Just as Jordan didn’t need to cosmetically enhance her already ample chest, we never thought the Caterham Seven R500 needed more power. Yet someone, somewhere, must want more, because the R500 has now been usurped by the 620R.
The R500 was crazy, so how could a Caterham get any crazier?
Caterham has taken the naturally aspirated, Ford-derived-but-Caterham-tuned 2.0-litre and supercharged it, so peak power is now 310bhp. Torque is up too, 177lb ft pushed to 219lb ft, and because Caterham has used a supercharger rather than a turbo, it’s produced at even higher revs than before, retaining the R500’s manic nature.
What else is different about the 620R?
In the pursuit of a Bugatti Veyron-beating power-to-weight ratio the 620R has carbonfibre front wings, carbon seats and a carbon dash, while carbon suspension wishbones are an option. Creature comforts don’t feature either: there’s no radio, no airbags, no padding on the seats, no locks (there’s an immobiliser and quick-release steering wheel instead) and you adjust the air-con by opening the visor of your helmet. Sound deadening? With the exhaust only a foot or so from your head it’s down to how recently you’ve cleaned your right ear.
There are also no wipers (for there is no windscreen to wipe) and with only a tiny carbonfibre aero screen, it’s as refined as wing walking. You can spend extra and have a windscreen (as pictured) and a heater, and adjustable leather seats, but that sets you on the path towards a sensible Seven, and then you may as well buy a proper car.
If it’s stripped out, it must weigh nothing.
The 620R tips the scales at a flyweight 545kg, but the supercharger means the 620R is actually 29kg heavier than the R500, it’s not even a tenth of a second quicker to 60mph, and at a fiver under fifty grand it costs £13k more.
And although the power-to-weight ratio now trumps a Veyron, the 620R’s 568bhp-per-tonne is some way short of what the name might have you believe.
Getting in is still a faff, too. Only those with a Mo Farah physique will squeeze into the narrow seats, and unless your parents practised Japanese foot binding you’ll likely be pressing the throttle and brake at the same time. The sequential gearbox is daunting as well, the stubby stick vibrating with more intensity than the infamous Rabbit, each low-speed and low-rev shift jolting your body like it’s been shocked with a defibrillator, the loud rifle-like crack that accompanies each change doing little to calm your nerves.
What’s it like when you’re pushing it?
All faults are forgotten the moment you summon the courage to floor the throttle. It squirms forward and until the forces of physics start to fight against the 56-year-old shape it’s as stupidly quick as the Bugatti; but the experience is so much more intense, your clothes flapping in the wind, the air roaring past you, the barking exhaust drowning out the screams inside your helmet.
You need the clutch to get the 620R moving (and for downshifts) but going up through the gears, just keep your right foot pinned and brutally jerk back the stick to flat shift, the changes instantaneous and now surprisingly smooth. And the tiny pedals make perfect sense when you’re then smashing down through the cogs, punching the sequential stick forward, blipping the throttle while braking hard.
In an instant you feel at one with the Seven, an intimate component, a part of every action and reaction, somehow unintimidated despite being acutely aware that only slugs and snails sit closer to the road. You bond with the Seven, marvel at the feedback coming from the tyres you can see turning just ahead of your toes, feeling every bit of the Tarmac telegraphed up through your backside. It’s all-consuming: each drive is a frazzling, draining, exhausting experience, the constant poundings and pulsations knackering your muscles like those vibrating Power Plate machines in the gym, but you arrive everywhere feeling wired and alive.
Verdict: the ultimate performance car?
Like all track-focused Superlight versions of the Seven, the suspension is a little too stiff to cope with the bumpy British B-roads where you’d expect this iconic British sports car to excel, and then the super-sharp throttle hinders rather than helps smooth progress. And in damp conditions those semi-slick tyres will see you sliding in an instant (though that’s more of an observation than a complaint). There’s still nothing like a Seven, but as brilliant as this one is, dare we say it’s a little too extreme unless you’re on a racetrack.
>> Would you pick the 620R over more sanitised versions of Caterham’s Seven? Let us know in the comments section below