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Caterham Superlight R500 (2008) review

Published:15 May 2008

Caterham Superlight R500 (2008) review
  • At a glance
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The R500: Caterham’s maddest, meanest creation returns to scare witless anyone brave enough to strap themselves into its kevlar bucket seat: more advanced, more usable, but promising to be as vicious as an R500 should be.

Caterham R500 Superlight – that means 500bhp per tonne, right?

Yes: 263bhp powering an object weighing 506kg to be precise, so it's actually a bit more. Essentially this R500 is an R400 with its track-focused Series 3 chassis (not the CSR chassis) fitted with a fully stoked Ford Duratec and lots of carbonfibre bits. It actually weighs 9kg less than an R400 thanks to thinner body panels and aluminium rear light clusters amongst a host of other tweaks. There are also the options, at additional cost, of a sequential gearbox, a carbonfibre airbox, a track suspension package (in addition to the adjustable Bilsteins as standard) and launch control.

So this is Caterham at its most extreme?

Any car faintly resembling a bathtub on wheels with 500bhp-per-tonne is going to be extreme, let’s face it. However, the difference between this latest creation and the old, Rover K-series powered R500, is that you no longer need to mercilessly cane the life out of the engine to extract that supercar-humbling performance.

Caterham has worked hard at mapping the midrange so that there’s ample shove on offer at sensible rpm. And there's an appreciable step-up in power around 5500rpm. Other niceties include a new dashboard with keyless go and handy little indicator buttons on the tiny steering wheel. 

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Caterham Superlight R500 first drive

Creature comforts? On a Caterham! Has it gone a bit soft?

No, no, not at all. For starters, if you’ve splashed out an additional £2950 on the six-speed sequential gearbox you’ll barely be able to hear the Duratec lump for all the gnashing and clanking of dog gears. No, that’s a lie of course; nothing could drown out the sound of this engine – you can probably hear it in the next county with its boisterous bark, belching and its banging on the overrun. Your reward is gear whine to make any car nut grin and incredibly fast shifts when you’re closing in on the redline.

Everything about this car – brakes, steering, the sense of balance – feels taut and accurate, almost subliminal, just like a good Seven should. Its enthusiasm is infectious, its purity liberating. It's got to be one of the fastest cars from A to B on a winding country road.

0-60mph in 2.88sec...


Above everything else it's the sheer, visceral speed of the thing. Just vast, brain-scrambling amounts of raw velocity. Tapping into the final 3000rpm unleashes pure mayhem: hold on to the revs ‘til a screaming 8500rpm and then pull back firmly on the lever with just a lift of the throttle and no clutch. The dizzying combination of speed and vibration is bewildering, your vision blurred, the noise deafening. On a public road it is insane. It does 0-60mph in 2.88sec for heaven's sake…

Click 'Next' below to read our verdict on the Caterham Superlight R500

Verdict

The law of diminishing returns means that while the essence of Caterham is tied up in a £20,000 Roadsport model, finding near-on twice that amount for this R500 doesn’t give you twice the fun. Nevertheless, if you’re prepared to spend whatever it takes for the ultimate rush on four wheels then try one of these. It’s draining, absorbing, terrifying and exhilarating in just about equal measure. Brilliant.

 

 

Specs

Price when new: £36,995
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1999c 4cyl 16v, 263bhp @ 8500rpm, 177lb ft @ 7200rpm
Transmission: Six-speed sequential manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 2.9sec 0-60mph, 150mph
Weight / material: 516kg (506kg with manual 'box)
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3100/1575/800

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • Caterham Superlight R500 driven: front three-quarter picture
  • Caterham Superlight R500 driven: front three-quarter picture
  • Caterham Superlight R500 driven: interior picture
  • Caterham Superlight R500 driven: engine picture
  • Caterham Superlight R500 driven: interior picture
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