First Drives

04 December 2012

First drive: Caterham Supersport R

If the barmy R500 is too much, here’s just the right amount of open-top lunacy... Dan Read reports

Dan Read
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What do we have here?

A semi-hardcore Seven, which essentially replaces the R300 at the fast end of the Caterham showroom.

It's getting busy in that showroom.

The regular Supersport lives somewhere in the middle of the range, between the soft-ish Roadsports and barmy R500. This R version uses the Supersport's bespoke racy dampers, but ditches the 140bhp 1.6-litre Sigma engine for a 180bhp 2-litre Duratec.

So it's quick, then?

Maths tells us that 180bhp and 535kg equals 336bhp per tonne, which more than a Porsche 911 Turbo. Zero to 100kph takes 4.8 seconds, so it's brisk, but not silly, and just 0.1 seconds quicker than the regular Supersport. But those are pub stats. What really matters is the extra meat you get from the Duratec at, say, 60kph to 100kph. No waiting around for turbochargers, no deep breath while it gathers its thoughts. Just press throttle, enjoy results.

So it's a muzzled R500?

Sort of. Thanks to the firm suspension it's a bit of a handful on bumpy roads, but push your luck and it'll give you decent warning before sending you towards a hedge. It has a limited slip diff, which helps to trim corners into neat lines. And the rear tyres are just 175mm wide, so they're more playful than really fat and grippy ones. Put it this way: where the R500 might bite your ears off without hesitation, this thing would stop at a gentle nibble.

Is it comfy?

Not really. If you want squishy seats and a radio, get a Roadsport. Otherwise, prepare for thin seats and a stiff ride on your way to the circuit, which - of course - is where most R buyers will be going. But it still comes with an optional, removable weather pack, including a roof, flappy doors and windscreen to bat away bees. So it takes a bit of commitment, but it's not as masochistic as less roofy rivals like a Radical.

What's the damage then?

If you are James May it will cost just for the parts, and you will build it yourself. Otherwise it's more if you'd like Caterham to make it for you. It's more expensive than a basic Supersport, but still cheaper than the R300, which had lashings of mostly unnecessary carbon fibre.

So?

The Supersport R is probably the pick of the Caterham range. It's not too bare. It's not too hard. It's not too fast. But it is amusing, and very satisfying, which is how we felt about the R300. Some will crave a more eye-popping experience, but there's always the R500 or Ariel Atom for that. Just one big niggle: the gearing of the 5-speed 'box might struggle on some longer, faster circuits. You can have a six-speeder fitted, but that pushes the price. Best stick to this one because, for this money, and at this weight and power, it's about as honest as it gets.

Specs: 2-litre, 4-cyl, 180bhp, 194Nm, 0-100kph 4.8seconds, 210kph

Rating: 8/10

Tags: caterham, r500, supersport, supersport r

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