Turbocharged Westfield Sport 250 offers ferocious pace, but has it the handling to match?

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Ask the management of most makers of niche, low-volume British sports cars whether they’d prefer jam today or jam tomorrow and most will snap your hand off for the latter.

This is an attritional trade in which even getting established with a credible, well-engineered, well-priced product can be hard enough.

Westfield’s reappraised 2017 ‘factory’ suspension settings are broadly to my liking, but I’d probably add a bit of damper control at the rear axle

Just ask the former owners of Zenos. For those who do surmount that initial challenge, nurturing a sustainable business capable of enduring the years is absolutely key – and that’s just what the maker of this road test subject has done.

The Sport 250 is the latest offering from the Black Country’s best-known purveyor of kit cars – Westfield Sportscars.

Westfield has been quietly supplying a few hundred complete kits of parts a year to do-it-yourself car enthusiasts since 1982, having survived a legal run-in with main rival Caterham in the late 1980s and provided for the continued existence of its Lotus Seven replica with an out-of-court settlement.

Westfield now makes plenty of fully assembled turn-key cars, too, and has sprung to notoriety several times over the past couple of decades with cars such as the V8-engined SEight, the track-intended XTR2 and the all-electric iRacer.

In 2006, the company’s ownership changed hands, and it led the cottage industry in 2009 by becoming the first company of its kind with European Small Series Production Status.

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Our most recent full road test of a Westfield came in 2012, with the GM-engined Westfield Sport Turbo 3 – a car whose performance is dwarfed by the focus of today’s attention.

The new Sport 250 uses the Ford Ecoboost 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that’s now to be found in so many lightweight niche sports cars, but it is used here to develop considerably more power and torque than most factory-specification SEights had all those years ago.

At the heart of the Sport 250’s appeal is the combination of all that performance with a bang-for-your-buck price that even Caterham can’t match. But can a chassis simple enough to be knocked together in your garage really be sophisticated enough to put it to good use? 


Westfield Sport 250 front end

The main differences between Westfield and Caterham ‘Sevens’ are the same today as they were 30 years ago.

Where Caterhams have aluminium bodywork, Westies are made from lighter glassfibre-reinforced-plastic panels – just like the ones for which Lotuses were once famous.

I’m not sure how much crossover there is between Westfield and Lotus owners, but £30,000 gets you a nice S2 Exige, with its fixed roof and rewarding dynamics

Where Caterham Sevens tend to use de Dion rear axles, Westfields use independent double-wishbone-style suspension at all four corners.

Meanwhile, Westfield also claims it was the first to enlarge the Seven’s compact cabin for the benefit of modern drivers larger than Colin Chapman’s notoriously diminutive figure.

Underneath the plastic bodywork, the Sport 250 has a tubular steel spaceframe construction into which either fits, or is fitted, a 252bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

Downstream of that, the car features a five-speed manual gearbox that can also be found on a Mazda MX-5 and drives its rear wheels through an open differential as standard – or via a limited-slip differential from ATB as an option.

With plenty of options attached, our test car weighed in at 670kg, distributed in almost perfect proportion between its axles; and, on paper, that gives it a Porsche 911 GT3-bashing 376bhp per tonne, and enough torque to weight to shade a Lamborghini Aventador S.

When you’re paying for performance credentials like that – and particularly if you’re assembling your car yourself – you’re likely to overlook the Sport 250’s looks, which, it must be noted, aren’t its greatest asset.

That plastic bodywork makes for an uneven paint finish in places, as well as plenty of ugly panel gaps. The bulge in the car’s bonnet, meanwhile, and its high-set wing mirrors and high-rised roll bar cause it to be it notably ungainly and less visually appealing than a Caterham, even from a distance.

It’s a good job, then, that Sport 250 owners are likely to have formed a deeper and more meaningful bond with their cars than you might with so many modern sports cars. Building your own car means literally tailoring it to your own specification – and it’s a spec that you can have with uprated driveline, suspension, wheels, tyres, brakes, seats and interior entirely as you prefer.

