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Softening the ferocious 620R has delivered a better Seven all round

Our Verdict

Caterham Seven 620R
The Caterham's supercharged engine can catapult it from 0-60mph in 2.8sec

The new 311bhp supercharged 620R is an ideal choice for those seeking to hunt down supercars on track

19 January 2016

What is it?

Remember how last year’s 620R was essentially a road-going version of Caterham’s R600 race car? Well, the 620S is, essentially, the same car, retaining as it does the febrile 310bhp supercharged four-pot, but it now takes the road-going part a bit more seriously.

Hence the R’s uncompromising sequential gearbox has been swapped out for a standard five-speed manual, the suspension components have been taken down a notch (from 'race' level to 'sport') and you get a windscreen. Plus the hood and doors to go with it. 

The alterations, not to mention a £5k reduction in starting price, are likely to play well to prospective 620 buyers. Caterham readily concedes that despite the model’s overt relationship with the track, not all its customers are interested in the lap record at Brands. Many simply want the supercar-troubling performance twinned with a Seven’s normal amenability.

'Normal' though, in the 620‘s case, is to be taken advisedly. While the springs and dampers may have changed, you still get the ‘wide track’ front geometry and uprated brakes, plus an adjustable anti-roll bar and limited-slip differential at the back to go with the bespoke rear-exit exhaust system.

Even with the extra weight of bigger, 15in wheels, more kit and the now optional SV chassis, the 620S, at 508bhp per tonne, remains a decidedly senior option. 

What's it like?

I enjoyed the 620R, but there’s no denying that, away from a circuit, it was all a bit much. The sequential ’box required the fortitude of Iron Man for it to shift satisfactorily, and the chassis, while very well conceived and tuned, was never the friendliest arrangement with which to spend an afternoon. 

After an hour or so of wrist/calf/neck/heart strain, it was easy to put back in the box, making it one of those heavy-duty Caterhams that tends to work better as an anecdote than an actual car. 

Not so the 620S, which is magnificent from start to finish. Sit in it and you get the same toggle-strewn carbonfibre dash as the R, except now, of course, you’re shielded from the elements just enough to make progress seem more pleasurable than outright perilous. Caterham's leather seats are now standard, although our test car came with Caterham’s new heated carbon fibre buckets - an expensive tick at £1000, but a brilliant and essential one. 

The blown 2.0-litre Ford Duratec remains much as before: hugely noisy, not precisely easy to get off the mark and occasionally grouchy at low speeds - none of which particularly differentiates it from the rest of Caterham’s Blue Oval-sourced engine line-up. Its distinguishing mark, predictably, is the massive pace that comes with it. This was true of the 620R, too, but here the five-speed manual has distilled the colossal shove into something far more wieldy and likeable. 

Where the sequential transmission all but vetoed the idea of moving between slow and fast at anything less than a frenzy, the conventional ’box now lets you drive far more languidly. Marrying its longer ratios to 219lb ft and a kerb weight of 610kg gives the car a wonderful length of stride, and with its obliging suspension removing much of the R’s edginess, it's conspicuously easy to drive the 620S at the kind of cross-country pace that normally demands a spot of endeavour from a Seven owner. 

If that makes the S sound like the lazy man's option, it isn’t; it merely has that club in the bag now. Ask more of the accelerator pedal and the Duratec still responds with the kind of torrid gusto that’ll have the rear wheels spinning up in third if you’re not careful.

The mechanical requirements of clutch pushing and gear lever pulling mean the S takes more than half a second longer to get to 60mph than the cut-through R, but as it still takes less than 3.5sec in total, the difference hardly seems debilitating. 

In fact, while the lost fractions might conceivably be frustrating on track, on the road, the longer punctuations between upshifts only help to dramatise the subsequent moments of undiluted thrust - as does the softer chassis’s tendency to pitch back slightly under maximum duress.

Certainly there’s less traction to be had from the sport set-up than the R’s race one, but that’s scarcely a problem either. The S’s tendency to slide more manageably at halfway-sane speeds simply confirms the notion that it is both easier to manage and more fun. 

Should I buy one?

Previously there was a hallowed place in my fantasy garage for the old Supersport (now rebranded as the 270R), the car I once ran as a long termer. The 620S, quite unexpectedly, necessitates immediate pipe dream re-evaluation.

There is simply too lavish a serving of idiosyncratic Seven pleasure here to ignore: at one end it delivers just enough comfort-edged tolerance to savour the super-abundance of power, and at the other it still manages to be fierce, savagely quick and feelsome in a way that doesn’t seem indecently wearing. 

The only reason I can reasonably see to pause is the admittedly substantial asking price (expect options to see it safely up to £50k) and the higher associated running costs, because even without much to carry, the Duratec isn’t exactly given to sipping fuel. If that isn’t a problem - and it certainly isn’t for my post-Premium Bond jackpot fantasy - then there’s really no excuse. And no significant reason I can see for anything less than five stars. 

Caterham Seven 620S

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £44,995; Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 310bhp at 7700rpm; Torque 219lb ft at 7350rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 610kg; 0-60mph 3.4sec; Top speed 145mph; Economy na; CO2 rating & BIK tax band na

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Comments
2

19 January 2016

The tranquil pause between the gears is of course one of the joys of a proper manual box lost in the ludicrous pursuit of ever shorter shift times obsessed over by paddle shift peddlers.

22 January 2016

Does the Caterham half of the once joint project with Alpine Renault still exist? The US web site is rather sad - offering cars in the colours of the Grand Prix team and with links to dealers who no longer exist..

ScottishRichard

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