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BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

Caterham proves that with sports cars, less is more

About the author

Editor of BBC Autos, Matthew is a former editor at Automobile Magazine and the creator of the digital-only Roadtrip Magazine. His automotive and travel writing has appeared in such magazines as Wired, Popular Science, The Robb Report and Caribbean Travel + Life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wonderful wife and four-year-old daughter.

 

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What makes a great sports car? Heated seats? Air conditioning? A sat-nav system? A computer-controlled, dual-clutch, paddle-actuated semi-automatic transmission? Certainly not. When it comes to sports cars, less is definitely more.

The UK’s Caterham Cars has opened the order book for its new model, the entry level version of its venerable Seven roadster. With modest power, skinny tires and few amenities, the new model harks back to its famous forebear, the Colin Chapman-designed Lotus 7, which dates to 1957. It is a rolling reaffirmation that when it comes to sports cars, less truly is more.

It is safe to assume that Sir Colin would have adored the Seven 160, maybe even more so than Caterham’s range-topper, the hair-raising Seven 620R, a car that, with 310 horsepower, will blast from 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds and press on to a terrifying 155mph. The 160 is a nine-tenths Seven – a car whose talents a driver can explore on public roads without thumbing his nose at the Grim Reaper.

In the UK, a fully assembled Seven 160 starts at £17,995 (about $29,000), although a mechanically inclined buyer can acquire one in kit form for just £14,995 ($24,000). For the record, this undercuts the base version of the more fully equipped but less gregarious Mazda MX-5 (£18,495). It also slides well beneath another cheeky British car, the personality-laden but dynamically challenged Morgan Three Wheeler (£30,000).

The Seven 160 makes use of a turbocharged, 660cc three-cylinder kei car engine from Suzuki. The little three belts out 80 horsepower at 7000rpm and 79 pound-feet of torque at a very accessible 3400rpm. Matched to a traditional five-speed manual transmission, the little engine has sufficient oomph to move the 1080lb roadster from a standstill to 60mph in 6.5 seconds, and press on to a top speed of 100mph. The Seven 160 will be sold in mainland Europe as the Seven 165 – the “5” signifies the roadster’s compliance with Europe’s strict EU5 emissions standards.

Power is delivered to the rear wheels through a live axle – no fancy independent rear end here. Wheels – they are stamped steel, not aluminium – measure a modest 14 inches in diameter and wear narrow, 155-series tires from Avon. Caterham calls the car’s handling “playful”.

It is an understatement to suggest that Caterham’s Seven 160 eschews every nonessential amenity, save paint (pick from four standard colors: black, red, green or yellow). Carpeting is optional, as is a heater, a spare tire, a full windscreen, doors and a soft top. Yes, the Seven 160 is light on creature comforts, but its austerity is nothing that a good Aran jumper, a herringbone cap and a pair of goggles can’t remedy.

Caterham, which has begun accepting orders for the new entry-level Seven, expects to kick off production in January, with deliveries commencing in the spring.

Yes, the Seven 160 is light on creature comforts, but its austerity is nothing that a good Aran jumper, a herringbone cap and a pair of goggles can’t remedy.