Handling is sublime, but ride lags behind CSR's
Superlight is 55kg lighter than Roadsport
Unlike CSR, Superlight features outboard front dampers
Composite wind deflector is standard weather gear
Superlight remains visceral driving experience
Weather gear adds 14.4kg
The Caterham Seven is a stripped-down sportscar offering one of the most pure driving experiences available. It is a true classic.
Caterham technical director Jez Coates doesn’t look happy. He wasn’t particularly pleased about adding a windscreen to his 495kg Superlight (an £855, 14.4kg option), but add my, ahem, 100kg-ish bulk and its 283bhp per tonne drops to under 230.
No matter, this is still a very quick car, though not in the universe-rearranging manner of the loonier R400s and R500s. Also different to more extreme Caterhams are the tyres. The 13in rims look tiny, but 175-section rubber provides just the right amount of grip to exploit the Superlight’s delicate balance. Talk of oversteer and understeer is largely irrelevant, because with adjustable spring seats and anti-roll bar means it’ll do either depending on your individual setup.
If it looks familiar, that’s because the Superlight was first introduced a decade ago, but as more powerful versions arrived the basic car dropped off the price list. With the R400 and R500 replaced by the new CSR, demand for a cheaper trackday Caterham has returned, and so has the Superlight.But it’s not a clone of the original. A stock 1.8-litre K-series replaces the old car’s tuned 1.6. The headline figures are little altered –140bhp and 124lb ft plays 138bhp and 118lb ft - but where tuned K-series lumps often tend to cough and stutter around town, this one feels docile and tractable as a base-model MG TF’s.
The ride, too, is surprisingly friendly. The basic car runs a less aggressive anti-roll bar than R versions, so its surprising compliance means you don’t need to fret about scarred roads and can concentrate instead on the tactile immediacy of the steering, brakes and six-speed gearbox. But drive it really quickly over a bumpy back road and the back end does skip across the tarmac, highlighting the limitations of the Superlight’s de Dion rear axle compared to the new CSR’s double-wishbones.
As for the cabin, it’s familiar narrow-cockpit Caterham fare - fine if you’re under 5ft 10in, less so if your height begins with a six. Good news for the more generously built is that for £1500 you can also get a wide-cockpit Superlight SV. Coates frowns - bad news is that it weighs an extra 20kg. Now there’s an incentive to go on a diet.