Caterham Seven 620 R on test: 310 BHP and only 602 kg
Its power-to-weight ratio puts the Caterham 620 R on a par with the Bugatti Veyron and the Porsche 918. Any questions?
If you’re used to using two fingers to steer, you may want to hit the gym a little before climbing into the Caterham Seven 620 R. And certainly before pushing it through its limits. Whilst most sports cars nowadays use power steering, such as the Porsche 911 Turbo, the Caterham relies on arm power to get the job done. Driving the Caterham Seven 620 R straight after the Porsche 911 Turbo makes mincemeat out of all but the arms of bodybuilders.
Caterham Seven 620 R makes even the 911 Turbo jealous
Purely by coincidence, the Hockenheim testing of both the all-wheel drive monster from Stuttgart and the British lightweight ascetic falls on the same day. And yes, before anyone in the publicity department gets into a fret, it was a true coincidence. The Porsche 911 Turbo and the Caterham Seven 620 R seem polar opposites – a contrast on the scale of North and South Korea. But indeed, these cornering experts do share some similarities; around the short course at Hockenheim, the 310 BHP Brit laid down a time of 1:09.7 minutes, minimally slower than the 520 BHP biturbo 911.
Broken scales or the unbelievable truth? Even at the initial, obligatory weigh-in, the Caterham party is ecstatic – the Caterham Seven 620 R registers a weight of 602 kg. With a full tank of fuel, mind you. The 911 Turbo’s front axle load alone is higher, at 663 kg. All in all, the Turbo weighs 1,617 kg, just over a tonne more than the British racing flea.
The power-to-weight ratio of the Caterham Seven 620 R isn’t just a point of envy for established sports cars such as the 911 Turbo (3.1 kg/BHP). At 1.9 kg/BHP, this – the most powerful Caterham ever built – is on a par with legends such as the Porsche 918 Spyder (1.9 kg/BHP) and the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 (2.1 kg/BHP).
After clambering, threading and fastening myself into this descendent of the Lotus Seven (1959-1972), it’s time to begin. Following the Caterham yoga – as we shall call it – of contorting yourself around the roll-cage, threading your legs into the Formula 1 style cockpit, and strapping yourself into the full bucket seats using the six-point harness, you find yourself in a that typical British predicament of sitting on the “wrong” side of the car. The Caterham Seven 620 R is available exclusively with right-hand drive. Due to the narrow bodywork, the time it takes to get used to it is however far shorter than in other, more girthy right-hand drive cars.
Four-cylinder engine with DTM sound
With a tug at the gearstick, first gear announces itself ready for duty with a mechanical “clack!”. It sounds very similar to a Formula 3 racecar. The commotion that follows, however, reminds you of nothing but the good old days of DTM – the days of high-revving four-cylinder BMW M3 E30s and Mercedes 190 E Evos.
It feels as if the two-litre four-cylinder engine in the Caterham Seven 620 R, with its rudimentary exhaust and racing catalytic converter, easily hits 10,000 rpm. In reality, the supercharged Ford Duratec engine tops out at “only” 7,900 rpm.
No wonder then, that the track marshal’s office is host to a sea of shocked faces later on. The reason? According to our measurements, the Caterham kicks out around 100 decibels. We like it. Even if it does leave the sound of an angry wasp nest in your ears, minutes after it has disappeared from eyeshot.
Clack, clack, clack – at full throttle, changing up doesn’t require the clutch. Shifting back down, on the other hand, does demand the use of the 620 R’s clutch pedal. Delay in shifting? Nowhere to be seen – the Sadev sequential six-speed gearbox doesn’t just recreate the sound of motorsport, but also the feeling; gear changes are instantaneous. All the while, the supercharged engine impresses with its direct throttle response and virtually linear power development. A turbo-lag measured in weeks followed by a sudden kick would be the last thing we’d want here.Emotional ride on the razor’s edge
That lack of a sudden kick thankfully doesn’t compromise adrenaline production at all. On warmed-up semi-slicks, the Caterham Seven 620 R enters the turn fiercely, does then however “push” slightly over the front axle, before the rear starts getting really wild with palpable power oversteer during the course of the bend. The whole time, you’re searching for the perfect balance between over- and understeer with the accelerator.
The Caterham Seven 620 R is fun in its purest form – an emotional ride, nay, dance on the razor’s edge. If you’re one of the increasing number of people that finds the sports cars of today too neutral, too boring and easy to control will feel at home in this power-kart.
ESP, ABS, power steering, traction control – you’ll find none of these terms in the Caterham Seven 620 R’s manual. Steering is by means of a – naturally – airbagless Momo sports steering wheel. Repeated shocks and the sheer power needed to hold on to the precise steering make going to the gym entirely redundant. It’s a fantastic feeling, being freed of all of the control systems that now dominate the world of sports cars.
Even the brakes are prehistoric by today’s standards. Stamping on the brake pedal, expecting the ABS to kick in and compensate for a heavy foot, will leave you sliding from the best line with blocked, screeching wheels. It would be nice to shift the brake balance somewhat towards the rear, but this isn’t possible in the 620 R, a car that needs individual approval to be allowed on the roads. The braking set-up is fixed. If you manage to master the correct pedal pressure, you’ll manage stellar braking performance even without ABS – deceleration values of up to 11.5 m/s2 are possible.
But more fool you if you let your concentration wane, even for a moment. You wouldn’t fit a coke can between the front left-hand wheel and the link road wall on our quick lap of the shorter circuit. Great too is that the small tank capacity (36 litres) had us pull into the boxes before we had the option to consider the special Roulette Green paintjob as a potential negative…
Date17 February 2016