Caterham Seven Superlight 150 long-term test review

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Long-term test update – 28 April 2009

Bike versus car you say? CAR’s Caterham Seven versus a Yamaha R6?

The difference is huge, even with a car as extreme and stripped-down as the Caterham. That gulf is down to feel. On the edge, on cool, wet roads, riding the bike is about treading the fine line between slip and grip. Every small input has an effect on the bike’s attitude. A hint of throttle changes line and lean and you use your whole body to second-guess traction, trying to pre-empt the moment that it starts to ebb or the front starts to fold. It is engaging and with no real margin for error, a serious business.

With the car things are somewhat easier. A natural slow-speed understeerer, a stab of throttle teases the back around. Predictable – and compared with trying to recover a moment on a bike, manageable. And that’s the main difference between the two. Riding a bike fast is about taking it up to the point when it loses grip, driving the car quickly seems to be about managing it after the point it begins to slide. Two very different disciplines. But there is no getting away from the fact that the car that carries more corner speed.

There isn’t the communication you get with a bike. Compared to my shopping car, the steering and chassis tells you everything, but compared to the bike it is numb. The R6’s bars are almost directly connected to the contact patch, but some of what is happening at the Superlight’s front wheels is inevitably lost in translation thanks to the suspension bushes, steering rack and their combined mechanical tolerances. To say you feel detached is insane – just that a bike involves you even more.

Of course, when it comes to speed the bike wins. It has a measured 113bhp at the back wheel and tips our scales at 197kg fully fuelled. Caterham claim 515kg and 150bhp at the crank. The R6 can hit 60mph in 3.3 seconds, the Catherham takes a still-impressive 4.7. Close, but in still conditions the R6 records 162mph. The Caterham does 125mph.

But this makes it all sound more clear-cut than it is in real life. The Caterham’s performance is easy to exploit and on the right road, in the right frame of mind, I suspect it could keep the R6 in sight. At least until you get to the next straight…

By Matt Wildee, features editor on Performance Bikes (photography by Rory Game)



Total Mileage

 7407 (arrived with 3670)

Overall MPG


Claimed MPG

 n/a mpg

Fuels costs


Other costs



 Letting the Caterham wake me up on the way to work


 Waking up to a Caterham on a cold and frosty morning



Previous reports

28 April 2009 Seven v R6
9 February 2009 Snow!
19 January 2009 A cold morning
31 October 2008 Washing the Caterham
22 September 2008 A Touran takes over from the Seven
17 September 2008 Lotus is Sixty
1 September 2008 Back to Durham
14 August 2008 The Le Mans road trip
5 August 2008 Caterham Seven Superlight 150 hello


Snow! – 9 February 2009

Another commute in the cold via the Caterham? Not a chance. I’m afraid I wimped out this weekend and took home a 911, which meant I had to carefully guide an £85k Porsche through the snow this morning.

I’d like to say I the rear-engined layout meant peerless traction but as soon I cleared my drive the rest of the roads was merely damp. But the traffic-clogged commute did give me time to reflect on the 911.

And it’s far from perfect. It’s a Carrera S, which costs £69k, to which the UK press office has added metallic paint (£589), sat-nav (£1256) and a rear wiper (£225) – all essentials as far as I’m concerned. And I’m a tart, so I’m happy with the addition of coloured wheel centres (£105) and the embossed head restraints (£132).

But what the 911 doesn’t need is PDK (£2288), which robs it of a beautiful manual gearbox (and a level of driver interaction) but does mean you get a horribly thick steering wheel. The lowered sports suspension is also too stiff (and £737) and the (£1908) carbon bucket seats aren’t heated and set so low the missus can’t see over the dash.

And that’s not to mention the floor mats with red leather edging (£190), red seat belts (£264) or red instrument dials (£384), or the other £7k of options added to it.

Whereas I think my Caterham is pretty much the best of the breed. But like every Seven, it’s useless in snow.