Among our test car’s upgrades were Westfield’s limited-slip differential and wide-track wishbones; ‘track day’ adjustable shock absorbers; suspension anti-roll bars at the front and rear; ‘race’-level brake calipers; and 8.0in-wide lightweight wheels with Toyo Proxes track-day tyres.


Westfield Sport 250 dashboard

The Sport 250’s interior – what there is of one – is exactly as you’d expect.

Apart, perhaps, from the leather-trimmed dashboard, which is new for Westfield and introduces a push-button starter and a digital instrument display (a £495 extra) alongside the usual elementary controls for functions such as the headlights.

There’s a fraction more space in the Westfield than in most Caterham models, although it’s still a bit of a squeeze if you’re taller than six foot

The windscreen has also been redesigned and is now taller, increasing wind protection and visibility, says the company, not that visibility was ever really found wanting in any of its earlier models.

This is not, and nor should it be, a comfortable place in which to while away mile after mile, and the trim is noticeably less lavish than what you might find in a Caterham Seven, itself no cruiser.

Indeed, this is resolutely kit-car territory, with a constant cacophony of rattles and squeaks, not least from the harness mountings just behind your head.

The fabric roof, although refreshingly easy to put up, affords occupants very little in the way of refinement, and while it keeps out rain, it does almost nothing to abate wind buffeting, particularly at speed.

What you do get is a nicely low-slung, secure driving position from which the bonnet’s power dome looms large. There’s also a decently wide pedal box, which isn’t to be taken for granted with Lotus Seven-style cars.

Taller drivers are a touch compromised, however, purely by the modest length of the chassis, although the Sport 250 never becomes uncomfortable to drive.

Meanwhile, the optional Turbo Sport seats (£350) of our test car seem a worthwhile upgrade given the performance on offer – even if you can detect the glassfibre panel behind them flexing – and the same goes for the four-point harnesses (a £218 option). 


2.0-litre EcoBoost Westfield Sport 250 engine

Perhaps the most pertinent way to frame this car’s straight-line performance is by considering that of the Ford Focus ST.

When we road tested that car, its 247bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine hustled some 1400kg-plus of bulk to 60mph in 6.3sec, which, while hardly electrifying, certainly isn’t what you’d call slow.

Tricky brake pedal means you lose time in the corners, unsure how hard you can slow the car. But apex speed is high

The Sport 250 uses the same engine but weighs less than half that, and the result is 0-60mph dispatched in just 3.6sec. You’ll struggle to go any quicker on four wheels for less cash.

Of course, with peak torque of 270lb ft arriving at 2500rpm and precious little weight over the rear axle, ultra-quick getaways require a little finesse, and even the super-sticky Toyo R888Rs of our car test car wilted under even a moderately committed opening of the throttle.

The same is true to some extent in second, third and even fourth gears, meaning that the Sport 250 is a car to provoke with a decent helping of caution.

However, Westfield has done sterling work in smoothing out this engine’s response and power delivery at low crank speeds, allowing you to enjoy its immense tractability without putting up with the stuttering driveline shunt that can plague powerful cars of this variety.

At 1500rpm in third gear, there’s merely a deep breath as the turbocharger spools up and then you’re spirited – with smooth but vicious haste – into tunnel-vision territory. Acceleration begins to tail off only once you’re into triple figures, at which point a Caterham 620 would begin to pull away noticeably, according to our figures.

The Sport 250’s engine gets a big thumbs-up, then, and so does the short, stiff, accurate throw of the Mazda-sourced gearbox.

The braking system is more problematic, with an awkward surplus of dead travel in the pedal before caliper meets disc with any conviction. When that happens, it can do so abruptly, the system occasionally locking up.

Given that the brake pedal is set so much higher than the throttle, we see little reason for this characteristic, which curbs the car’s track-day appeal and the driver’s confidence on the road.


Westfield Sport 250 cornering

It’s worth highlighting early on that this Westfield exhibits neither the dynamic deftness nor the outright agility of its rivals from Caterham. However, neither does it match those cars for expense, so the real question is: just how close does it get?

The first thing to note is that the tall transmission tunnel forces you to adopt one of two driving styles. Either you go neat and tidy, tucking your elbows in and guiding the car using as little lock (corrective or otherwise) as possible – something eminently possible, if a touch perilous, given the car’s somewhat ragged transition from grip to slip – or it’s elbows unashamedly out. 

