by Karl Furlong
With all of their electronics, needlessly powerful engines, and infotainment screens the size of old television sets, most modern vehicles have lost that connection between the road and the driver. The switch from hydraulic to electric power steering, ever-evolving emissions regulations, and customers who apparently just want power and smoothness over "feedback" are some of the reasons to blame for this. The Caterham Seven is the antithesis to this madness, providing only what's required to get its driver around a track with maximum entertainment - and zero noise insulation. The 310 sits closer to the bottom of the Seven range and carries a base price of $39,900. Its Ford-sourced 1.6-liter engine only produces 152 horsepower, but it weighs a mere 1,191 pounds, so 60 mph comes up in under five seconds. It handles like a champion and, with its five-speed manual gearbox, will provide hours of entertainment. The purpose-built Caterham isn't trying to please the masses, and that's exactly why we love it.
Derived from the 270, the 310 is largely similar to that model but generates more power from its 1.6-liter engine: 152 hp and 124 lb-ft of torque, improving on the 270's figures of 135 hp/122 lb-ft. Although these are marginal improvements, the incredibly light weight of the Seven ensures that the 0-62 mph time drops by a tenth to 4.9 seconds, while the top speed increases from 122 mph to 127. High-performance camshafts and different mapping are the changes made to the 310 that help it deliver increased outputs over the 270.
1.6-liter Inline-4 Gas
One of the most recognizable shapes ever, the Seven 310 - like all Sevens - is completely unpretentious. The head- and taillights look as if they were tacked on in a few minutes and there are no doors, just lightweight side screens. You just know it's going to set your pants on fire, though. The exposed exhaust system running along the side of the car, the low-set seats, and the 14-inch alloy wheels with Avon ZT5 tires make it clear that the 310 came to play, not to have crowds ogle it for hours on end. Smaller or larger wheels are offered, as is a larger chassis size.
By default, the Caterham Seven has a length of 122 inches, a width of 62 inches, and a height of 42.9 inches. The wheelbase is 87.6 inches long. In this configuration, Caterham says that the Seven can accommodate a driver up to 6'2" in height. For taller drivers (up to 6'6"), the larger chassis option will be preferable. In this configuration, body length increases to 131.9 inches, width is 66.3 inches, and height is 43.9 inches. At 1,190 lbs in its standard setup, nothing on four wheels is quite as light as a Caterham.
Is there another four-wheeled machine that does so much with so little power? Probably not. The 1.6-liter naturally aspirated engine uses high-performance camshafts to help it improve on the 270's outputs. In the 310, outputs are up to 152 horsepower and 124 lb-ft of torque, which is sent to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. The engine burbles with anticipation at idle, and only produces its maximum power at 7,000 rpm, although it's more than happy to scream its way up there time and time again. It'll hit 62 mph in only 4.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 127 mph. The short gearing helps to overcome the engine's lack of torque, and it's a joy to work through the gears yourself. The Seven 310 demands commitment from the driver to keep the engine on the boil, but the reward for your efforts is always worthwhile.
It's here that the Caterham comes into its own. The term "driver's car" is often thrown around with wild abandon, but in this case, it couldn't be more succinct in describing what the Seven 310 feels like from behind the wheel. It all starts with the ideal driving position, sitting over the rear axle and making you feel at one with the car. The sticky tires provide plenty of grip, and whereas aggressive throttle inputs in more powerful Sevens can provoke some scary reactions, the 310 isn't powerful enough to unsettle the car's perfect balance. The steering is a dream, with razor-sharp turn-in and unsullied feedback to let you know exactly what the front wheels are up to. In colder, slippery conditions, it's possible to get the rear-end to wiggle quite easily, but because the 310's body control is so good and feedback so pure, the driver can make the necessary adjustments quickly and without drama. The sport suspension pack stiffens up an already hard ride, but so good is the handling that most will forgive the 310 for this.
No official EPA ratings are available for the Seven 310, not that this is a priority considering the car's intended purpose. A small 9.5-gallon gas tank helps to keep the weight down, but should suffice for the average track day.
Seating just two in the most basic environment, the Caterham 310 cabin has a steering wheel, an array of gauges, and not much more. The standard S Pack has black leather seats and the optional R Pack gets composite racing seats, which are unforgiving but hold you and your passenger firmly in place. It's a narrow cabin, but fortunately, the larger body/chassis does provide greater space for taller people. Ingress and egress aren't what you'd describe as graceful, but again, these compromises have done nothing to dilute the Seven's appeal as an epic track tool.
