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First Drive: Caterham Superlight R400. Image by Max Earey.

First Drive: Caterham Superlight R400
Superlight, superfast, super intense. Driving really doesn't get any more thrilling than the latest R400 Caterham.

   



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| First Drive | Kent and Surrey, England | Caterham Superlight R400 |

It's been a while since we've driven a Caterham and the same old thing happened: a tense meeting was followed by a period of contemplation and the rest of the time absolutely revelling in it. If you like driving then you'll like Caterhams. And the Superlight R400 is one of the very best.

In the Metal

There's not much of it. The average Caterham weighs well under half that of a conventional car - even a light one. Porsche's 911 GT3 RS - the lightweight one remember - tips the scales at 1,370kg. A porker indeed... The Caterham Superlight R400 is just 515kg. It looks pretty much like every Caterham 7 and Lotus 7 before it, with time only resulting in wider tyres and more modern lights and fittings. It's a pared to the bone reminder that modern cars are bloated, over-complicated and blunt.

Inside, it's basic, with a simple carbon-fibre dashboard containing nothing superfluous. The seats have no padding, but you're squeezed in so tightly (at least my large frame was) that you're not going to slide about. The racing seatbelts anchor you into the car, and remind you of Caterham's motorsports heritage. Simple then, but what's it they say about simple pleasures?

What you get for your Money

You're paying for a stiff, lightweight chassis, the bare minimum of bodywork (the windscreen being optional on the Superlight R400), no carpets, lightweight composite seats, four wheels and some track-orientated Avon tyres. Powering that lot along is a 210bhp 2.0-litre engine, operated by three pedals, with the six-speed gearbox driving the rear wheels via a limited slip differential. Steering is via by a tiny removable Momo steering wheel - or your right foot. It's all you need.

Driving it

You don't just get in the R400 and drive away. You adjust the four-point seatbelts first, remove the steering wheel and, if your feet are on the larger side, remove your shoes. Only then do you get in, sliding your feet down into the footwell with much the same action you do in a single seater race car. Wriggle around, find those belts and strap in. There's no key, just an immobiliser fob that needs to sit next to a sensor. Press the start button and the 2.0-litre Ford-sourced 210bhp engine fires up.

It's pretty shocking when this happens for the first time, the Superlight's entire structure fizzing with vibration, while the silence is breached by a purposeful mechanical sound. A blip of the throttle does little to smooth it out, the revs flaring quickly and with angry intensity. Snick the gearlever into first, ease off the clutch and tickle the accelerator to get going.

On the move the view out is unique, the front wheels bobbing up and down as the suspension works, every twist of the steering wheel visibly translated ahead of you. It's all part of the Caterham's appeal, whether you're negotiating traffic or on a clear open road.

Finding the latter, the R400 exhibits its ridiculous pace. Pin the accelerator in first and the tyres squirm as the entire car wriggles around as you feel it down the road. It all happens so quickly you don't have time to think about what's happening; you instinctively direct the Superlight on the correct course. Get it right and 60mph arrives in 3.8 seconds, each reach for the redline and wrist-flick swapped cog rewarded with ever increasing pace. The steering is sublime: it's quick, perfectly weighted and rich in feel. The close pedals beg for quick work, the firm brake and perfectly positioned accelerator allowing barking heel-and-toe downshifts.

Every movement is felt, every nuance of grip, the Superlight's responses so faithful, so rich in texture that you can lean on it with ever increasing confidence. It rewards smoothness too; the speed it can carry through bends limited only by concern for your licence. It'll relinquish its grip whenever you want it to, a mere tap of the accelerator allowing easily controlled power oversteer at will. Fun? There's nothing quite like it.

Worth Noting

Take a good wind- and waterproof jacket and leave the doors behind. They only get in the way, and the mirrors on them do little but shake with the vibration from the engine. It gets windy, especially at motorway speeds, but it's all part of the experience.

Summary

If there's a more intense, more exploitable or more feelsome car out there then we've yet to drive it. The Caterham Superlight R400 is about as pure a hit of motoring adrenaline you can have on the road. It compromises nothing in its pursuit of purist driving. The only issue is the price, as the Superlight R400 starts at 35,600 fully built (you can save 3,000 by building it yourself). That's a lot for something that's essentially a toy, but still a price that we'd pay if we had the means.

Kyle Fortune - 27 Aug 2010



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2010 Caterham Superlight R400 specifications:
Price: 33,600 on-the-road
0-60mph: 3.8 seconds
Top speed: 140mph
Kerb weight: 515kg

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.



2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.
 

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.
 

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.
 

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.
 

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.
 

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.
 

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.
 

2010 Caterham R400 Superlight. Image by Max Earey.
 






 

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