Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its
The original Lotus Seven was a kit car and a staple of the Lotus line-up from 1957-1972, but in the mid-‘70s Colin Chapman decided he wanted his company to go upmarket, concentrating on motorsport and its sportscar output. Rather than consign the Seven to history Lotus instead chose to sell the rights to the name and design to its remaining sales agents. While you may not have heard of Steel Brothers Ltd, the second agent, by the name of Caterham, would go on to be one of the most revered names in the kit car and wider motoring world. While the original Caterham output was the Series Four, they ran out of kits for the latest Seven in 1974. Rather than build some more they chose to introduce their own interpretation of the Series Three. Their creation formed the platform for the cars they sell today. After over 40 years of development the current range of Sevens now stretches into double figures, from the tiny 160 – designed with the Japanese Kei car market in mind – to the mind blowing 620 R. But it is the 310 that Caterham staff claim is the car they would buy if they had to choose one.
It’s pretty slim pickings, let’s be honest. But that’s not the point of the car. Inside our Caterham is in ‘S’ spec, meaning we get a full leather interior, ‘S’-badged key and gearstick, a windscreen and side screens, Momo steering wheel, 12V charging socket and interior carpets. In the boot you’ll find not one, but two different roofs, both options, one a full roof that takes some scaffolding to erect, the second a simpler affair, perfect for those times when you just need to throw a small canopy over your head. That pretty much sums up the mod-cons on the Caterham Seven. More important is what’s underneath. The 310 is powered by a 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine, a four-cylinder motor that produces 154PS (152bhp). That doesn’t sound like a lot, until you remember that this particular Seven weighs in at just 540kg…
That brings us onto the important bit. The Caterham Seven is one of the world’s great exponents of pure driving. Don’t expect to find any power steering here, or even servo on the brakes and certainly don’t expect traction control. Instead it’s just you and the car. And what a car it is. The 310 seems to be the perfect balance of the Seven’s outstanding chassis and an excellent amount of power, not so little you can’t have fun, not so much it’s a raving lunatic. Since it comes in at barely half a tonne that 154PS motor means a power-to-weight ratio of 285PS-per-tonne (281bhp-per-tonne). There are more powerful Caterhams available, but more power could just dilute the incredible handling experience the Seven provides, sort of spoiling the point. That handling is almost unmatched, certainly for the price – build a Seven 310 yourself and it’ll start at just £21,995! It’s worth every penny (even if you add the premium of having someone who knows what they’re doing nail it together). The 310 is one of the most tactile, rewarding and agile without being over the edge cars we’ve ever driven. Nail the throttle from a standstill and you can easily get the back end to slide, but at speed the Seven is absolutely glued to the floor. The turn-in is sharp and precise without being twitchy and suffers very little front tyre scrub until you act like an absolute hooligan. The same can be said for the rear in the mid corner, you need to stamp your right foot to elicit much rear movement, such is the grip from the 185/60 Avons, but when needed the back can slide on command. Steering feel, unencumbered by powered assistance, is sublime and while the brake feel may take some getting used to given the force you need to pump through the system, once you’re there it allows one of the finest experiences you will ever have when slowing down.
The Caterham Seven is all about passion. Passion for motoring, passion for purity of experience, passion for consistently producing an excellent product, passion for the original lightweight concept that Colin Chapman lived his life adhering to. For this price point there aren’t any other cars that deliver the same driving performance – there’s a reason that Caterhams hold their value so well. We found earlier in the year that you can live with a Caterham day-to-day, but most will be sensible and keep their Seven as a weekend fun toy. And there can’t be many cars more ready to put a smile on your face than a Caterham Seven. In the form of the 310 Caterham think they’ve found the perfect blend of speed and control, and they may well be right.
Price of our car: £27,990 (£21,995 + assembly and extras)