With essentially no trunk to speak of, the only real place to store anything is on the passenger seat, provided nobody else is sitting there. Yes, there is a shallow compartment above the rear wheels and behind the seats, but hardly anything will fit in there, and what it can accommodate will likely go flying as you pick up speed. As for fancy cupholders, a glovebox, and door bins - forget it. Storage space isn't what this car is about, and it doesn't even pretend to care. Leave your stuff at home and enjoy the drive.
Creature comforts aren't on the Seven 310's radar. The cabin is merely a place from which to enjoy the performance and handling on offer. On the standard S Pack, you get side screens, analog instrumentation, a heater, and full carpeting, while the available R Pack has a shift light, a carbon fiber dashboard, composite race seats, and four-point race harnesses. A six-speed manual gearbox is available optionally, as is a carbon vinyl 'trunk' cover, a plumbed-in fire extinguisher, and high-intensity lights with LED daytime running lights.
The Caterham has no infotainment system at all - no central screen, no CD changer, and not even an AM/FM radio. If you do have a sound system fitted by an aftermarket specialist, it had better have some serious punch to counter the constant wind noise that accompanies every trip in the Seven 310.
If any recalls ever affected the Caterham Seven 310, there is no official record of them. The benefit to the absence of needless electronics and complex mechanicals is that the Caterham should prove dependable, as there is simply less to go wrong. And, should any problems crop up, it's one of the easiest cars to work on. The Ford Sigma engine in the 310 has been used in Caterhams for over a decade - a sure sign of its dependability.
The Caterham Seven 310 hasn't been crash-tested, and we're not sure we'd want to see the end result of such an evaluation, since it comes with zero safety features. It doesn't even have airbags, and the Caterham came into existence long before driver aids like blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning became commonplace. Our advice? Keep your eyes on the road (or the track).
The Caterham Seven 310 is a breath of fresh air, quite literally. It proudly shows the middle finger to the excesses of modern motoring in its relentless pursuit of a pure, undiluted driving experience. The 310 may be one of the best models in the Seven range, because its 152-hp engine provides just a bit more poke than the base 270, yet in no way threatens to overpower the well-engineered chassis. It's matched by steering that instantly brings a smile to any gear head's face, harking back to the days before our cars' every movement was managed by a party-pooping electronic brain. As far as track day tools go, you simply can't do better than this. If, however, you want a fun-to-drive toy that can also be used as a daily driver, the Seven's total lack of safety features, comforts, and packing space could be a problem. But as for doing exactly what it says on the tin, the exhilarating Seven 310 can't be faulted.
The Seven 310 is one of the more affordable Caterhams, sitting just above the base 270. It carries a base price of $39,900 before any options are added, making it $2,000 more expensive than the 270. This price also excludes taxes, licensing, registration, and destination charges.
With just a single Seven 310 available, there are no complex decisions to be made (unless, of course, you are interested in one of the pricier and more powerful Seven models which we review separately). The 310 can, however, be had with either the standard S Pack (better for on-road use) or the optional R Pack, with the latter being a better choice for customers wanting the best experience on track. The Seven 310 isn't supposed to be a comfortable commuter, so we'd happily tick the box for the R Pack which adds a limited-slip differential, a lightweight flywheel, composite race seats, and a sport suspension pack.
Although it's hard to compare the stripped-down Caterham Seven to any typical sports car, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of the closest alternatives in spirit. The Japanese roadster has been modernized through the years, but it has retained a naturally aspirated engine, rear-wheel drive, and a lovely six-speed manual gearbox. This makes the MX-5 a joy to drive, and like the Seven 310, you can wring the Mazda's neck without reaching dangerous speeds. But the MX-5 also needs to play the role of a comfortable commuter, so it has plentiful features, a far more pleasant cabin, and an actual trunk. Of course, this means it's more than twice the weight of the Seven 310, so nothing can match the Caterham's incredible agility. If you already have a daily driver, the Seven 310 is a great weekend toy. But the MX-5 is one of the best at fulfilling both roles.
Much higher up the price scale is the baby of the Porsche range, the 718 Cayman. It starts at $57,500, nearly $20,000 more than the Caterham Seven 310. For that price, you get a 300-hp turbocharged four-pot that'll send the Cayman to 60 in 4.9 seconds, so acceleration off the mark is quite similar between the two. At 3,035 lbs for the manual, the base Cayman is nearly three times as heavy as the Seven 310, so even though the Cayman coupe is one of the most accomplished handlers in any segment, the Seven 310 still provides a more visceral and less filtered experience. But the Cayman is in a totally different league on the road, with comfortable seats, a modern cabin, and all the features you'd expect in a modern sports coupe. You can live with the Porsche every day, whereas the Seven 310 is only really in its element on the track. But we remain thrilled that the Caterham exists, because as good as the Porsche is, the barebones Seven 310 elicits even bigger smiles at the limit.
Check out some informative Caterham Seven 310 video reviews below.