by Sebastian Cenizo
If you're looking to stand out in a crowd, you don't necessarily have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and have a million horsepower under the hood of your car. Caterham is one of the niche brands you may not have heard of, but when it comes to bang for buck, few manufacturers come close to offering what the British maker of sports cars does. The Caterham Seven 620 is the brand's most extreme vehicle and features a 2.0-liter supercharged inline-four with 310 horsepower and 219 lb-ft of torque. All that power is contained in a lightweight body that weighs less than 1,400 pounds. A manual gearbox, rear-wheel-drive, and absolutely no driver aids should tell you all you need to know about this enthusiasts' machine. Still, spending well over $60,000 for a car with no A/C may seem a bit extreme, especially when cars like the Mazda MX-5 can be just as fun to drive for far less money.
The Caterham Seven 620 is based on the 420 model, a car with which it shares an engine. However, the 620 gains a supercharger for more power and also features unique details like a rear-exit exhaust, an aerodynamically-optimized nose cone, and numerous lightweight components to make it worthy of being the Caterham brand's fastest model.
There's not much of a body on the Caterham Seven 620, but there's still lots to talk about. The front features a redesigned nose with an additional vent and carbon fiber canards to improve front-end grip while the turn signals feature clear lenses for a more modern look. The S Pack version of the car features a full windscreen, side windows with mirrors, and a rear-exit exhaust system, bucking the trend on other Sevens that utilize a side-exit exhaust. This model also features 15-inch wheels, while the hardcore R Pack ditches the windscreen in favor of a carbon aero screen. This model also features 13-inch wheels with meatier tires.
Finding a car with a narrower body than the Caterham Seven is difficult, although overall width is helped out by the protruding wheels that keep it steady on track. The whole car measures just 122 inches from nose to tail, while width is 62 inches. Height is typically low at 42.9 inches and the wheelbase measures 87.6 inches. Optionally available is a slightly larger body that improves interior space a little. With this body, the Caterham Seven measures 131.9 inches long with a height of 43.9 inches and a width of 66.3 inches. Curb weight is an extremely low 1,349 lbs.
The Caterham Seven 620 uses a supercharged version of the 2.0-liter Ford Duratec engine found in the 420 model. Thanks to the car's remarkably low weight, 310 hp and 219 lb-ft of torque feels like far more than enough. 0-60 mph is taken care of in just under 2.8 seconds, while top speed is 155 mph. In a car with no roof and very little around you, this feels faster than it is, and thanks to a manual five-speed transmission as standard (or a six-speed sequential if you prefer), the Seven 620 is engaging and fun. Throttle response is best described as eager, and the 620 keeps pulling you back into your seat. For lack of a better term, this is truly a pocket rocket.
Caterham's philosophy is less about power and more about handling, with every car supremely agile. The 620, despite its incredible power, still handles like a dream, with incredible dartiness and supremely responsive steering. That steering system is unassisted, so you get plenty of feedback, and in a car as light as this, you won't find your arms overworked. The brakes are also very responsive, but a few hot laps of your favorite circuit will help you find the right amount of pressure to apply. Thanks to a standard limited-slip differential, this rear-wheel-drive track toy is plenty of fun in the corners and will happily oversteer should you want it to. Of course, comfort takes a back seat in a car like this (although not literally as it doesn't have back seats either) so don't expect for your date to be impressed by the ride quality on your drive from the house to the restaurant. What you can expect, however, is fun and a real connection with simple, exciting, mechanical driving.
Neither Caterham nor the EPA provides fuel economy figures for the Seven 620, so we have no official estimates. However, the light weight and low displacement engine of the 620 should allow it to return an impressive range from its 9.5-gallon gas tank.
The interior of the Seven 620 is best described as spartan, with little more than a pair of leather-clad seats and some gauges. These seats offer reasonable levels of comfort and good support, but sportier carbon fiber seats can be specced if you want better lateral stability. Due to the narrow nature of the Seven's body, very little elbow room is on offer, but a larger body is available to improve this somewhat.
