by Michael Butler
What's the first thing you see when you arrive at your local track day? Sure, you see a flock of Mazda MX-5 Miatas, but you will always spot a Caterham Seven lurking somewhere in the pits. The reason why these petite sports cars are so ubiquitous is that they drive so damn well, it's that simple. The design of the Seven has been around for ages in different shapes and sizes, and Caterham themselves has made excellent use of this platform. The Caterham Seven is offered in many flavors, with the 420 being at the hotter end of the scale. Under the hood lies a Ford-sourced 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated engine that features race-inspired features such as a dry oil sump, and produces an impressive 210 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent straight to the back wheels through a good old fashioned manual gearbox. Other than a lightweight chassis and engine, there's nothing much else on offer: you get a steering wheel, a gear lever, and the time of your life. There are no true natural predators of the Caterham Seven 420, but you could try a track-tuned Miata or Porsche Cayman GT4. The truth is, none of them will ever come close to the experience.
The Caterham Seven 420 remains unchanged and is still as capable as ever. Caterham does, however, offer a more hardcore R-Pack, which turns the Caterham Seven 420 into an all-out track day weapon. This kit includes a limited-slip differential, lightweight flywheel, sport suspension pack, as well as an uprated brake master cylinder, carbon fiber dashboard, and composite race seats, amongst others.
2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas
There are few sports cars that have as an iconic look as the Caterham Seven. Its exposed front wheels and sleek nose are known the world over as a representation of speed and driving dynamics. The Seven 420 is available with optional 15-inch alloy wheels, aero wishbones, and a track-day roll bar, amongst others.
The Caterham Seven 420 is available in standard or large body size. The standard body size measures 122 inches in length, 62 inches in width, and 42.9 inches in height, and will accommodate drivers up to 6'2" tall. The large body measures 131.8 inches in length, 66.3 inches in width, and 43.9 inches in height, and will cater for drivers up to 6'6" tall. The Caterham 420 weighs in at 1,235 pounds, making it a true featherweight.
With a curb weight of 1,235 pounds and a power to weight ratio of 402 hp per ton, you can only imagine the kind of acceleration on offer here. With a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine under the hood, power does not come on early as in turbocharged cars, but once it arrives, all hell breaks loose. Total power output is 210 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque, which is sent to the rear via a five-speed or optional six-speed manual transmission. There's a strong pull right up to the redline. Zero to 60 mph is reached in only 3.8 seconds and the Caterham Seven 420 tops out at 136 mph.
The whole point of the Caterham Seven 420 is to go around corners as fast as possible; yes, it might be more than brisk off the line, but it's in the corners that this car truly shines. Steering input is near-telepathic, and corner entry speeds and braking distances are at true racecar levels. Thanks to its linear power delivery, the 420 doesn't squirm out of corners, but pulls you out in a controlled, and therefore fast manner. On the road, the 420 isn't the best, but it can handle city and suburban driving. It's out on the highway that things go wrong; there's tons of road and wind noise, and the front wheels like to track grooves in the road, which can get scary at times.
There are no official gas mileage figures for the Caterham Seven 420, not that it really matters: this car will spend the majority of its life on the track, where running out of gas isn't such a major problem. What we do know is that there is a 9.5-gallon fuel tank in play, which should be enough for a full track day depending on track length and how hard you push it.
You're not going to get tons of interior space; that's a given, but Caterham has taken into consideration the fact that driving enthusiasts come in all shapes and sizes, hence the reason why it offers two body sizes. Either way, you must make peace with the fact that the hip and shoulder room is going to be snug, while legroom is adequate. The small body size carters for drivers up to six feet two inches tall, while the large body will fit drivers of up to six feet six inches tall and with a larger frame.
You can't call the small compartment sitting over the rear wheels a trunk in the true sense of the word: it's more of a storage box, and will barely fit two racing helmets. If you really have to use the Caterham Seven 420 for practical daily duties, don't take a passenger and use the extra seat for storage. Small-item storage is also non-existent.
The Caterham Seven 420's main feature is that it is absolutely insane to drive full speed around a track. Other than that, there isn't much to write home about. The interior features a five-speed transmission with a shift knob, a carpeted interior, a windscreen, and a side screen, as well as an instrument cluster of sorts, and a set of black leather seats. Optional extras include a six-speed transmission, half doors in carbon and vinyl, as well as a half hood bag, a tonneau cover, and high-intensity headlights with LED daytime running lights.
There is no infotainment system to speak of; instead, you get to enjoy the rush of the wind in your hair, the scream of that naturally-aspirated engine, and the sound of BMW straight sixes as you overtake them. If you really have to, an aftermarket kit can easily be fitted.
There are no records of the Caterham Seven 420 being recalled, and its basic construction should prove easy to maintain and fix if anything should ever go wrong. The fact that this style of car has been available in a kit-car form for decades means that even those with the most basic mechanical skills will be able to fix even larger problems, with the powertrain being the only area that needs true technical expertise.
Traffic sign recognition? Adaptive cruise control? Not here, buddy. Caterham places you at the helm of this ship, without any fancy safety equipment, not even a set of airbags. The only thing keeping you in place is a set of seatbelts. Seeing as the Caterham Seven 420 will mainly be used for track days, those sand traps and tire walls will be your best friends in case of an oopsie.
There's a very good reason why the Caterham Seven's body style hasn't changed in decades: it works. As a track day car, few get it as right as the Caterham Seven 420, straight out of the box with no modifications required. This car's ability to engage the driver is hard to find in any other vehicle besides a dedicated open-wheel race car, and to fully exploit the 420; you have to be quite skilled as a driver. We love the fact that the Caterham Seven 420 doesn't pretend to be anything other than a track racer: there's simply no fluff at all, even the interior offers only the most essential of features. The 2.0-liter engine in the 420 strikes the perfect balance between weight and power delivery and, despite its mild power outputs, makes this car feel like an absolute rocket. Sure there's no safety equipment to speak of, no infotainment system either, and you won't want to drive this on the road for an extended period of time, but it is as pure a driving machine as they come.
It may only be a skin and bones car that doesn't even offer basic air conditioning or airbags, but a lot of development and care has gone into each and every Caterham Seven 420, so you'll still be paying a premium price. At a base price of $47,900, you could be looking at much more comfortable cars, but not much can come close to providing the same level of performance.
There's only one model on offer, but Caterham does give you a bit of leeway when it comes to the size and performance levels of the Seven 420. For taller drivers, the Seven 420 is offered in a larger body size that offers space for drivers of up to 6'6" in length. The optional R Pack is designed for those who want a hardcore track weapon and includes features such as a limited-slip differential, lightened flywheel, as well as an upgraded brake system. We'd spec it that way, as the Seven 420 is designed to live on the track anyway.
No, these cars aren't really in the same league, but as track day cars, they both delight in the same manner. The Porsche Cayman GT4 is powered by a 4.0-liter flat-six engine producing 414 hp, and as with the Seven 420, feels connected to the driver in a way that few sports cars can manage. It does get luxuries such as traction control and airbags, but costs twice the price of the Caterham. We'd go for the more livable Porsche and drive to the track as well as race on it.
The humble Mazda Miata has proven itself time and time again to be one of the best and most accessible driver's cars on the planet. Their RWD layout and lightweight make them excellent candidates to learn the basics of fast driving, and you can pick a first or second-generation model up for chump change. The modern ND Miata doesn't come close to providing the same levels of performance, but it matches the Caterham Seven 420 somewhat in its pureness of driving spirit. We'd have the Caterham for the track, and the Miata for the garage.
Check out some informative Caterham Seven 420 video reviews below.