Cars don’t come much more old school than the 2014 Caterham Seven 160. It’s based on a design that was launched in 1957, albeit updated with modern running gear.
In this new entry-level model that running gear consists of a 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder Suzuki engine that drives the rear wheels though a five-speed manual gearbox.
Power is a mere 80bhp and there’s only 79lb ft of torque, so you may wonder how the Seven 160 can get out of its own way. Well, being only 499kg certainly helps.
However, outright performance is not the ethos of the Seven 160; sheer entertainment is, and boy is it fun – on the right road.
What’s the 2014 Caterham Seven 160 like to drive?
The Seven 160 is properly brisk – up to about 60mph, after which it’s fair to say the rate of acceleration tails off a bit. Well, quite a lot actually.
No matter, this model is all about having twice as much fun at half the speed, so the real joy is to be had snicking the tiny gearlever up and down through the gearbox at speeds below the national limit, listening to the tiny engine’s offbeat blare through the side-exit exhaust.
The car’s natural territory is the twisting, undulating B-road that’s off the beaten track. This is where it revels in briefs blats of acceleration, a dab on the brakes before it dives for the perfect line through corners and then another burst of acceleration. It’s a car that thrives on momentum, that loves to be driven on the throttle, like truly nimble cars do.
The steering is super-sharp, requiring only the merest hint of movement to make the car change direction. There’s loads of feedback too, so you’re acutely aware of exactly how well the skinny front tyres are faring as they bob up and down in the periphery of your vision. It is, frankly, epic.
However, before you can enjoy the unquestionable delights of that traffic-free backroad you’ve got to get to the start of it, and here the Seven 160 is less at home.
As we’ve mentioned, around the national limit the Seven 160 doesn’t so much accelerate as gradually gain pace, and at 70mph that little engine is doing well north of 4000rpm. The steering becomes a little… wandery at that speed, too.
The motorway is a long way from being its natural habitat, then – and so is the city.
The steering is a bit heavy at low speeds, and the tiny pedals make stop-start stuff a real exercise in delicate footwork; you constantly wonder if you should have worn smaller shoes.
All-round visibility is excellent. However, because you're so low, you can’t see around or through the traffic about you, and you’re always aware of the car's tiny dimensions.
What’s the 2014 Caterham Seven 160 like inside?
Let’s just say it has everything you need, but not everything you’d want.
There are a couple of sports seats, a couple of seatbelts, a steering wheel, a smattering of dials and switches, a handbrake and a heater. That really is it.
It appears that people really were smaller back in the ’50s, because you do need to be a bit of a snake-hips to fit into the Seven. Still, once you’re in there you’re held securely, and the sports seats are actually reasonably supportive in the right areas.
However, if you fancy one of those modern luxuries, such as carpet? That’ll be extra.
Not so keen on the Biggles look? You’ll need to shell out some extra if you want to ditch the goggles because the Seven 160 comes with only an aero screen as standard.
Should I buy one?
As a thing to drive, there really is nothing like it. As a thing to live with, however, there really is nothing like it.
For a start, the £14,995 price applies to the Seven 160 in kit form. If you want to have the car built by the factory the price rises to £17,995. Mind you, that’s still a bargain for the sheer fun you can have. It’s also money well spent for the peace of mind you get from the car being properly put together.
Nonetheless, the car is basic in the extreme. You’ll have to shell out an extra £1250 if you want a windscreen, hood, and doors. As standard the car comes with an unpainted body and coloured panels, so you’ll need to shell out for paint. Safety provisions also leave a lot to be desired.
Still, keep your Seven 160 in the garage and use it on the occasional sunny weekend and it’ll be great fun – and it'll hold on to its value like few modern cars.
Caterham also appears to have hit the nail on the head by taking the car back to basics and putting a tiny engine in it. The fun engendered by using all of a car’s potential at entirely sane speeds is not to be under-estimated.
Add in the 160's ability to do an average of 57.6mpg and emit just 114g/km of CO2 and it suddenly looks like the perfect Caterham for the road.
In fact, the way the Seven 160 gives you so much more enjoyment, but demanding less of your wallet and the environment isn’t really very old school at all. Surely that’s what we’re going to expect our sports cars of the future to do?
What Car? says...
Caterham Seven 160
Engine size 0.6-litre turbo petrol
Price from £14,995
Torque 79lb ft
Top speed 100mph
Fuel economy 57.6mpg