Ignore the tax disc and plates: it’s a racing car
Engine: 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, supercharged
Power: 311bhp 7700rpm
Torque: 219Ib ft @7350rpm
Transmission: six-speed sequential, rear-wheel drive
Top Speed: 155mph
Economy: n/a mpg CO n/a g/km
One day many years ago, Caterham’s then technical director Jez Coates turned up unannounced, tossed me the keys to the car he’d been driving and said, “Tell me what you think of that.” He said no more about it, but I didn’t need to do more than blip the throttle to realise its 2-litre Vauxhall twin-cam engine had been turbocharged.
I drove it up the road, hating almost everything about it: the lack of noise and throttle response in particular. When I said as much to Coates he simply said, “Thought so” and the car was never seen again.
But from that day to this I have wondered what a Seven might be like not with a turbo, but a supercharger.
I need wonder no more, for the supercharged 311bhp, 549kg Caterham 620R is now a reality.
To all intents and purposes, it is a racing car to which the minimum possible has been done to make it both legal and viable for the public road. It even retains the sequential gearbox of the race version from which it is derived.
For years I have been fearing that Caterham would finally push the Seven further than it cared to go and I really thought this would be it. It wasn’t the power I thought might make the car undriveable, but the torque provided by the supercharger. But it’s not: in fact it’s really rather easy.
I’ll qualify that because at first even quite experienced drivers would be forgiven for being terrified. Unless you are familiar with quite serious racing cars, the acceleration is likely to be an alien and quite off-putting experience. There’s no time to savour the forces it applies to your body – you’re too busy throwing gears at it, managing the traction and making sure you don’t miss braking points. But as you acclimatise, so the fog clears and you become able to focus on what the car is doing.
Which is actually not very much. For all its potential, the 620R is just like every other Caterham and a fundamentally stable, faithful companion. With that much power it will go very sideways if that’s what you want, but it’s not a natural state for the car in the same way as it is for, say, a Toyota GT86. Instead it wants to understeer just a little as you turn in and then adopt a neutral to very mildly oversteering stance on the way out. For a track day car, I’d not have it any other way. Moreover, the car is so accurate you soon realise the additional brain power you need to allocate simply to coping with the speed of the thing is more than offset by its ability never to stray off line and wobble onto a part of the track you’d not intended to use.
I found the 620R utterly invigorating and entirely convincing.
If it has a problem it is that at £49,995, it is almost twice the price of a Supersport Seven whose modest 140bhp is no bar at all to enjoyment on road or track, whether driven fast or slow. By contrast, the only point of the 620R is to drive it as fast as you possibly can on a track. Do that and for the money I think it uniquely appealing. But if you want a Seven for the simple joy of driving anywhere, save yourself a small fortune and buy a Supersport instead.