By Ben Pulman 

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See also  Our long-term Caterham 360S: the six-month verdict

A cold morning  – 31 October 2008



Caterham Seven SuperlightDid you notice the cold snap last week? I certainly did, because I’m still commuting in my Caterham. And because I’m still commuting in my Caterham getting going takes four times as long.

First you have to get ready, which means a hat, scarf, gloves and big jacket. Then, wearing all of this, you have to peel back the tonneau, which is inevitably sagging with ice after the rain that fell the night before has frozen. You then scrape the ice off the windscreen, squeeze into the Seven, start her up and flick on the wipers to clear the last remnants away. And wonder why the windscreen is still frozen over. Then you realise that ice also covers the inside of the windscreen and get to work on that.

Upon finishing you set off, the heater blowing warm air straight from the engine onto your legs and there’s not a better car to get you ready for work.

By Ben Pulman  

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Washing the Caterham – 31 October 2008

With the days getting darker and the nights longer, I took full advantage of last weekend and washed my Caterham. For me this was a big event – I can’t remember the last time I cleaned a long-term car.

But the sun was shining so I went and bought some cheap car shampoo from Tesco and some sort of microfibre drying cloth. I then spent two hours (I kid you not) cleaning my Caterham.

I don’t dare turn a jet hose on it, for fear of filling the cabin with water, and I think we can all agree an automatic car wash is out of the question. So instead I carefully washed every inch of R7 CDX. Thankfully, the job’s out the way before this weekend’s F1 race, so I can watch Sunday’s cliff-hanger without feeling guilty. I even meticulously removed every fly from the front grille, every spec of dirt from the tyres, and tried to get all the layers of brake dust off the front wheels.

Now it looks sparkly and new, and CAR Magazine designer Alex Tapley has taken it for a week’s holiday. He’s clearly barking mad! He wandered over on Monday morning, asked for the car, I begrudgingly agreed, and now he’s gone off on holiday for a few days. He’s literally taken the car and set forth, not even bothering to book anywhere. That’s a brave man…

By Ben Pulman

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A Touran takes over from the Seven – 22 September 2008



Caterham Seven Superlight

It seems the Caterham can’t do everything. Faced with the prospect of a weekend lugging furniture away from my flat, and the sibling to her flight at Heathrow, I’m afraid I had to leave the Seven at home. After all, where would you put two button-back chairs in a Superlight?

Instead, my tool for the tasks was a VW Touran, which felt tight despite the 50k miles on the clock. Speaking of clocks, after weeks in the Caterham it’s always a surprise to see a digital trip computer displaying the time. You get none of that luxury in a Caterham. And you definitely don’t get the Touran’s strange combination of foam and springs that is apparently called padding. It’s all new to a Seven driver.

But the sun was out this weekend, so by midday Sunday I made sure all my jobs were done, got back in the Caterham and took a very long route to my basketball match. It’s three miles away as the crow flies, but it took me 40 minutes to get there… I love this car.

By Ben Pulman

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Lotus is sixty – 17 September 2008

Lotus celebrated its 60th birthday this past weekend, so it seemed only appropriate that I take the Seven back to its birthplace. But as I got closer and closer to Hethel I got more and more nervous. Would Lotus even let me in? When I mentioned my plan to Caterham a few days before, even they were rather wary and didn’t think I’d get through the front gates.

Joining the queuing traffic just off the A11 every Elise owner stared blankly ahead, completely ignoring me. And then turning into Potash Lane there was another Caterham owner. Phew! But he was coming in the opposite direction, away from Lotus. And it was only early – had he been tuned away?

Of course not. We were welcomed and sent to park with other Lotus owners, and even VX220s. Parked up on the famous Hethel test track there were cars as far as you could see, including four Lotus Carltons and a few stunning 340Rs.

The celebrations themselves were brilliant, Lotus letting Joe Public see umpteen new Evoras, even ones that had been crash tested. If you’re ordering one, go for silver, on black wheels – the other colours just don’t let the details stand out.

