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Ah, car-that-looks-like-a-Caterham-but-isn’t, right?
Correct, it’s a Westfield, and if you live outside the UK the chances are you’ll never have heard of it. No-one this side of the lawyers involved quite knows the ins and outs of what occurred when Colin Chapman sold the rights to the Lotus Seven to Caterham, but Westfield build something very similar, as do Donkervoort in the Netherlands.
Hang on, I think I do know Westfield.
That must be because you’re old enough to remember the SEiGHT. Yep, until 2010 Westfield would sell you this body with a V8 engine in it. It was a mad, mad thing. Usually a Rover V8 with loads of lumpy torque so you could still pull away in third and rinse everything.
But that was then. Let’s have a look at what we have now.
For the most part you already know what you’re looking at – it’s a lightweight rear-wheel drive roadster with naff all weather protection that requires you to wear driving boots to operate properly.
Actually that’s not totally fair – I’d swear there’s more room in the footwell here than in your average Caterham. Anyway, the five speed manual gearbox and diff come from a Mazda MX-5, while the motor itself is out of a Ford Focus ST. So, a turbocharged four cylinder with 252bhp at 5500rpm and a chunky 270lb ft at 2500rpm.
So a parts sharing special?
Nothing new there – it’s how almost all lightweight sports cars are constructed. The more you pay, the more exotic a place the components come from, that’s all.
How much do you have to pay for this?
£29,745. Or £25,999 if you’re prepared to build it yourself.
That’s a proper amount of cash isn’t it?
It is. Especially for a car that – how to be kind? – isn’t the prettiest thing we’ve seen in a while. The fibreglass bodywork is very kit car and doesn’t look as cohesive and sharp as a Caterham, and the roll cage stands up too high over the rear deck. I do like the digital dash though, the seats aren’t bad and the LED headlights give it a hint of something a bit more modern. But it’s all a bit disparate, and doesn’t gel together stylistically.
That’s not the point! Come on, it’s all about the driving…
Ah, well, yes it is, but I’ve been trying to avoid that.
What on earth for?
It’s not very good. I tell you something that is good: the roof. It might be open at the back – and most of the sides truth be told – but it’s much quicker to attach than a Caterham’s and doesn’t flap…
Stop. Rewind. The driving, please.
Umm, have I told you about the mirrors? It’s got proper side mirrors, but they’re fixed to the A-pillars, so you can’t open the doors. Less vibration, but for reasons of turbulence you want the doors…
You’re testing my patience now.
…attached. The engine’s not bad.
They’ve done a good job of smoothing out low rev tractability. Many lightweights are so highly tuned they cough and hiccup around town, but the Westfield doesn’t suffer that way. The gearchange is also light and easy. Well, it was until the gearlever came off.
OK, I’ll run with it. Any other faults?
One of the door hinges fell out. The brakes juddered badly, but I suspect that’s due to previous (ab)use rather than anything more ingrained. The pin dropping out of the hinge was irritating, as the door was only held on by one slender pin and the strap that holds it closed. Build quality was not its forte.
And nor was driving, apparently. Spit it out.
It’s too soft for a car of this power. As it came to us – sticky R888 Toyo Proxes, 252bhp of easy access twist - I expected it to have sharp reactions so I could keep on top of it. Instead the suspension is languid.
Now, if you’re driving it smoothly on smooth roads, this is OK – the roll builds up and you get some indication of how hard the car is working. But when the road is bumpy (and when is it ever anything else in the UK?), this is not a happy combination.
It’s easy enough to feed the power in smoothly, but you don’t want to overdo it because if it does snap out on you, you’re unlikely to catch it. The suspension will still be reacting to the previous bump, you adding new input to the steering or brakes will only exacerbate the issue. Put simply, the car can’t keep up with the performance it’s capable of generating.
But surely this is a matter of spring/damper settings. An easy fix.
I’m inclined to agree, but I can only report on what I drove. And something tells me it’s a little more involved than that. Despite the sticky tyres, I never had complete trust in the steering – it didn’t communicate clearly enough and was snatchy at the limit. I’ve spent enough time at Lotus to know this is something you can cure with damper shims, but it’s not something Westfield has managed to achieve yet.
Rebound control needs improving, because at the moment the Sport 250 feels jouncy, so you find yourself constantly correcting the steering to compensate for the way it’s been sent off line by whatever bump it hit back there. This makes it tiring and tricksy.
A dynamic disaster area then?
No. I think much of it is solvable, but perhaps only by following the Caterham template and making it harder, sharper, more agile. Which is probably the very thing Westfield is trying to avoid with this car, to give them a bit of space around their rivals.
But the money is silly. I can’t see £30,000 worth of value in this – and that’s before options, which on this car include £380 for the carbon front wings, £495 for the digital dash, £350 for the Sport Turbo seats, £782 for the hood and side screen kit, £218 for the harnesses…
Sum it up for me.
The clumsy Caterham.