Caterham's Seventh heaven

The 'all new' Seven CSR is unveiled with 'all new' everything. Tom Stewart went to take a look
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Take a deep breath, swallow hard and tug those harness straps even tighter still; Caterham Cars has just unveiled its all-new Seven. To the man in the street, and from a distance, the new Seven CSR looks much like the late Lotus chief Colin Chapman's original Seven of almost 50 years ago, but under that timeless skin it's all change with a new engine, new chassis, new suspension, new interior, new almost everything.

The CSR heralds the return of Cosworth to the road-car market with two engines rated at 200bhp and 260bhp (that's right - two six zero bhp) of bespoke Cosworth-developed 2.3 litre, four cylinder, Ford Duratec providing the go. Compared with all previous models torque has been dramatically improved and Caterham estimates that, despite the slight extra weight of the Cosworth unit over the current K Series Rover engine, this will translate to a 0-60 time of 3.7 secs and a max of 140mph for the CSR 200, with an internal organ-rearranging 3.1 secs and 155mph for the CSR 260.

Although the existing Seven with its De Dion rear suspension already sets the standard for high-performance handling and driving enjoyment, the CSR pushes the envelope further still with fully independent double wishbones at the rear and an equally new F1-style, inboard pushrod-operated system giving a 50mm wider track at the front. The new suspension necessitated some modification to the car's tubular spaceframe, but a major overhaul of all its tubes has bestowed the CSR chassis with a 25 per cent increase in torsional stiffness.

Inside, the new Seven is barely recognisable from previous models. The traditional flat dashboard and toggle switches have gone. Instead a curved fascia and alloy-rimmed dials nestle in a web of exposed steel tubing. CSR interior dimensions are comparable with the existing wide-bodied SVs, but the new car also features previously unheard of luxuries for a Seven, such as dash-mounted air vents and storage space in the centre console and armrest.

As mentioned, the CSR's exterior looks little different from previous Sevens. When Caterham obtained the manufacturing rights from Lotus in the early 1970s the incumbent model was the angular, beach-buggy inspired and ultimately unpopular Series 4. In the late 1990s the company experimented with the 21, which was a full-bodied Seven, but which was slower, more expensive and handled less precisely than the real thing. It flopped too.

With that in mind Caterham knew it ought not to meddle with the Seven's iconic appearance and so the CSR's body features little more than aerodynamic improvements which include re-profiled cycle wings and a larger "chinned'' nose-cone. Combined, these reduce front- end lift by 50 per cent with a corresponding significant decrease in high-speed understeer potential. Keeping the car from dragging its belly are bespoke 15-inch Avon tyres mounted on new 10-spoke alloy wheels. For those whose enthusiasm can't be contained on the public road, Caterham will also offer a full racing version of the 260bhp CSR which, like the road versions, has been developed over an intensive18-month test programme on UK and European race circuits.

The only significant component to be carried over from the existing models is Caterham's own super-slick 6-speed transmission. The new Seven goes on sale early next year with prices starting at £27,450 for the CSR 200 and £33,950 for the CSR 260. Standard equipment will include a full windscreen, weather equipment, a heater and a fully carpeted interior, though not, I note, jet-fighter pilot G-suits for CSR 260 occupants.

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