What is it?
It’s hard to choose a Caterham, although browsing the firm’s configurator is one of life’s simple pleasures. Once, they’d post you a price list, you ticked some boxes and then sent it back with a cheque. These days the hours lost to it are the same but more interactive.
The choice has just become more complicated. Caterhams mostly look the same, but there are always a bunch of different models in the range, and they change them often to keep interest up. Sevens are a bit like classic Land Rovers: you could have more than one even though ultimately they all do the same thing. Eventually you’ll get drawn to your ideal version. Most of us have got one. I used to own mine.
This time is noteworthy because Caterham thinks the new 170R is the lightest production car on sale, at 440kg. It’s definitely the lightest production Caterham yet.
It marks the return of a 660cc three-cylinder turbocharged Suzuki lump to Caterham’s range, which disappeared from sale for a couple of years while the engine was between generations (from K6A to R06A, it says here).
The new engine is used in kei car-sized vans in Japan (see p21). Conveniently, the whole set-up, including live rear axle, fits nicely in a Caterham chassis, and it happens to make this Seven also fit Japan’s kei car criteria. Caterham’s old Japanese importers, VT Holdings, requested the 160. Now, as Caterham’s new owners, they’ve got this 170.
Caterhams sell well in Japan, where they like classic British sports cars. And Caterham thinks that some 80% of new Sevens that go there will be 170s. There’s a business case to create the 170 for Japan alone, but if you’re going to make something as significant as the lightest Caterham, you might as well sell it everywhere.
There are two versions of the 170, just as there are most Sevens. YoucangetanRoranS:theRismore racy, the S more roady. I’ve driven them both but mostly the R, which is the orange one pictured.
In either form they’ve got 84bhp at 6500rpm and 86lb ft at 4000- 4500rpm, and when you remember that power and torque are the same at 5252rpm, it suggests how flat the power curve is at the top end. It’s also Caterham’s least-polluting car, at 58.4mpg and 109g/km, which, given that it can hit 60mph in less than seven seconds, shows what saving weight and reducing frontal area can do for you.
The engine drives through a five-speed gearbox. The R gets a Quaife ATB limited-slip differential fitted to the Suzuki rear axle, while the S doesn’t. The R also has a sports suspension pack (essentially, it lets you adjust ride height), a carbonfibre dashboard, composite seats, four-point harnesses and some non-mechanical ancillaries. The S gets standard weather gear, a heater and carpets and costs £22,990 to the R’s £23,990, if you build it yourself, which I’d recommend doing. If not, Caterham will for £2395.
As with other Sevens, it’s easy and desirable to up-spec them from there. This orange car has highlights including a track-day roll bar and the carbonfibre side and rear panels and front wings that help it down to the record kerb weight.Even at around £30k all in, it’s still a cheap way to get into a Caterham.