Although the thermal car is still far from dead, there is a market segment that is simply disappearing from manufacturers’ catalogs in Europe: that of small, affordable thermal sports cars.
Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio and Mégane RS, malus assommants sur les Toyota GR86 et Honda Civic Type R, les jours des “GTI” sont comptés, faute de vraie solution d’électrification qui ne bride ni le behavior, ni les sensations, ni the performances. Until then, the only small sports car on the market exempt from penalties was the Suzuki Swift Sport and, again, its emissions limit was only due to the use of microhybridization. Furthermore, over the next year, due to greater severity in this matter, you will lose this favorable regime, with a penalty that will be around one hundred euros.
Is there, therefore, a long-term possibility of continuing to drive a small thermal sports car without emitting too much CO2? For this you have to look carefully. And inevitably the name Caterham comes up. The small English craftsman, who this year celebrates his 50th anniversary, continues to tirelessly manufacture a legendary model dating back to 1957, the Lotus Seven.
The key to lightness
This car, considered one of the greatest sports cars of all time, was designed by legendary British automotive engineer Colin Chapman. Its two basic ideas offer the possibility for modest drivers to try the true pleasures of sportiness, the lightness and simplicity of the car being the key. This last principle was established for him as a true motto: “The Light is the Right.”
After four generations of the Seven, Lotus stopped production to dedicate itself to new models. But its main distributor in England, Caterham Cars, which already insures part of its assembly, inherits the patents, the machines and the authorization from Lotus to continue manufacturing the model. Therefore, the Caterham Super Seven takes over… until today. This unique model has become a truly reduced range, with more or less stripped down, more or less sporty versions of the competition models. But Caterham has always wanted to have in its catalog a basic, simple and efficient model as its creator Colin Chapman wanted, and which inherits its identity as a typical small, old-fashioned English roadster.
The strong point: a small retro gem.
That is why the 600 of 2023 differs very little from the original Lotus Seven. The same tiny size (3.1 meters long, 1.57 meters wide and 1 meter high), which allows you to pass under toll and parking barriers, the same chassis, the same bodywork, the same British charm with its round chrome headlights, its long tapered hood, its long fenders and its rear spare wheel. A recognizable silhouette among thousands, which provokes sympathy, smiles, requests for photos and thumbs up wherever we go. A true “car of happiness”.
The adventure begins without even starting the engine. Trying to climb inside. Especially when putting the top on (particularly difficult to put on as it’s obviously not electric). Right leg first, transfer it over your head, lift your left leg and finally get into the driver’s seat by sliding your legs forward. A true gymnastic exercise that guarantees lots of laughs.
But once well installed and truly wrapped up in the interior of this Gentleman Driver, we discovered a certainly bare interior (some dials with needles and buttons) but with a surprisingly good level of finish, with a clear dashboard, a Tiny Motolita steering wheel (with a antique ornament that matches perfectly with the car), as well as the gear lever with chrome ball.
Unique driving experience
Once the ignition is on, you will need to press the Home button. The Caterham 600 chugs happily with a funny sound. If the brand has used a multitude of different engines to equip its models (mainly Ford and Rover), they have always been naturally aspirated and 4-cylinder.
There, the 600 changes its situation and opts for a very small city car engine, a 660 cm3 turbo Suzuki. Hence a rather unusual melody transmitted by the side exhaust installed on the left side of the car (be careful not to burn yourself after a long trip by accidentally touching it).
Some brand loyalists may regret the choice of this engine, which is a little different from the original concept. On the contrary, it makes it possible to further lighten the Super Seven, which weighs only 440 kilos, that is, half that of a Mazda MX-5, a famous convertible but known for its lightness. And with such specifications, suffice it to say that the engine’s power, which may seem light for a sports car (84 horsepower), has no problem moving this tiny, light car forward, and brilliantly. And, above all, with only 109 grams of CO2 per kilometer, the Caterham 600 is neutral in ecological penalty.
The adventure continues and intensifies on the road, with a car that in the end is not so uncomfortable, a car with which you become completely one, with all your senses alert. Lots of noise, clicking, a perky engine that sounds (relatively speaking) like a Porsche flat 6, the turbo blows hard and breathes with a strange hissing noise. The steering remains hard because it is not assisted, a gearbox that requires a lot of grip and pedals that do not tolerate large feet at the risk of getting confused.
Full of emotions
But what an incomparable feeling to be sitting against the rear axle, at ground level with your hand touching the asphalt, and that sensation of a car that obeys your commands with your fingers and eyes, with a very balanced front axle, a impeccable and perfect traction. .
And the 600 finally pushes hard, the sensations are multiplied by ten due to the small size of the car, its lightness and its nervousness. Accelerations may seem modest on paper, but believe me, 7 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h in a Caterham seems like half that in reality, especially with the bonnet and doors folded, with an engine that growls happily and accelerates very quickly . And even riding calmly in ride mode is an experience that completely changes your daily life. A renewal of the automobile, which recalls the benefits of lightness and simplicity. And this is perhaps also a lesson for the entire car industry, which continues to produce increasingly heavier and more energy-consuming vehicles, taking us further away from the road and from the very essence of the idea of efficient car travel. .
The bad: really very spartan
So yes, the experience is brutal. The Super Seven 600 is full of flaws that will put off everyday car enthusiasts. Only two seats, very narrow, rudimentary equipment, very relative comfort, no practicality, baroque ergonomics, a “trunk” that will only contain a backpack (and even almost nothing if you travel with a hood and doors stored inside), constant surveillance is necessary (many drivers will not see you in the rearview mirror), the limited autonomy (consumption of 8 liters per 100 kilometers for a 25-liter tank) and the impression of sometimes being exposed to the furious elements (one server is a week of proof). took place in the middle of Storm Denise).
But at what price?
This rustic and muscular experience also has a high price: 44,643 euros, but therefore without penalty. But in the end, the “Caterham effect” is truly surprising. Exciting in the moment and full of lessons when you return to your everyday car. You feel much better about the controls, the road, you are glad for a little more comfort, but with the memory of having previously been behind the wheel of a car that in the end will have taught you everything again.
With its 600, Caterham transports us with delight to the automotive sensations of yesteryear, with all the charm that this implies, but also all the relevance of the search for simplicity. At the heart of an automobile industry that, in the coming years, will constantly seek weight and volume to limit its environmental impact, Caterham offers a surprising reflection on lightness and efficiency. An unforgettable car from any point of view. And we are even more eagerly awaiting the electric version (in development).
Our test model: Caterham Super Seven 600 at a price of 44,643 euros
Source: BFM TV