If you’re familiar with Sevens, your immediate thoughts will not be about how fast it is (or isn’t), but how soft it feels.
Soft of everything: the clutch is light, the gearshift, though short and positive, lacks the outright precision of Caterham’s other ‘boxes and the steering is lighter at manoeuvring speeds; the rack’s the same, weight and tyres provide the difference. And, by gum, this car rides.
Curious thing to be thinking about in a Seven, I know, but the way it the body is immune from potholes and bumps is truly remarkable for a car so small and light, and with a solid rear axle. It’s very easy to live with, too. The turning circle is great, Sevens are tiny, visibility is (obviously) world class and those generous tyre sidewalls mean manoeuvring in rough car parks or onto kerbs is concern-free. That, plus watching the skinny wheels bob up and down, especially with this colour bodywork, puts you in mind of a classic car.
There’s something of a classic about the way the engine makes its power, too. Not because it’s an intractable git who hates the cold or full throttle from idle, of course: it’s as impeccably mannered as any new car. But the best of the delivery comes through the mid-range. It’ll pull from 1500rpm but when it’s beyond 2000 and the turbo starts spooling, until about 5000rpm (there’s very little lag in the middle), sees it at its best.
It gets quicker beyond 5000 but general mechanical racket overtakes the peashooter exhaust’s parp and the archetypal triple thrum at that point. You have to be committed to stay in that rev range, but to enjoy brisk progress (though there’s loads to enjoy at lower efforts too) it’s a necessity. At one end of its model line-up, Caterham has the 620R, whose first gear will take it to the high side of 60mph. Here, it has a car whose limiter (around 7750rpm) in second gear arrives just after the speedo flashes past 40mph.
That’s fine, by the way. The 160, despite its relaxed low-speed demeanour, is a sports car after all, and if you want a sports car, you should be prepared to work for it.
You’ll find it’s bundles of fun if you do. The steering is deliciously lucid, adding weight and feel in beautifully linear fashion as you increase cornering force. The 160 feels more agile than all other new Sevens, as well it might, but still, on softer suspension, leans into corners and settles quickly on its outside tyres.
In the dry, in any gear, you can then hammer down the throttle, no danger, even though the tyres are pretty ordinary. With no limited slip differential, the most drama you’ll find is all tyres squealing and an inside rear threatening to spin. It feels like you’re going fast, but the fact is you can find these limits easily on the road. If you then exit said corner with throttle pinned, a glance at the speedo usually shows a number lower than you expect.
What the Seven’s less interested in (in the dry, at least), is indulging in ridiculous, churlish, pointless, stupid, hateful powerslides – of the sort we like. It won’t do it in the way its brethren do (or it does in the wet), on power alone. Finding the cheapest, crummiest rear tyres you can and overinflating them would probably do it. Most modern rubber – even modestly sized and unsticky – is too good for 80bhp. They make the 160 feel like a great friend who goes home just when you want him to stay out until the pubs close.