Caterham Super Seven (2020) review: Sweet Little 1600

Published:09 April 2020

Caterham Super Seven (2020) review: Sweet Little 1600
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
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By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer

► Caterham Super Seven 1600 tested
► Retro-inspired model channels the 70s
► Throaty throttle bodies and a £33k price tag

Last time Caterham experimented with time travel it went quite well. The limited-edition Seven Sprint and café racer-style Super Sprint models released in 2017 harked back to the ’60s and ’50s respectively, and both sold out in a matter of days despite very modern prices.

Now there’s a new, old, Caterham on the block, and it’s no longer a limited-run model but a full-time addition to the range.

What’s super about the new Caterham Super Seven?

The original Lotus Super Seven models were made between 1958 and 1968, with slightly brawnier powerplants than the regular Seven.

So this is technically the first Super Seven in 52 years, although, confusingly, a lot of older Caterhams carry a ‘Super Seven’ badge. Nothing is ever straightforward with sports car history (or any kind of history).

This car is a timewarp with a wheel in two decades, taking its inspiration and flared wing fairings from both the ’60s Lotus Super Sevens and the first cars built fully under Caterham’s auspices in the early ’70s after acquiring the rights from Lotus.

It’s powered by the same 1600cc Ford Sigma engine as entry-level Caterhams, with the Super name justified by the addition of some fantastic looking (and sounding) Jenvey throttle bodies. On normal Super Sevens they poke out of the side of the engine cover, while on wider SV chassis models they’re hidden. Speccing the roomier SV chassis adds £2500 to the price.

Adding to the retro touches are a spare wheel and carrier on the car’s tail, and a choice of six throwback paint schemes. Our test car was in Caribbean Blue, an old Aston Martin colour. British Racing Green is available, and you could conceivably order the Super Seven with a yellow noseband, to go with your boxset of The Prisoner.

How much is the Caterham Super Seven 1600 and do I need to build it myself?

Prices start from £33,495 as a kit. To have the car factory-built adds an extra £2395 to the bottom line.

That’s around £4500 pricier than a modern-spec Sigma-engined Seven 310 (and a couple of grand over a more powerful 2.0-litre Seven 360), although those cars don’t get the retro accoutrements.

How does it feel to drive?

It’s pretty enthralling. From the lovely thin Moto Lita wheel to the snickety-flick Mazda-sourced gearchange (which feels slicker than ever), it’s a tactile delight.

On tall, skinny 185/60 14-inch tyres it rides sweetly on country roads, neither rolling nor pitching much but taking bumps and cambers in its stride. You can specify a stiffer set-up if you desire but there is abundant grip and traction, despite the tyres’ waif-like skinniness.

If you’re after a slidey, oversteery kind of Caterham, in its standard set-up this might not be what you’re after. If you want neatness, tidiness and a neutral handling balance, this is a genuinely precise tool to dissect a road.

Even in the wet, where the narrow tyres can be helpful in standing water, it somehow finds plenty of purchase. Even if it doesn’t find its way too well – its teeny, fragile-seeming wipers struggle to clear much of a path, and driving a Super Seven in a rainstorm feels something like I’d imagine an astronaut's experience battling back into the earth’s atmosphere on re-entry. Raindrops smash into the upright screen with venom and mighty headwinds are enough to make the 565kg Seven feel like it’s suddenly frozen in time, halted in its tracks like a dragon fly hovering in a breeze.

How fast is the Super Seven 1600?

This is the quickest Super Seven yet (although when the previous benchmark was made in 1968, you’d hope so), with 135bhp from its throttle body-assisted four-cylinder 16-valve engine.

It’s a more flexible lump than the Seven Sprint, which used the characterful but narrow-of-powerband Suzuki three-cylinder turbo from the Seven 160.

The throttle bodies ensure a fantastic, throaty sound, although our test car did experience an occasional misfire on part-throttle. Warmed up and pedal to the metal, the Super Seven genuinely does feel quick by everyday standards, particularly towards the top of the rev range where the speedo needle seems to move as quickly as the tacho’s.

The long clamshell fairings mean you don’t get mesmerised by the front wheels turning with your steering inputs in the same way you do in a standard cycle-winged Seven, but they’re a big part of the Super’s visual appeal. If you’re not keen, you can option the regular cycle wings instead.

What’s the interior like?

Caterham has done a nice job of the cabin, with nicely finished leather seats and a neat ‘Super 1600’ indentation on the leather-trimmed dashboard. Black leather seats are standard; the Biscuit Beige and special-stitched versions in this test car would cost a whole extra £1000. Likewise, adding leather to the standard black aluminium dashboard adds £500.

Other than a lack of under-thigh support under braking, the seats feel really quite sumptuous and you do feel that you’re driving something a bit special, a bit out of the ordinary.

While the wide-body SV chassis doesn’t look as neatly proportioned as the narrower, standard S3 version, it does mean drivers with size 10 feet can drive it without inadvertently pressing two or more pedals with the same foot.

Caterham Super Seven 1600: verdict

The Caterham Super Seven has charm to throw away. If you have a thing for yesteryear it’s difficult not to fall for it.

That said, it’s not quite as special-feeling as the previous limited edition Sprint and Super Sprint models, and given that the Super Seven costs an appreciable amount more than a regular Sigma-engined Seven, you might crave a little more to set it apart than a throatier singing voice and some well-chosen retro accessories to its outfit.

Were it my money, I think I’d be tempted to go for a Seven 310R – but I’d completely understand if you’d choose the Super Seven instead.

Specs

Price when new: £33,495
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1596cc 16v 4-cyl, 135bhp @ 7000rpm, 124lb ft @ 5600rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 5.0sec 0-60mph, 122mph
Weight / material: 565kg / steel chassis, aluminium panels
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

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  • Caterham Super Seven (2020) review: Sweet Little 1600
  • Caterham Super Seven (2020) review: Sweet Little 1600
  • Caterham Super Seven (2020) review: Sweet Little 1600
  • Caterham Super Seven (2020) review: Sweet Little 1600
  • Caterham Super Seven (2020) review: Sweet Little 1600

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer

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