Piers Ward 21 August 2013

First drive: the new Caterham 620 R

We’ve had a go in the looniest Seven yet. How does 0-60 in 2.8 seconds grab you?

What is it?

The most lunatic and fastest Seven that Caterham has ever produced for the road. This, from a company that's hardly been known for producing sensible cars in the past, is saying something.

The 620 R is designed to supercede the already bonkers R500, which will continue to be sold. And don't forget that the 500 was the fastest car around the TG track for a while...

 

I need figures. Tell me the numbers!

These are certainly impressive. 310bhp, 219lb ft, 2.0-litre supercharged Ford engine, 549kg, 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds.

Obviously it's that last one that stands out. And, as ever, the data doesn't do the sensation justice. The way the 620 R puts on speed, and then simply adds more and more, is extraordinary. It's constant and brutal - every single sense is bombarded with a battery assault we never thought possible. Your ears buzz, your eyes flicker, everything struggling to take in all the warp-speed scenery flashing past. It's almost too much for the brain to process.

And because there's a sequential gearbox, with flat up-shifts, the power never stops. Right foot hard down, don't lift, no need to dip the clutch, yank hard on the gearstick - the power delivery is seamless. It's an unbroken frenzy, delivering you and the 620 R towards the horizon with a terrifying zeal.

There isn't a manual?

Nope, it's a sequential six-speed gearbox with a brilliantly mechanical push-pull action. Talk about visceral - not only can you feel the cogs clacking into place, but you can actually hear them as well. It's not exactly refined, but who cares? We'd much rather have this set-up than some anonymous flappy-paddle arrangement. You feel attached to the car, to the whole process of its workings.

But is any of this honestly workable on the road?

Surprisingly, yes. Because of the supercharger, the 620 R's powertrain is quite manageable on the public highway, even at low speeds, because the power delivery is so smooth. It's definitely not as peaky as mental Caterhams of yore.

Of course, when it comes to handling, it will still bite. Full throttle acceleration on anything but the smoothest road requires a lot of concentration. Things could get very crashy very quickly.

So we're guessing you recommend it?

Oh yes. Despite being a toy, and anexpensive one at that (£49,995), there are few things on earth capable of delivering sensations like the 620 R can.

Apart from the Ariel Atom?

Ah yes. The fast, lightweight elephant in the room. Because the supercharged Atom, with the same 0-60mph time, comes in at £37,500 - cheaper by some margin. Both offer the same driving experience, but the Caterham gets slightly more weather protection and that sequential ‘box - you choose your priority.

One final question - why "620 R"?

The number is all to do with the horsepower - 620 is 310 doubled. Nothing more scientific than that, we're afraid. The R in the name is more interesting. This is the hardcore version, and R stands for Race. It's still street legal, but we've heard there will be an S version later in the year that could be more road-focused and slightly softer. But probably equally as unhinged. God help us all.

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