Nothing looks particularly different here. Where’s the change?
This year heralds the 50th anniversary of the Seven. Besides making a cluster of special edition livery paint-schemed cars, the Roadsport has principally got the same clothes - but a new heart and improved bone marrow. Caterham is celebrating the birthday by binning the Rover-derived K-series engine after 15 years of faithful service. It's getting long in the tooth now, they're no longer built and the stockpile built up since Longbridge went belly-up has finally run out. Lotus, too, has abandoned the K-series for Toyota lumps, remember. The newer block on the block for their lower-capacity models such as this Roadsport is Ford’s Sigma 1.6-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine. It's more usually seen in the Fiesta, Focus and C-Max.
Will the K-series under the bonnet be missed?
Not really, although for the 2007 season every Caterham racing in the one-make academy will still run them for homologation purposes. We'll remember the K-series for its clattery top-end and need to be revved into orbit for optimum power. Despite being the same displacement, the EU4-spec emission-friendly Sigma engine is quieter and pulls harder from lower down. Thanks to Caterham’s bespoke ECU brainwash, the Sigma pushes out 125bhp and feels like a bigger-capacity motor that doesn’t have to try as hard as the old K-series.
But the new engine's only got 125bhp…
True, but let’s not forget it only weighs a flyweight 550kg. That’s 227bhp-per-tonne. The new 1.6 is mated to Caterham’s beautifully precise home-grown five-speed manual (you’d be hard pushed to miss a gear) and the exhaust now sits 12 inches from your right elbow; on the K-series cars, it exited on the passenger side. The driving experience is certainly one of the most focused you could hope to find. Last year CAR commuted and raced a Roadsport and loved it to bits. Literally. Although its life ended prematurely on the track - through no fault of our own - the car was a total grin-maker come sun or downpour.
Point taken. Any significant improvement in road manners?
Absolutely. Half a century on from the original design, the new Roadsport now has an all-new chassis frame welded by robots as opposed to being braised by a bloke in Cambridgeshire. With a 12 percent increase in rigidity, the latest Cat can claw its way around corners faster than ever. You really notice the lack of creaks, closely followed by the sheer smoothness of the ride. My, my - those robots know their stuff. There's been no jump in price with the switch to the new engine, thankfully. And you can still order your Caterham in ‘knock-down’ kit form to build it in your porch, should you feel the need to wield spanners and save £2500.
It may have trailer rear lights and a hood that fits as quickly as a pair of sodden drainpipe jeans, but the new Roadsport proves Caterham can still refine their 50-year-old favourite. It’s no revolution, but rather a welcomed evolution. Forget the weather outside – set fire to the hood, dress appropriately and enjoy piloting one of the world’s rawest, simplest and most precise driving tools. And for goodness sake, leave the picnic hamper rack to the Morgan fraternity...