Caterham Seven 420R
We got behind the wheel of the Caterham Seven 420R to find out just what it’s like living with this track-ready car on the roads in the summer.
What is the Caterham Seven 420R all About?
Here we are testing the latest Caterham Seven 420R. The numbers stand for (roughly) the amount of bhp-per-ton, and each model only weighs around 560 kg. You are able to purchase most of these cars in S or R packs. Here we have the R Pack fitted at the cost of £4,495 which adds a lot of extras for the track-focused driver. These include a limited-slip differential, a lightweight flywheel, a Momo steering wheel, 4-point race harnesses and importantly an uprated brake master cylinder. Other options fitted to the car are the track suspension pack and Appolo alloy wheels with Avon ZZS tyres.
The Caterham Seven 420R is built from the ground up to be a super lightweight car, and contains no equipment that isn’t essential for driving. So you get no air conditioning, car radio or even a clock.
The 420R is currently the most powerful naturally-aspirated using a 2.0-litre engine. It creates 210 bhp and 203 Nm of torque. The power goes to the rear wheels using a 6-speed manual gearbox. This makes the 0-62 mph time around 3.8 seconds, topping out at 136 mph. The power per tonne translates to 375 bhp-per-tonne. On paper, these figures sound impressive, but they don’t give a real idea of the performance, as it feels much faster in real life.
How Does it Drive?
Whereas with most vehicles, you can get in and drive off in seconds, the Seven takes a little longer to get moving. With our test model here, I needed to insert the red electric kill switch on the side, remove the steering wheel, prepare the harness so I didn’t sit on the straps, get in, do up the harness, put the steering wheel back on, put the key in the ignition, disable the immobiliser and then hit the start button. All of this takes time. But it’s worth it as this is no average vehicle, it is a beautiful race car.
Once you get moving, the first thing you will notice is how lightweight the Caterham Seven 420R is. Whatever gear you are in, it accelerates rapidly. At first, I put extra time and effort into finding out how the car acts, before opening it up. The driving experience is so raw that everything is communicated through the steering wheel, pedals and chair. In fact, you can actually see your front two wheels, so you get visual feedback too. It took me a day or two to get a feel for the car’s grip levels and to drive as enthusiastically as expected for this type of vehicle.
When behind the wheel and driving spiritedly, there was lots to enjoy. The first time I opened the vehicle up for some off the line acceleration, it was extraordinary. So much so that the memory has seared itself into my brain. From a standing start, the car rushed forward with lightning speed and a beautiful engine note. All I could think was, “This isn’t even the fastest version!”. Remember Caterham also offer a 620R that has an addition 100bhp compared to this model.
When you start to reach the top of the rev range, the vehicle has a sequential shift light system. This clearly identifies the best point to move up to the next gear, without having to take your eyes off the road. When you grab that next gear, the clutch and gear stick movement is perfectly executed. In your head, you will really believe that you can see all the mechanics moving because of the sensations you can feel from these controls.
The gears in the Caterham Seven 420R feel like they are in close ratio, but they each rev up to around 7,600 rpm, so serious speeds can be achieved even in the lower gears. When accelerating, you feel like you are ripping through the gears and it is such a pleasurable experience. You sit in the car with the exhaust system just to your right, so it’s almost aligned with your ear. The sound is incredibly loud at high rpm and the little rasps that you get when shifting gears are a treat to behold.
Handling is what Caterham Sevens are most famous for. With the huge focus on optimising the vehicles for lightness, this makes smooth handling a lot easier. When driving, the steering wheel weight is perfectly balanced, without assistance systems disrupting the process. Driving on twisty roads has a very addictive feel: as soon as you have exited one corner, you want to be in the next one. Cornering is made easy using the small but precise Momo steering wheel. The way the car can change direction is fantastic, it always goes as indicated and is so rewarding to drive.
The suspension in the Caterham Seven 420R is tough and this car has the additional track suspension setup, so you have to be committed to a firm ride if you choose this option. The car grips the ground nicely, corners well and ensures you have lots of grip. But obstacles such as speed bumps, potholes and road debris may cause some discomfort as expected.
The vehicle’s full windscreen protects you from hazards when driving. The doors can be removed to enhance sideways visibility, if you prefer. But you will lose your wing mirror at the same time. The doors are surprisingly good at managing the wind around the driver. Even though I’m 6’4, the wind inside the car caused me no problems whatsoever.
What is it Like Inside?
The inside of the Caterham Seven 420R is lightweight and functional. There are no comforts or luxuries, as they will slow you down. To see how light some of the components are, take a close look at the picture below. The switch at the left of the red start button is a simple rocker switch, instead of a typical indicator stalk.
This model’s accessories include: carbon seats, an Alcantara dashboard and the Momo steering wheel. Each of these options gives the Caterham Seven 420R the ultimate race car look. The other features are practical with dials and switches covering the basic functions.
Even though I’m very tall, I managed to fit into the correct driving position for this car, which is great considering its size. I have had problems in much larger vehicles previously. I would recommend that you wear a small pair of trainers for driving, though as the pedals are quite close together.
There is no other way to describe the Caterham Seven 420R other than truly thrilling. Its performance is exciting and electrifying. From my testing, I can say that this model does not disappoint. Every journey you take in this vehicle will be a memorable one. It will keep you fully aware and excited wherever you take it.
At £47,320 for this model, it is a significant outlay for a vehicle with no comforts. But what you are getting is a no-compromise track car with outstanding speed and agility. This is the purest road-going track toy that you can buy. Just having a taste of what a Caterham Seven can do will get you hooked on these cars.
The 420R is a hardcore beast that is perfect for the more developed driver to enjoy. Some people may want a less aggressive car, though, so Caterham offer a range of models: 160, 270, 360, 420 and 620. So the chances are, there is a vehicle available to meet your needs.
Caterham Seven 420R Specs
- Price: £ 47,320 as tested
- Engine: 2.0-litre
- Power: 210bhp
- Torque: 203Nm
- Transmission: 6-Speed Manual RWD
- 0-62mph: 3.8 Seconds
- Top speed: 136mph
- Weight: 560kg
Author: Paul Hadley