The Caterham Superlight series may as well be called Featherlight or Superfast, because that's the formula that makes the car so wonderful. That and a huge amount of power in a package bristling with simplicity.
Three version of Caterham's trackday slayer are offered: R300, R400 and most excitingly, R500. Each has a 2.0-litre Ford Duratec unit, and each boast a power-to-weight ratio more impressive than the last.
The R300 develops 175bhp at 7000rpm and 139lb ft at 6000rpm, making a 0-60 of 4.5secs possible. The R400 packs in 210bhp and 150lb ft, both peaking slightly higher in the rev range, the result here is a claim 0-62 of 3.8secs.
But the model that impresses Autocar the most is the R500. The Duratec here produces 263bhp and 177lb ft. That’s sufficiently more in both respects to better the old car’s power and torque-to-weight ratios, and that despite being 46kg heavier. It also gets the option of a six-speed sequential gearbox, launch control and a neater dashboard.
So what we’re looking at here is a car with no windscreen, no doors and a power-to-weight ratio of 520bhp per tonne. Even with this less than slender driver installed, that’s 451bhp per tonne. The old R500 produced its power as a consequence of pretty extreme tuning, resulting in a narrow powerband that needed at least 5000rpm before delivering its best. This new version makes no such demands.
At 60mph in sixth gear, roughly 3000rpm, hitting full throttle I half expect a cacophony of protest from an off-cam engine, but instead the R500 pulls cleanly, progressively and, er, rapidly. In a way, this low-end response has me worried; if it’s this quick in sixth, what will it do in second?
The answer, Caterham reckons, is 0-60mph in 2.88sec. Subjectively at least it feels monumentally, brutally and scarily fast.
From a standstill, the launch control holds the revs at 5000rpm, the engine gently misfiring, and then manages the power through first gear, enough to get up to 60mph. Once into second, though, you’re on your own, and that’s when it really starts to hit hard.
Don’t be confused by launch control; this is not traction control. In second and third gears the R500 will spin up, and if you’re foolhardy with the throttle mid-corner in fourth, you’ll be needing corrective lock. It can crack 0-100mph in under seven seconds, or faster than a Ferrari 599.