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Is Westfield’s third-gen, type-approved Sport Turbo 3 UK200 roadster up to the job?

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The Sport Turbo 3 arrives thirty years after the creation of Westfield Sportscars in 1982 by Chris Smith. His first cars were so similar to Caterham Sevens that Caterham took legal action. Most Westfields have been sold in component form, and over the years the firm has introduced a wider chassis, given its cars independent rear suspension, sold bike-engined cars, the XTR track car and a Lotus X1 replica. There was even a full carbonfibre-chassis model, the FW400, and the barmy SEiGHT, which featured a Rover V8 beneath its engorged bonnet.

By its own admission, Westfield is largely a kit car manufacturer. Its reputation as such is what limits the appearance of its products on these pages; kit cars, while an interesting diversion, are not Autocar’s core focus.

Not the sharpest, but holds its head up. Likeable

However, times change and so do car makers, even those whose staple has been releasing two-seat roadsters of Lotus/Caterham Seven-like proportions in component form. Of late, though, Westfield has received demand from overseas, particularly France and Germany, where it is damnably hard to sell kit cars.

Which is how Westfield arrives in 2012 with the Sport Turbo 3. It’s a limited-production, European type-approved Westfield, complete with legislation-meeting paraphernalia. If you think you’ve seen similar before, you’d be right, as it has been through two iterations to reach its current incarnation. The first had the right motor, the second had a modified appearance, and now this third generation gets a vastly altered chassis, too.

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It’s available fully built and is selling – by the standards of these cars – very well. Hence it’s high time we subjected it to the toughest test in the car magazine business.


Westfield Sport Turbo rear diffuser

Westfield has been developing its own, distinct appearance ever since litigation forced it to. There’s only so much you can do with a two-seat roadster that follows the same mechanical theme of a Caterham, though, so although you wouldn’t a Sport Turbo for a Seven, distinct similarities of theme still exist.

What has changed on the Westfield is the purity of line and form that a Caterham retains. The Sport Turbo looks less lithe and agile and less classical than a Seven, even though the underlying take is similar. It’s a bit like listening to a song with a sampled backing track and new lyrics. The same but different, in other words, and in this case (to many observers’ eyes) slightly less satisfying to behold than the original.

If you don’t want to faff with the roof poles in a downpour, you don’t have to; just throw the hood over the rollover bar, do up the poppers and it’ll keep the rain out just fine while you head to the café for a cuppa.

The hardware follows a similar theme. Caterham experimented with a turbocharged Vauxhall engine in the 1990s, but keeping it sufficiently cool proved difficult. Today, while endeavouring to meet emissions regulations while developing sufficient power, Westfield has thought the idea worth a look and has deposited a Vauxhall Corsa VXR motor beneath the Sport Turbo’s bonnet, where it develops precisely the same power and torque as in the VXR Nürburgring edition. It retains the same ECU and the engine is, in theory, serviceable by any Vauxhall dealer. It drives the back wheels through a five-speed Mazda MX-5 gearbox and limited-slip differential.

The chassis is a steel spaceframe, like most of these cars have, while suspension is by double wishbones all round, with adjustable dampers that are set up primarily for road use; Westfield expects Sport Turbo owners to only do the occasional track day. There is an unassisted steering rack (the slower of two available ones was fitted to our test car), and there are no driver aids. The Sport Turbo was homologated before last November, when it became a legal requirement for such models to be equipped with ABS and traction control.


Westfield Sport Turbo dashboard

The Sport Turbo falls some way short of being sumptuous inside, but if you’re at all accustomed to cars of this ilk, you’ll be taken aback by how ‘normal’ it feels compared with most tiny roadsters. Westfield has positioned the car as a fast tourer that is (relatively) easy to get along with. To that end, it’s (relatively) easy to use.

There is a conventional instrument panel – also borrowed from the Corsa VXR – in the centre console. It needs to be backed by additional gauges, but beneath those is Vauxhall’s standard light switch. Additional buttons are few, and include those for an astonishingly powerful heater that deflects warm air into the footwell and/or on to the windscreen to demist it. Carpets abound, there’s a sizeable glove compartment with 12V socket, a small cubby between the seats and even a reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel (albeit with precious little movement either way).

The rear window zips out easily, making the cabin less claustrophobic — yet still warm and dry — with the canvas hood in place

Column stalks are entirely conventional (although the indicators don’t self-cancel until they’ve flashed 25 times) and, while the Sport Turbo isn’t a spacious car, there’s more room in the footwell than you’d find in a narrow-bodied Caterham. The Caterham has a better driving position overall, according to our backsides, and a more usable boot shape, but the Westfield counters with a hood that uses mercifully few press studs, is easy and quick to pull taut and remains largely snug and waterproof.


Westfield Sport Turbo rear quarter

Additional weight kills acceleration in light cars such as the Westfield, so it’s no surprise that when we put two people and a tank of fuel on board the Sport Turbo, we recorded a 0-60mph time in the mid-4.0sec bracket. That’s a consistent, repeatable time, and a very respectable one, given the turbo engine’s whooshy, torquey nature and the fact that the Westfield wants a gearshift before it gets to 60mph.

