Remember a Caterham Seven called the R600? We drove it in December 2012, in Lincolnshire on a damp track. Less than perfect conditions in which to try a supercharged lightweight racing car. But even then, Caterham talked about making a roadgoing variant of the 2.0-litre racer. This, the 620R, is it.
Caterham had messed with artificial aspiration before, but never really made it work. It’s hard to get a blown engine cooled in such a tight engine bay, and a turbo doesn’t have the ideal response for a lightweight car anyway. But this time, they said, they thought they’d cracked it.
And they have. The Caterham 620R is the road variant of that track car, although it is still fairly track-ish. There’ll be a softer set-up 620S later.
Key details are still the same as the R600: it’s a Seven, with wide-track front suspension, a 2.0-litre Ford Duratec motor with a supercharger attached, making a pleasing/terrifying 311bhp and 219lb ft, and driving the back wheels through a straight-cut, sequential six-speed gearbox and limited-slip differential.
It weighs, in this trim, 549kg and is a few MSA-approved accessories and other ancillaries away from being a race car. It's still a Seven at heart, though. It doesn’t overheat or complain in traffic, the clutch is manageable and progressive, and the steering lock is the same as usual.
The Caterham's cockpit’s a bit cramped but, actually, quite beautifully finished for your £50k. And it’ll hit 62mph in first gear, so can do the whole 0-60mph thing in 2.79 seconds.
You'll find that there’s so much power on tap that it's almost absurd. We’re talking Ariel Atom 300 levels of oomph, and they trade blows on the way they go, and handle: the Atom has better traction because the engine is at the back, but the Caterham rolls less because its engine is lower.
The Atom’s Honda unit pulls more freely and with less hesitation at very low revs, but the Caterham pulls through gears more quickly because its gearbox allows flat shifting.
The 620R has familiar Seven handling qualities: loads of lateral grip, very little understeer (you could tune more if you wanted, I suppose) a progressive breakaway and fabulously communicative, sub two-turns lock-to-lock steering, only with all of those qualities turned up in their immediacy.
Sliding a modestly powered and tyred Seven Supersport is a hoot, but simple enough that it’s like playing ping-pong against your Mum. Taking the same route through the same corner in the 620R is like playing the Chinese national champion at the same game.
Whether you think this is the most fun you can have in a Caterham rather depends on your outlook. On the road, the opportunities to trouble the 620R’s throttle-stop and 7700rpm power peak are as limited as they come.
But on a track, there’s something to be said for drawing up behind, then driving around, almost any supercar you’d care to mention, if you’re after the thrill of all thrills.
Sometimes, only too much will do.