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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Caterham 620R vs Caterham 160: Battle of the Sevens

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To the interesting accompaniment of the responsive little Suzuki engine, the 160 will slide and drift at remarkably modest and legal speeds. And because it has a sub-half-tonne mass to control and its chassis is so good-natured, it makes you feel like the superhero who can stay on the right side of the law, and do so on roads you use every day.

Its problems are not those you’d expect. The performance doesn’t feel hopeless and its tiny turbo engine isn’t prone to lag. But the gear ratios in the five-speed ’box are weird. Second is so low that it works perfectly well as a first gear (in effect making it a four-speed ’box) and the jump from there to third is greater than the torque of the little engine can comfortably cover. Also, don’t go thinking that its soft suspension and narrow tyres will produce a beautiful ride; the live axle puts paid to that notion. The range of frequencies fed to your bottom vary from fidgety to choppy.

You don’t have time to think about ride quality in the 620R. Nor time to think of anything other than grabbing another sequentially selected gear. What makes Caterham’s flagship among the most vivid experiences that it is possible to have with a steering wheel in your hands is not the power of its 311bhp supercharged 2.0-litre engine, but its torque.

What will get you giggling and your passenger screaming is not the performance per se, but its immediacy. Whereas other even really fast Caterhams need to be wound up with high revs and low gears before they’ll really let go, if you nail the 620R throttle at something as modest as 3000rpm in fourth gear, it simply goes berserk. Thereafter, it’s a question of how wild a ride you want or, indeed, can cope with.

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For there is nothing easy about driving the 620R quickly and, in this regard, it is the polar opposite of the 160. It is not that its chassis is tricky. Indeed, in its own way, it is just as benign as that of the 160. But because its speed is so immense and the grip from cut slick tyres so other-worldly, everything happens in x12 fast forward. You need time to dial into it. When you have and as long as you have the space and no one to see or hear its quite deafening song, it will enchant and bewitch, and reach and recover from apparently irrecoverable angles.



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