On a lighter fuel load and with one occupant, the Westfield is capable of rather quicker times. How fast? In one direction we managed 0-60mph in 3.99sec. That’s not our official figure, but it’s the one you might choose to quote for impressing bystanders.

Turbo-boosted traction issues and a less adjustable set-up than the Seven are the reasons behind a relatively lacklustre performance on track

In-gear flexibility through each of the MX-5-sourced gearbox’s ratios is similarly impressive. The Vauxhall engine takes just a little while to spool up from lower revs, but while it offers a credible 185lb ft up at 5000rpm, it feels to us like plenty of torque is on offer from lower down. Coupled to a 665kg kerb weight, it makes for very flexible performance and the Sport Turbo is happy to be left in a higher gear than you’d pull in a Caterham or Ariel Atom if you were after the same acceleration. In fourth, the Westfield can accelerate from 30-70mph in just 6.8sec, while through the gears it takes a blistering 4.7sec. This is no shabby performer.

At higher revs it’s utterly responsive, too, as free of lag as you’d reasonably expect once you’re above, say, 4000rpm. Like most turbocharged cars, there’s not a great deal to be gained from thrashing out the final few revs. It feels – and proves – better instead to drop down into the torque spread of the next gear below.

The gearbox itself encourages this more leisurely shift regime. It doesn’t have the snickety, accurate feel of a Caterham or Ariel Atom gearbox, but it’s short enough of throw and positive enough. Couple this with the softer engine response and a relatively muted exhaust note and you have a recipe for making progress that is less urgent and frenetic than in most cars of this type. Ultimately, it’s an unusual but satisfying way to get around.

The brakes look small but proved capable of hauling the Westfield down repeatedly on the track with no fade.


Westfield Sport Turbo cornering

Two different steering racks are available on the Sport Turbo. The standard ‘Touring’ one, at 3.5 turns lock to lock, was fitted to our test car. There’s another, which whips a turn off that, available as an option. Likewise, the dampers on our test car were set up for a ‘fast road’ demeanour but can be wound tighter for track use. In short, though, what you’re looking at is a car that is meant for road touring and the occasional track day. Westfield offers more hardcore variants meant for more regular track use.

This means that, in general use, the Westfield is relatively compliant. Early Sport Turbos were, too, but they didn’t retain the fine body control that this car does. In a way it feels not unlike a Lotus – and we mean that as a compliment – in that the car remains admirably flat across most surface imperfections while you watch the 15-inch front wheels bob up and down independent of the body. The laws of physics, however, can’t be ignored. This is a light car (albeit heavier than a comparable Caterham), and is easily deflected by larger bumps, which deliver the sort of shock into the cabin you would expect.

It will understeer a little at its limit but can easily be coaxed into neutrality with a lifted throttle or a trailing brake. From that point on, it’s feasible to push into oversteer, but things conspire to discourage you.

Nonetheless, that compliance results in a fairly relaxed demeanour that suits its leisurely power delivery. Strange as it seems, it does make quite a good cruiser – not in the grand touring sense, admittedly, but the Westfield would make an amiable companion for a weekend away. Wind noise is (relatively) restrained and it’s a more habitable distance companion, certainly, than a Morgan Plus 8. If it had a stereo, we’ve no doubt you’d be able to hear it acceptably.

It’s rather good fun to drive swiftly, too. The steering – while too slow for our tastes – is at least accurate, and there’s a lot of grip. But it’s a different kind of fun from most cars in this class – less keen, agile and adjustable, more soft, measured and rangy.


Westfield Sport Turbo

For its power, the Sport Turbo represents rather good value; it would take £30,000-plus to get similar poke from one of its rivals. Standard equipment is a bit of a misnomer here; it comes down to mechanical spec rather than radios or leather trim, and here the Westfield, by the time you’ve got the options you’d want, still comes in at a price beginning with a ‘2’.

We wouldn’t expect it to hold its value quite as well as a Caterham or Ariel, but it is stronger than conventional sports cars. And in our experience, insurance costs are reasonable for any car from a company that offers self-builds.

The slippy diff, grooved brakes, adjustable dampers, quick steering and Proxes 888 tyres are all musts if you’re going to give it regular track or sprint use. They’ll inflate the price to £28,20

The Sport Turbo likes a drink, mind you, which is a particular pity given its 40-litre tank size (and a fuel gauge that’s keen to urge you to fill up). Relax on a long touring run and you might approach 30mpg, but get the turbo spinning and that quickly drops to the low 20s. On a track day, expect low teens.


3.5 star Westfield Sport Turbo

We rather liked the Sport Turbo. We were impressed by the standard of finish, the ease of its hood’s use and, in no short time, by its performance. And during well over 500 miles of testing with us, it wormed its way into many of our testers’ affections, particularly when using it for a long journey. The Westfield was little more painful to jump into and drive on a drizzly morning than a conventional sports car.

The question is, however, whether that’s what you really want from a car like this. And whether, even if it is, this is the optimum set-up. There’s no reason, for example, why its level of usability couldn’t be combined with a faster, more feelsome steering system. Likewise, an engine without a turbo would not have to be frenetic, but would allow greater adjustability in corners. Ultimately, however, even though it is not to our exact tastes, there is still much here to admire.

The Westfield Sport Turbo 3 is an amusing alternative to the mainstream, but an acquired taste


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Westfield Sport First drives