See also  Caterham Seven 160 (2015) long-term test review

By Ben Pulman

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Back to Durham – 1 September 2008

After Le Mans I was rather surprised to learn that the other half was keen to join me on a trip to Durham, visiting my old university stomping grounds. Perhaps the prospect of the wonderful cathedral city made her overlook a slog up the A1 in the Caterham.

So of course things started badly. Up early, we put the roof down. At which point it started to rain. So we put the roof up at the nearest petrol station, brimmed the tank (which leaked as I fuelled it) and then nailed it out of the slip road. Which caused the better half to spill a coffee. Which I laughed at…

Luckily, despite torrential rain, she fell asleep. But that was probably down to the petrol fumes coming into the cabin. And then she woke just as we reached an accident and had to take a diversion off the A1.

A detour and a few more hours found us at a sunny Scotch Corner, where a lovely gentleman enthused about his old Seven. No other car I’ve ever driven attracts so much attention and enthusiasm, but emerging from a cramped cockpit I doubt we looked too happy.

But Durham (once we reached it) was glorious, beautiful as ever and the sun shone for the rest of the weekend.

The journey back? More sun, and with the roof down and earplugs in she was once again sound asleep. But what to do – let her get sunburn, or wake her and force her to endure the journey back awake? Well, she was bright red for the next week and I had a brilliant drive home…

By Ben Pulman

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The Le Mans road trip – 14 August 2008

In my mind, the Caterham was built for the Le Mans road trip. A 12-hour drive to La Sarthe, looking out over that long, striped nose and those carbonfibre cycle wings couldn’t have got me more excited about the legendary race. The view forwards was wonderful, the French countryside rushing past was beautiful, the autoroutes were deserted and the side-exit exhaust popped and banged enough to get my heart racing way before we arrived in Le Mans.

My girlfriend saw it differently – the Seven is loud, hot in traffic and freezing above 70mph (when the wind blows harder in the cabin than the heater). And while the Seven has two seats and a boot, the composite buckets are tight and uncomfortable after a few hours, while the boot will only take one squishy bag.

Thus we needed a back-up vehicle. Step forward CAR contributor Nick Trott, his wife and a VW California. The camper van was packed with all our stuff (duvets, blankets, pillows, sleeping bags and a lot more that we didn’t need, but took because we had the space) on race Thursday and we headed for France.

England was mundane, grey and boring, but thankfully dry. Until we reached the Chunnel, when it poured – about the right time to swap to the California, sleep on the train, and leave Nick strapped into the Seven by a four-point harness…

But as we emerged into France and brimmed the cars the sun was shining, the roads were clear and the speed limit was 85mph. We joined a convoy of a gorgeous old ‘Vette, a Caterham R300 and a Dodge Ram, and I desperately wanted to be in the Caterham again.

Two hours later, with the Seven on fumes, we fuelled and swapped cars. And two hours later I refused to budge from behind the Momo wheel and took the night shift on the final leg to Le Mans.

We arrived at 11pm, to find drunks lining the perimeter roads of the circuit, and amazing cars everywhere. A quick snack at Tertre Rouge set everything off rather nicely.

Friday was quiet for the Caterham, but busy for us. Nick and I drove Astons in the supercar parade – a surreal experience if ever there was one… Piloting a DB9 Volante through the cordoned-off streets of Le Mans mad fans cheered the Aston race drivers, while clamouring to see who was in the following cars. (We kept the roof up and our heads down.) But we made sure the Brits were happy, revving the big 6.0-litre V12s at every opportunity and drowning out the brass band that had dared step between my DB9 and the cars carrying the Aston drivers.

Back in the cathedral square we found a Veyron, a Koenigsegg, a Zonda, a Carrera GT, a Gumpert and nearly every Ferrari ever made. A quick wonder away from the madness took us to a John Player Special BMW, and a crowd of Brits playing street golf.