Independent rear suspension grips hard around quicker bends, but a de Dion-sprung Caterham’s handling would be more adjustable

You might well find yourself subconsciously opting for the latter, purely because of the physicality of the driving experience.

Our car was equipped with the full gamut of Westfield’s chassis upgrades and naturally featured the marque’s preference for an independent rear axle as opposed to the de Dion set-up employed by Caterham.

It rides and steers well enough at moderate speeds, exhibiting better body control than you might expect (thank those optional anti-roll bars) and a suppleness that most other lightweights would struggle to match.

Stability? Agility? Both very much in evidence, and although the Sport 250 doesn’t suffer from bump steer, its rack at all times remaining true, you do feel everything the road has to offer, for better or worse.

At higher speeds, the gelatinous control weights demand commitment from the driver, yet a lack of progression in the tyres can make that feel like a leap of faith – not something particularly welcome in such a fragile, monstrously powerful machine.

However, there’s an abundance of thrills to be had here and, as a kit car, there’s also the option of adjusting the Sport 250’s factory set-up to your liking. That will be hugely appealing to a lot of drivers.

Westfield delivered the car to us with a ‘fast road and track day’ set-up, which meant that anti-rolls bars had been fitted along with a limited-slip differential and adjustable suspension.

As such, the 250 Sport was undeniably quick around the handling circuit at MIRA, developing terrific grip through faster corners and seemingly teleporting itself down the shorter straights.

However, it never gave us the assurance to approach its ultimate pace, something largely down to the brakes, which suffered from vibrations and were difficult to modulate, being prone to locking up should the pedal be depressed not far past the initial biting point.

The apex-piercing finesse of a Caterham Seven is lacking here, and yet the Westfield was still an enjoyable experience on track overall.


Westfield Sport 250

The financial case made by the Sport 250 is a decent one, as most cars of its ilk tend to make.

Although Westfields don’t seem to hold their value quite as phenomenally well as Ariels and rarer Caterhams, they still compare favourably with what a similarly priced hot hatchback or conventional sports car would cost you in depreciation over a typical ownership period.

Although the firm does offer kits designed to be built on top of donor-car mechanicals, the Sport 250 comes complete – either in kit form or factory assembled

There’s accessibility to consider here too. You’ll need to go all the way to 620 levels in Caterham’s product catalogue to beat the Sport 250’s power and accelerative punch – and that Caterham is almost a £50,000 car.

In a ‘normal’ road car, you’ll need to double even the Caterham’s outlay to match the Westie’s off-the-line performance and driver involvement.

Buyers for whom the kit-building experience is part of this car’s appeal could hardly be better supported than by Westfield.

The firm can provide as much or as little help as you want in screwing and bolting your own car together, whether it’s online, over the phone or in person.

But if you’re minded to spend large on extras on your Westfield, we’d advise you to think long and hard about a factory-built car, which would better protect your investment than a home-built one; because second-hand buyers will be happier to spend big sums on a car they know has been factory assembled. 


4 star Westfield Sport 250

Nigh on £30,000 for a kit car of this Westfield’s dubious aesthetics and flawed drivability may cause some to baulk.

Certainly, a laser-focused hot hatch such as the Honda Civic Type R has a broader range of talents, and a used Caterham Seven offers greater precision, lower depreciation and that all-important brand kudos.

It offers speed, undeniable charm and kit-car adjustability

The Sport 250 hits back with a humdinger of an engine, delivering performance that is the preserve of supercars – or, to bring Caterham back into the equation, the Seven 620, for which you’ll need to stump up at least £45,000. Indeed, as an enjoyable way to go very, very fast, the next level on from this is decidedly less practical. 

It is not, alas, a machine of notable finesse, although its dynamics are markedly better than those of the car we road tested in 2012.

We also suspect the familiarity of ownership might cultivate sufficient confidence in the car’s controls to exploit the performance to its fullest.

Buyers would also be encouraged to adapt the set-up of the 250 Sport to their exact liking, enthusiastically backed by a factory with few equals for customer support.

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.