Caterham Seven 485

First Fang

by SCOTT NEWMAN

Plenty of thrills, but bring your skills

ENGINE 1999cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v / POWER 177kW @ 8500rpm / TORQUE 206Nm @ 6300rpm / WEIGHT 675KG / 0-100KM/H 3.9sec (claimed) / PRICE $116,990

OUR PREVIOUS experience with Caterhamís 485 wasnít, erm, very positive. Put simply, we didnít feel the driving experience justified the substantial $116,990 price tag.

After all, there are some very talented rivals like the Porsche Boxster and Alfa Romeo 4C at this price point, which demand nothing like the level of compromise required with the Caterham.

However, weíre re-visiting the 485 as thereís been a notable change to its standard specification, as well as the opportunity to run it down the strip to try and validate Caterhamís eyewidening 3.9sec 0-100km/h claim.

The crucial component in question is a limited-slip differential and it promises to be an important piece of the Caterham puzzle. Whereas previously power could be fizzed away by the unloaded inside wheel, now the 485 can be steered almost entirely with the throttle, particularly in the streaming wet conditions of our track test.

It takes a lot of concentration, as with no electronic aids of any kind Ė not even ABS Ė youíre completely on your own in a car that will easily wheelspin through the first three gears and can be tricky to catch when it does slide. The corollary of this, of course, is the buzz that results from knowing you alone are in control.

Itís up to the driver to correct every locked brake and spike of oversteer; no other car offers the same connectedness as the lightweight, unassisted 485. Itís hard work, but very rewarding and would undoubtedly be easier on a dry track.

Or a dry, warm track, at least, as performance testing the 485 at a dry but cold Heathcote drag strip was heart-in-mouth stuff. With the highly tuned 177kW/206Nm four pushing just 675kg (sans driver) the Caterham fires off the line like itís been stung, but continues to slither and slide all the way to the top of third gear.

The bad news for Caterham, however, is there is simply no way a 485 is going to do 0-100km/h in 3.9sec, let alone the 3.4sec claimed for the smaller, lighter UK cars. With a clean launch and a 63kg driver, the buzzing Brit clocks 0-100km/h in 4.8sec and a 13.1sec quarter mile; the latter particularly impressive given it includes four gearchanges.

The thing is, though, a 13-second run in a 485 is much more thrilling than an 11-second run in a 911 Turbo, which sums up the whole Caterham experience. Itís madly compromised and expensive, but itís a car every enthusiast should try at least once.

With less power and grip, it might even be more fun. Stay tuned. M

STAR RATING 3.0

Like

Old-school raw driving thrills; LSD now standard; novelty

Dislike

Price; practicality; quality issues