving experience this side of a go-kart. I'll take a racing green one, thanks.

I even like the number plate. BLF is fun to say as if it's a word. Blff!
Like all Sevens, it has a side exit exhaust. Less heat shielding required here than usual, though...
Caterham - Powered by Suzuki. I bet you didn't expect to read that on a Seven engine...
For the press release and some more pictures, click here.

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