By Jethro Bovingdon
11 August 2011 10:45
Got £20k? Then this lovely Caterham Seven Supersport can be yours. Okay, it’ll be yours as a pile of bits – it’s £19,995 in kit form, but £22,995 fully built – but a Caterham fanatic might describe it as a bargain. So, it’s a bargain then.
Let’s be realistic – what’s so special about this £23k Caterham Seven Supersport?
Your average launch press conference is an extremely dull (if often useful) affair. Words like ‘emotion’ and ‘sportiness’ are thrown around with optimistic abandon and then an engineer will delve deep into the specification – active lane departure, stop/start tech, brake regeneration, sat-nav informed by Google maps, dampers with limitless and nanosecond electronic adjustability… It’s head-spinning and tedious in equal measure. So it’s wonderful that on this occasion I don’t have to regurgitate any of that nonsense, nor will I mention bloody CO2. How liberating. This is the Caterham Supersport. It’s marvellous and it doesn’t come with a windscreen. Or paint.
What does come as standard is genuine dynamic brilliance, a rorty 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine with 140bhp driving through a sprint ratio 5-speed ‘box, a limited slip differential, lightweight flywheel and wide track front suspension. At each corner are Bilstein shocks and sticky Avon CR500 rubber on dinky 13-inch wheels. The Supersport isn’t quite as wild as the Superlight series, but shares much of their track-focused chassis tuning with a less manic but still punchy little engine. It’s a hilarious little package and weighs just 520kg.
Presumably you’re a bit … exposed?
With just an aeroscreen in place the Supersport requires a helmet unless you love grit and stones being shot at you at ballistic speeds. That might sound absurd (and to be honest I’d wuss out and opt for a windscreen), but when you pull on a tight-fitting Arai, snuggle down into the hard-shelled seats and fire-up the Supersport it feels entirely natural. Shuts out the real world, too. You’re immersed in the sights, smells and sensations buzzing back through the floor, pedals and steering wheel.
I haven’t driven a Caterham for too long and I’m almost shocked by how much fun it is and how much information pelts you from all angles. The ride is very firm, the tiny steering wheels shimmies and tugs, the engine shouts at you. But what’s incredible is how everything you do has an instant and absolutely precise effect on the car. Another millemetre of throttle brings a surge in power, another half degree of steering lock and the Caterham snaps onto line… nothing else offers such instant gratification. Nor such an intimate sense of what’s going on down where rubber meets tarmac. You sit almost over the rear wheels and the Supersport is very, very rear-drive, so every shift in balance happens just behind your hips and you know about it in real time.
What’s the Supersport like to drive?
On the road the Supersport grips tenaciously, you drive it with tiny steering inputs and a real sense that your right foot is just as effective as that steering wheel through corners both fast and slow. A smidge of turn-in understeer is easily cancelled under power and then anything from neutrality to gorgeously progressive oversteer is yours for the taking. Even through 4th gear corners you can feel the rear axle pointing the front of the car to the apex and on the cusp of sliding. It’s intense, physical, occasionally a bit scary and a total riot.
Complaints? The 5-speed ‘box is stiff to operate, erm, it’s a bit windy and… well, sooner or later you’ll start to want more power. Not that the Supersport isn’t terrifically balanced, it’s just that when you’ve felt a Seven sliding under power you want more and more of it.