by Sebastian Cenizo
Much like caviar, the Caterham Seven range of lightweight, old-school sports cars is an acquired taste. Unlike caviar, however, the Caterham brand isn't usually associated with luxury. The British marque produces sports cars with a low and long body that doesn't generally feature a roof. These Caterham Seven sports cars are based on the iconic Lotus 7, a car that you may know as being designed by the legendary Colin Chapman before the days of the Lotus Evora. His mantra was "simplify, then add lightness" and that could not be more true of today's Caterham Seven 270. A 1.6-liter naturally aspirated Ford Sigma engine powers the rear wheels with only a five-speed manual gearbox to control output, although a six-speed manual is also available. With just 135 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque, the Seven 270 isn't the most powerful car in the world, but its special driving experience is good enough to help you look past its lack of creature comforts and driver aids. It's a Mazda MX-5 Miata without the frills.
The Caterham Seven 270 is a new model in the range of sports cars and replaces the Roadsport 140 and Supersport variants. The idea is to offer varying levels of power throughout the Caterham range, thus catering to various levels of driving skill and budget. The 270 sits above the 160 model and is the cheapest version on offer in the U.S.
1.6-liter Inline-4 Gas
The Caterham Seven is a long and narrow car, with a clear 1970s influence dictating the styling. Round headlamps sit on either side of the long hood, with a large grille bearing the 7 logo in the middle. The front wheels sit outwards of the main body and feature individual mud covers. A long exhaust pipe runs down one side of the vehicle, but doors are an optional extra, as is a sort of roof. What you do get is a built-in roll bar, and round the rear, a squared-off trunk. 14-inch wheels are standard, but a size bigger or smaller can be fitted too.
Looking at the Seven, it's clear that it's a very simple vehicle with narrow proportions. Length measures just 122 inches with the wheelbase measuring 90.6 inches. Overall width is rated at 62 inches, while height is just 42.9 inches. Curb weight is similarly minuscule, at just 1,190 pounds. Should you want a little more space, a larger chassis is available, and this has a length of 131.8 inches, a width of 66.3 inches, and a height of 43.9 inches.
The Caterham Seven's engine is a Ford Sigma 1.6-liter four-cylinder with no turbo or supercharger assistance. What it does have is a set of individual throttle bodies, helping it to rev with ease and make glorious noises. The engine produces just 135 hp and 122 lb-ft of torque, but in a car this light, it feels like a lot more. As standard, you get a sweet five-speed manual, but the R Pack adds a lightened flywheel to make it feel even better and rev even more hurriedly. In addition, a six-speed manual can also be equipped. Throttle response is just amazing, with the small-capacity, unrestricted N/A motor more than willing to rev. Acceleration is strong too, and you can have a lot of fun with this car, even if it takes 4.9 seconds to get from 0-60 mph and tops out at just 122 mph.
The Caterham Seven 270 is available in either a road-biased or a track-focused configuration, but each handles beautifully. The S Pack is the softer of the two, but it's still an agile machine with plenty of handling ability. Turn-in is sharper than almost anything and the Seven 270 changes direction with no hint of body roll or uncertainty. Thanks to the small wheels and light weight, you can even get it sideways if you like, and the rearward seating position makes it easy to telegraph where you want to go. The R Pack with its limited-slip differential makes things even more exciting and controllable. Point and shoot driving has never been so easy. In addition, the suspension provides remarkable compliance, while the brakes do an excellent job of bringing the Seven to a stop with ease.
While there are no EPA estimates or U.S. manufacturer claims available for the Caterham Seven 270, its lightweight body and small capacity engine are likely to return good range from the car's 10.8-gallon gas tank.
As is clearly apparent, the Caterham Seven 270 is a tiny car with space for only two individuals, each of which sits low down and very close to one another. Interior space is truly at a premium in this car, even with the fractionally larger chassis, and a pair of individuals of a larger frame will likely not be able to find a comfortable seating position. Nevertheless, legroom is good and headroom is obviously limitless.
Caterham doesn't provide a figure for the trunk volume measurement, but it is arguably too small to even consider. At best, you'd be able to fit two or three grocery bags in the back.
