Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less

Published:23 September 2021

Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast

► The replacement for the 160 S
► Available in S or R specification
► Turbocharged, 660 triple and 466kg

There’s a knack to climbing aboard the 170S, as there is with all narrow-bodied Caterhams. Your left leg goes in first, then you lean to the passenger side while pulling your right leg in. Actually driving the car requires one more step if you’re tall or have big feet: the removal of your shoes. The close-set pedals are ideal for heel-and-toe shifting but too tight if you’re a size nine or bigger.

Still, it’s worth the hassle, especially so in the case of the 170S we’re about to drive. An evolution of the 160 with a smidge more power, it replaces that car as the entry- level ‘ham.

There’s also a sharper, more focused R version of the 170 with a limited-slip diff for £1000 more – but we’d argue this 170S is arguably the most Caterham of Caterhams.

What’s it like to drive?

Its paucity of power, weight or grip feels like the ultimate expression of the brand – and it’s backed up by the spec sheet, too. Pair a barely-there weight of 466kg and just 84bhp from its modified motorcycle engine means the 170 has the power-to-weight ratio of a daddy long legs. It feels frantic and chaotic – but never slow.

84bhp isn’t much, so the Caterham’s key assets remain visceral communication and fun.

Get the 170S on a sunny B-road and driving is somehow both engaging and relaxed. The turbocharger means you don’t endlessly chase the redline, the triple instead feeling most at home riding a wave of chirping boost. You’ll want to play with the stubby shifter and mechanical five-speed ‘box – but 170 S will ping itself out of corners regardless.

The detachable Momo wheel is small, quick in its steering action but heavy, giving you ultimate command of the 14-inch wheels up front. The fact you can even see them moving upfront is more entertaining than you’d think – and overall, it makes for an experience of purity and directness bettered only by the memories of your favourite pedal go-kart. Only now, instead of six-year-old leg power, you’ve a towering 84bhp.

The 170S wing mirrors are best adjusted when you’re out of the car – but at least it has a rear review mirror. Huge vibrations mean it’s not hugely useful over 50mph, but you’ll be having too much fun to care.

Pumping the brakes requires a firm left or right foot – but they feel well matched to the car’s weight and overall performance. Having the stopping power of something ceramic in this would feel like overkill. The suspension also works well with the 170’s unique attributes too. It’s not skateboard stiff, but it’s certainly communicative. And you’ll need that communication; the absence of traction control or ABS means you really need to be able to feel everything the Caterham’s doing.

Caterham 170S: verdict

The Caterham 170 S is a car you’ll feel connected with even when travelling in a straight line. Unlike other cars which now use technology to minimise driver fatigue and input, the Caterham 170S is all about keeping you busy – whether it’s flicking a switch for the wipers, pulling a plunger for the header – or simply keeping control of its super-quick steering rack.

Even more so than other Caterhams currently on sale, the 170S encapsulates a different side to motoring and one that straddles the world of two-wheels and four.

Specs

Price when new: £29,850
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 660cc 12v turbocharged three-cylinder, 84bhp @ 6500rpm, 86lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 6.9sec 0-60mph, 105mph, 44mpg (est), 109g/km CO2
Weight / material: 466kg
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

Photo Gallery

  • Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less
  • Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less
  • Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less
  • Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less
  • Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less
  • Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less
  • Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less
  • Caterham 170S (2021) review: more, but still less

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast

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