The Caterham Seven is a stripped-down sportscar offering one of the most pure driving experiences available. It is a true classic.
Earlier this year (2006) the Porsche Cayman S won our Best Driver’s Car title, but look past the overall rankings to the lap times and you’ll find a small, hand-made British sports car absolutely demolished the best Germans and Italians around Oulton Park - Caterham’s CSR Superlight. Which is very impressive, but might also be just slightly irrelevant, because for all its areodynamic trickery and in-board independent suspension, the CSR costs £34,000 – which is a lot to pay for a car with no roof, windscreen or heater.
The Caterham experience is far easier to stomach when you pay out less than half that amount - £15,995 in kit form, or £17,495 factory assembled - for the new, Ford powered Roadsport.
What’s it like?
The demise of Rover meant Caterham needed to find a replacement for the K-Series engine - a search ending with 1.6-litre Sigma engine from the Ford Focus. Remapping the engine management, retarding the cam timing and changing the intake manifold has increased power from 100PS in the Focus to 125bhp.
Although just 5bhp more than the Rover unit, from anything above 3000rpm the new engine produces more torque making it noticably quicker for road driving. With this added midrange flexibility you’ll rarely be calling on the 6100rpm needed for peak power – which is handy, as over the last 1000rpm the Sigma engine feels slightly reluctant; our test car had covered just 600 miles though, so the engine could well loosen with use.
As if you needed any further excuse to jettison the canvas roof, the Sigma Roadsport sounds far better topless. The driver-side-exiting exhaust brings some encouraging rortiness and even a little throttle-body-sneezing with every energetic stab of the right pedal.
Overall it offers an enigmatic mix of old-school drama, modern day flexibility, and (we assume) Ford-derived reliability. While the 125bhp Roadsport won’t be setting any lap records at next year’s ‘Handling Day’ event, for road use it’s entertainingly quick without unduly risking your licence.
Not content with a new engine supplier, Caterham has also outsourced chassis construction, adopting MIG-welding to increase torsional stiffness. Over the deepest potholes, the bobbing front wheels can lead you to expect the worst, but the stiffer chassis actually minimises intrusions to a level you could almost call comfortable.
Should I buy one?
For all it technical excellence the CSR is not at the heart of Caterham’s business; that’s where this characterful, fun and affordable little sports car comes in. It offers all but the most visceral aspects of the very fastest Caterhams, but at a price which is much easier to justify. In fact, this Sigma-engined Roadsport serves as a timely reminder of what Caterham does best.