In the cabin, things are similarly basic, with no glovebox, cupholders, or storage bins anywhere in sight. This is a car built exclusively for driving pleasure - nothing more.
If the way the car looks from the outside wasn't enough of a hint, one look at the Seven 270's dash will tell you that this is not a tech-laden vehicle. There isn't even a traction control system. All you get are headlights, windscreen wipers, and a heater - something that will be absolutely imperative for maintaining your sanity on colder track days. The steering is completely unassisted too, making this a car for enthusiasts only. Available features are minimal and include things like an LSD, a carbon fiber dash, lightweight race seats with four-point harnesses, a shift light, and a roll cage.
Infotainment? What is that? In the Caterham Seven 270, the only music comes from the naturally aspirated engine's individual throttle bodies. This is a car that is obsessively focused on saving weight wherever possible, and the car thus features no sound system whatsoever.
The Caterham brand doesn't have any recalls listed, but this is not a surprise since most components on the brand's vehicles are simple and have been refined over a period of many years.
In terms of warranty coverage, the local Caterham site does not make any mention of after-sales cover.
The Caterham Seven 270 has not been crash-tested by either the IIHS or the NHTSA, but this is to be expected with low-volume sports cars.
Since there are essentially no safety features beyond your driving ability, we would recommend opting for the available four-point harnesses and full roll cage. Basically, don't crash. You won't be going particularly fast, but you won't have much to protect you either.
The Caterham Seven 270 is a very specific vehicle for a very specific purpose that is bought by a very specific type of individual. It's impractical, uncomfortable to live with, and very short on features. However, for those who are looking to experience driving in its purest form, the Seven 270 is unrivaled. There is no other vehicle that offers such a simple manner of transportation, and that is what makes it attractive and alluring. The steering is phenomenal and full of feel, and whatever the car does is a result of the driver's inputs - not some fancy computer wizardry. Naturally, this isn't the kind of car you buy if you don't have another, but for those days that you can go to the track and fully exploit that brilliant chassis, little will give as much raw, mechanical driving pleasure for the money.
Pricing for the Caterham Seven 270 starts at $37,900 before a $500 destination charge and other taxes and fees. Fully loaded, the Seven 270 will nudge over the $40,000 mark.
Since this is a track-biased car from the start, we'd opt to spec the R Pack. This gives the car a lightened flywheel, a limited-slip differential, composite race seats with four-point harnesses, a carbon fiber dash, and a shift light. We'd consider adding a roll cage if you're a total novice, but other notable add-ons include a six-speed manual transmission, a plumbed-in fire extinguisher, and a track suspension pack with stiffer spring rates. This would give you a well-sorted track car that is a joy to drive hard.
If you want a drop-top roadster with a naturally aspirated engine and huge fun factor, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is the default choice for most enthusiasts, and it's worth the hype. It costs less than the Caterham, with pricing starting at around $25,000, but offers the kinds of features that you'd expect in a modern car, including a rearview camera, anti-lock brakes, traction control, and electric windows. The trunk is also more useful than that in the Caterham and the seats are comfortable and supportive. In addition, you can get heated seats and adaptive LED headlights. For much less money but with more power and a longer list of standard and available features, the MX-5 Miata is still the right choice in this segment, and we'd take the Mazda 364 days of the year. But on that one day that we're at a track and can fully unleash our driving frustrations, the Caterham will be even more fun, especially since its low weight makes it feel stronger than the MX-5.
Lotus is one of the companies that Caterham draws inspiration from in creating the Seven, but these days Lotus doesn't have a stripped back, ultra-lightweight, simple track racer on sale. What they do offer is the Evora GT coupe, a car that is something of a grand tourer. Starting at almost $70,000, it's much more expensive than the Caterham but it features a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 416 hp and at least 317 lb-ft of torque. In the cabin, you also get air conditioning and a sound system, not to mention a roof above your head. For track days with perfect weather conditions, the lighter Caterham Seven 270 will be a more fun vehicle and will offer more engagement, but the excellent Evora will be more fun more of the time, by virtue of the fact that you could conceivably use it every day.
Check out some informative Caterham Seven 270 video reviews below.