The Mini and Fiat 500 may have made a name for themselves with their retro styling inside and out, but while these machines have become ever bigger and more sophisticated, the Caterham Seven has barely changed since the 1970s.
And the reason for that is simple. The Seven is sold on its back-to-basics, lightweight format, which maximises the sheer thrills you can get in a relatively inexpensive package. It does without the high tech kit that more recent sports cars get, but what this means is that it remains as light as ever, but with modern engines that pump out ever more power, making it more even exhilarating to drive.
What is it?
The Caterham Seven is a true sports car that puts driving thrills above everything else. Tipping the scales at just 540kg, the Seven 270S we’ve tested weighs in at about half your average supermini, albeit with much more power on tap.
Caterham now offers six versions of the iconic Seven boasting between 80bhp and 310bhp. With 135bhp on tap, the 270 is the second bottom rung in the Seven range. Despite this, it is still more than fast enough for most buyers, with it catapulting drivers and one passenger to 62mph in a scant 5.0 seconds.
Buyers can also choose between road-focused S versions (like the model we’ve tested) – which include leather seats, a heater, 12V socket, full windscreen, doors and roof or more hardcore track-focused R models.
What is it like to drive?
The Seven 270S is raucous, bumpy, rough and has one of the most tricky clutches to balance of any brand new car on the market – especially when the engine is cold. Even convincing the immobiliser to let you start the car is a challenge, with drivers having to wave around the immobilser fob numerous times just to be able to coax the engine into life.
Once started, pulling off without stalling or making enormous kangaroo hops is similarly difficult. Thankfully, it does become much easier to drive once the engine – a tuned version of a unit typically found in the Ford Focus – has warmed up. But the reason for this becomes clear when you find a tight, twisty road. The engine, clutch, steering and gearchange are all hugely sharp, letting you really drive the Seven in a manner unlike any modern car.
With a long flat bonnet, wheels that you can watch turning in front of you and a near vertical windscreen, driving the Seven is a unique experience. Thanks to its light weight it is rapid to respond to jabs on the throttle while it devours corners, at practically any speed. The engine pumps out plenty of volume, added to by the exhaust mounted on the side of the car. The 270 engine doesn’t make the most pleasant noise, however, sounding more industrial than sporty.
Meanwhile, the brakes are sharp and the ride firm but comfortable enough. Get stuck in any traffic though and it will take all your clutch control skills to avoid stalling or launching the Caterham into the car in front.
What is it like inside?
There isn’t much inside the Seven; just two seats, a large transmission tunnel with a short-throw gearstick mounted on it and a vertical dash with a line of dials strewn across it. The seats are snug and mounted very low, making clambering into the car very tricky – especially with the roof on.
Our test car had a very small steering wheel that was incredibly direct when negotiating corners but obscured plenty of the dials. Opt for the standard chassis and anyone over five foot 10 will feel cramped, while anyone under five foot 10 might not be able to reach the pedals in the larger, wider SV chassis.
Is it practical?
No. With a hard-to-access cabin, seats that only move a short distance forwards and back and a tiny boot that is partly obscured by the roll cage, there is nothing practical about the Seven, even in larger SV form.
Refinement levels are low making the Seven unsuitable for longer journeys, unless you’re happy to put up with a noisy drone from the engine and plenty of wind noise around the windscreen.
Should I buy one?
The Caterham Seven is extremely engaging to drive, but in 270 form the clutch and engine make it an acquired taste. We’ve previously driven the entry-level three-cylinder 160 model, which had a much more manageable clutch, a sweeter crisp sounding motor and even more hyperactive handling, making it dart around corners like a fly.
However, if you’re happy putting up with the clutch and engine in exchange for rapid acceleration, racecar handling and a truly dramatic driving experience, the Seven 270 could be just what you’re looking for.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Caterham Seven in our classifieds here.
Caterham Seven 270S
List price: £25,495
Engine: 1.6-litre, four cylinder petrol
Top speed: 122mph
0-62mph: 5.0 seconds
Fuel economy: NA
Euro NCAP rating: Not yet tested