2021 Caterham 170S review: sports car on a budget–ish

The new entry level 170 is the lightest Seven to date. It’s great fun, as Andrew Frankel discovers... but the costs stack up with extras

Caterham Seven 170R
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Regulars may recall I have remarked at times upon the uneasy correlation between cars that are fast and those that are fun. One of the best things I have ever done in a car is race my 1950s Citroën 2CV cross-country against a similarly equipped friend. We never went near a speed limit and if we had 35bhp between us, he was cheating even more than me.

So just because this new Caterham 170S has an engine displacing 660cc and producing a mere 84bhp, do not presume it will be less fun to drive as a result. What is probably more important is that the diminutive proportions of the three-cylinder powerplant mean that even fully equipped road specification, it weighs just 465kg. Choose the 170R and do without your windscreen and various other comforts and that figure comes down to 440kg, making it the lightest Caterham in the near 50 years since Graham Nearn bought the manufacturing rights to the Lotus Seven from Colin Chapman.

I love too the fact that Caterham has chosen to shoe this new entry-level model with a 155-section tyre, which is exactly the same width as found on my daughter’s 1-litre Toyota Aygo. It shows a company keeping its mind not on what might look cool, but what actually works in terms of the driving experience. Because if you can’t slide a Caterham around on the power, you’re missing a big chunk of the fun of driving a Caterham. So if your power is limited, it makes sense to limit grip too.