8

The scythe swung by Caterham at its formerly sprawling Seven line-up is simple enough to understand once you’ve got your head round the new power-to-weight ratio badging system.

Then, as before, it’s simply a case of choosing which spec is right for you: standard, S or R. For many, it seems quite possible that it will be this, the 270S, a car which, to all intents and purposes, replaces the old Roadsport trim.

Caterham rarely shone a marketing torch on its easygoing mid-ranger because its pricier stablemates inevitably made for better television. However, more than a few buyers wandered into the dealership with an R500 in mind, only to pedal out later on at the wheel of a mild-mannered Roadsport. It was the softer rump of the Seven, and with the S pack applied to the 270, you get much the same thing.

Then, as now, there’s a trusty 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine up front, although Caterham says it has adopted a later-generation, clever-cam version of the familiar four-pot, which accounts for the modest difference in power over the outgoing Roadsport 125. Add the £2995 S pack to that and you get 14in alloy wheels, leather seats, carpets, a heater, the windscreen, hood and side screens, a Momo steering wheel and S-specific dials and gearlever.

Tellingly, much of that little lot was standard to the Roadsport anyway - and items that weren’t (such as the adjustable leather seats) we can imagine buyers merrily opting for. On that subject, our test car’s spec was considerably longer than standard, with 15in wheels, a six-speed gearbox, sports suspension, the style-enhancing Black Pack and lowered floors all thrown in.

Not, it must be said, like the 270S we’d have built. Big wheels on a Seven are honestly about as desirable as having lead weights mounted at the business end of your air rifle. The last thing this car needs is a larger wheel circumference to get round, or the greater unsprung mass that comes with it.

The 13in wheels are a £395 cost option for the S (and conspicuously non-cost on the R) and we’d recommend you’d mark that box first no matter what. With 15in wheels attached, the latest Sigma feels initially underwhelming out of the gate. Explosive acceleration was never the Roadsport's bag, but we'd prefer our Sevens to come with the gumption required to see off a lowly hot hatch.

The short ratios of the six-speed 'box don't appear to do it any favours, either. And even for owners used to enduring challenging crank speeds on motorway journeys, the final ratio seems to offer almost no respite at all, so it's hardly an ideal scenario for those hoping for a more relaxed mindset.

Swapping the Ford unit out for its slightly cleverer younger sibling doesn't appear to have relieved the typical ownership issues, either: expect to spend some time on start-up nursing the engine into warmth before it stops relentlessly dying on you.

Mercifully, when that’s all done and you’re somewhere appropriate (ie the back end of Surrey at 7am on a Sunday) the 270S finally rolls out the charm.

We raised our eyebrows regarding the sports suspension but needn’t have done; compared to the last three Sevens I’ve driven - the Supersport, the 620R and the 160 - this car rides sublimely. No collisions or rib-testing bangs, just the wonderful spectacle of the unencumbered offside wishbone nodding ceaselessly up and down as it soothes the road surface for the pursuing monocoque.

As a consequence, you slip into the 270S experience as you might a warm bath in the middle of an Arcade Fire concert. On the wider SV chassis, the Seven is a gooey, unfaltering and gently immersive item.

There is no requirement for excessive speed; characteristically, it feels alive at the sort of pace where your hairline is ruffled rather than shot-blasted, and that is a consequence of the steering, kerb weight, ride height and everything else Caterham is famous for propagating.

As ever with Sevens, that depends. Like its predecessor, this is a Sunday punter par excellence - and with the addition of prettier dials and leather seats, it’s more than capable of making a trip to the pub or park or wherever seem like a wistful adventure.

That said, this isn’t necessarily the Caterham we’d crave. In the case of this particular test car, too much has been added at too great an expense (£8635 on options alone), and in the case of the ‘S’ as a pack, too much we’d want is missing - not least the smaller wheels, limited-slip differential and lightweight flywheel available as part of the racier (and costlier) R trim.

Those items would not necessarily turn the 270 from feelsome B-road strummer into knife-edge rider, but they would almost certainly splice a bit more vigour and handling finesse into the encounter. As it is, the standard chassis (on overly broad rubber) is a little too obstinate up to its limit, and then inelegant to tidy up beyond. But that’s just us.

For some, the more benign characteristics of the S spec may be just the excuse required to sign up for Caterham’s latest offering. We wouldn’t stand in their way for a moment.

Caterham 270S

Price £25,990; Engine 4 cyls, 1596cc, petrol; Power 135bhp at 6800rpm; Torque 121lb ft at 4100rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 540kg; Top speed 122mph; 0-60mph 5.0sec; Economy na; CO2 rating & tax band na

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