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The race? I watched the start over the shoulder of one Dr Bez (who won’t make the switch from the Nurburging 24-hour race to La Sarthe – so says Mrs Bez). But the rest was a blur – Mulsanne at midnight, the Aston pit garage at 2am, Arnage at five in the morning, then back in the pits as the 009 DB9 crossed the line to win its class.

But after watching everyone else race for 24 hours I was bored, desperate to get back behind the wheel of the Caterham and be involved myself. After 72 hours sitting in the rain at Le Mans, the Seven’s cycle wings were a little white with water ingress (I’ll keep you updated – has anyone else suffered this problem?) but it started first time and didn’t miss a beat on the way home.

The only other problems were a speedo that stopped working above 80mph and a frozen other half – even a sleeping bag couldn’t keep her warm. But for the final leg in Blighty she asked to leave the warmth of the California for a blat in the Caterham – recommendations don’t come much higher. And me? Never have I been more thankful for Ford power, which means a hot exhaust mounted on the driver’s side. I was toasty warm all night. 

By Ben Pulman

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Long-term test hello – 5 August 2008

Caterham Seven Superlight 150 long-term testThere’s nothing quite like putting your right foot to the floor in a big, heavy car and feeling how a huge number of cylinders and a large capacity can overcome the laws of physics. Grunty V8 saloons like our new long-term IS-F do it, and the Touareg R50 that has just passed through the office is equally adept at sticking two fingers up at what should be physically possible. Somehow 627lb ft of torque manages to make the prospect of 2.6 tonnes of German SUV seem strangely magical.

But, and this is a big but, I prefer operating at the other end of the scale. I’ve grown up in the age where global warming exists. I’d rather have fun below the national speed limit, whereas these big bruisers only get into their stride above 70mph. And I want cars to make every journey an adventure, every trip special – whether it’s the commute to work, a jaunt to see the parents or a Sunday night blast. I want instant gratification. And so I’ve gone and got myself a Caterham.

Think about what you actually need and the Caterham has it all. Two seats, an engine up front, a six-speed close-ratio ‘box in the middle and drive to the rear wheels via an LSD. My commute is a paltry six miles a day, and after work I usually have to go off round the county to play basketball, which means country back roads. So a Seven seemed like the perfect solution.

I’ve already taken it to Le Mans (more next week) and I never found I needed a clock, a radio, air-con or a roof. Or a lock, an alarm, a 12v plug. Or carpets. The list of luxuries on most modern cars is long, I need none of it. Take away the fripperies and I think you come closer to the action, able to get a thrill at every speed.

That’s not the only reason to run a Caterham though. I’ve been feeling a bit of green-guilt recently, running around in my Nissan Qashqai. So I want to be eco-friendly. My Caterham is a used car, nothing specially built just for me, kicking out more CO2. And I’ve gone for Superlight spec, so with the help of carbonfibre bits my car weighs a mere 500kg. Add in a tiny 1.6-litre engine (albeit tuned to 150bhp) and I reckon I’ll at least be as green as the Qashqai, while having more fun at track days.

Beyond the standard spec of my car the previous owner also ticked the boxes for the aforementioned LSD and the weather protection, so hopefully I’ll be able to use the Seven come rain or shine. Beyond that my tweaks were the addition of a lowered floor – to let my lanky frame fit – and a retina-searing green stripe. Not as a nod to going green but a salute to the first Seven I ever drove, a mad neon green R400 at CAR’s Performance Car of The Year test in 2007. I fell in love then and nearly a year later got my wish to run a Caterham. Come back next week and I’ll start telling you whether the reality lives up to the fantasy.

By Ben Pulman

About Tim Pollard

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A tech enthusiast and content writer, has a knack for simplifying complex technical information. He enjoys researching and writing about the latest gadgets and technology trends. He has a degree in computer science and is experienced in creating content for tech blogs and websites.

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