The trunk of the Caterham Seven 620 is nothing to speak of, with essentially no space for anything more than a helmet and perhaps a race suit.
The cabin is no better, with no storage options for your phone or keys and no door pockets for your wallet. Cupholders also don't find their way into the Seven's basic cabin.
The Caterham Seven 620 is designed to go fast, and has no room for unnecessary weight that could get in the way of that. Hence, all you get as standard is a heater, along with performance enhancements like a limited-slip differential and four-point racing harnesses on the seats. Options are similarly scant, but you can have heated carbon fiber seats, sequential shift lights, and a Momo quick-release steering wheel, but no advanced convenience features are offered.
The infotainment system in the Caterham Seven 620 is very simple - it's called the engine and its accompanying gauges. An obsession with keeping weight down and the basic architecture simple means that you don't get any sound system whatsoever in this track toy.
No recalls have been issued in the US for any of Caterham's products, so reliability shouldn't be a concern with the Seven 620.
In terms of warranty coverage, Caterham makes no mention of what is provided with new purchases.
Caterham's cars have not been crash tested in the US, and a standard roll bar and four-point harnesses are all that is provided to protect you in the event of a crash.
All Caterhams, regardless of what motor is fitted, are an absolute riot to drive. With the 620, that experience is escalated to the visceral, with even greater speed and acceleration ability than ever before. It's the simplicity of the car that makes it so good to drive, and the obsession with keeping weight down means that you don't need to spend millions to be behind the wheel of a car that feels like a sports motorcycle with extra wheels. The steering is brilliant, and the chassis wonderfully balanced. The brakes are sharp and the suspension keeps the car flat through even the most aggressive cornering maneuvers. Sure, it's short on comfort options and lacks safety equipment, but for a fun weekend toy, little will offer the thrills that this does.
The Caterham Seven 620 is the most extreme of the models offered by the brand and thus commands the highest price. The 620 starts at $65,900. Add in some options, and you'll likely get close to the $70,000 mark.
Cars like this are built predominantly for track use, and they should be used on track. If that's your intention, we'd go for the slightly more hardcore 620 R. It features meatier tires, a carbon aero screen, unique switchgear and instruments, carbon fiber seats, and a Momo quick-release steering wheel. If, however, you intend to use the car on the road at times, we'd suggest opting for the slightly more comfortable 620 S. This model has leather seats, bigger wheels, a proper windscreen, and side panels. Ultimately, each of these cars is unlikely to be considered compromising. Each is built for handling fun and shocking acceleration, but if it were our money, we'd get the 620 R and put the difference towards a decent daily driver.
If a simple yet fun driving experience is what you're after, you may be interested in the Toyota 86. Even in top TRD trim, the 86 has a base price that is a little greater than half that of the Caterham Seven 620. Powered by a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated boxer-four with just 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque, it's left in the dust by the Seven 620. However, the 86 is one of the most enjoyable cars to drive, and although it will be less razor-sharp than the Caterham, it's still an immersive and engaging experience. As an added bonus, the 86 features a proper roof and climate control system, along with safety features like ABS, and a rearview camera. You also get a decent trunk. On performance alone, the Caterham is the better buy, but as an all-rounder, the 86 demolishes the plucky Brit.
If you've ever spent more than five minutes with someone who owns one of these, you'll likely have heard the phrase "Miata is always the answer". While this at first seems like a silly way to acronymize the MX-5's name, driving one will make a believer out of you. It's fun, light, responsive, and happy to rev. Sure, its 2.0-liter four-pot is underpowered by the standards of modern hot hatches, but it feels just right in this car. As any enthusiasts will attest, it's better to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow. The Miata offers accessible performance and fun while still being comfortable enough for daily use. Hence, unless track racing is your only concern, we'd recommend the Mazda.