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BOTB Road Test: Caterham 620R {{favouriteCount}} Quantity of Likes

11 May 2015

Fast (adj)

– Moving or able to move, operate, function or take affect rapidly.

– Synonyms; Rapid, Swift, Quick, Brisk, Agile.

Nope, sorry. None of those can even come remotely close to trying to describe the Caterham 620R. It’s a car so mind-bendingly fast, it deserves its own adjective.

Caterholycrapmyfaceisfallingoff. There, that just about covers it.

Now, to start with the fact that the 620R is so fast shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The range topping Caterhams, from the old JPE to the R500 have always been very quick cars, but the 620R does a good ‘Spinal Tap’ impression and turns the volume up to 11. So why is it so fast? There are three things that contribute:

1. The 2.0 litre Supercharged Duratec engine, putting out 311 bhp.

2. The fact that it weighs 545 kg

3. The six-speed sequential gearbox with flat upshifts.

Add all these together and you have a car that can do 0 – 62 mph in 2.8 seconds, and 100 mph in 6.5 seconds. That’s faster than a Ferrari Enzo, just for reference. But that’s just part of the story, as with all Caterhams it’s all about the feeling… It should be pointed out that I’m not the best person to test a 620R. At 6 ft 3 inches (190cm) and a broad 90 kg the tiny cockpit of a Caterham was never going to be a roomy place, but needs must.

The process goes thus: Put on the thinnest shoes you can find to avoid pressing all three pedals at the same time with your massive Size 12 feet. Remove the steering wheel (thankfully easy). Open the four-point harness up and lay them across the bodywork out of the way. Step on the seat, and slide your body into the seat. Get stuck. Hold onto the harness and push yourself down, squeezing into the seat so tightly that it could flip upside down without you falling out. Replace steering wheel. Do up harness. Remember you forgot the key and repeat the whole process in reverse. Repeat.

Once you’re in, turn the key, wait for the fuel pump to settle, hit the starter toggle and the supercharged four cylinder fires into life with a bark. The noise is incredible, very loud with a lovely burble, but this particular 620R has the track exhaust which exits at the rear and is quieter, so the noise of the side exit system must be insane. Once it’s warmed up, time to pull away – not an easy task I can promise you. This car has a twin-plate racing clutch, so depress the pedal, and yank the sequential gearbox lever back into first gear. When I say yank, I mean it – you really need to give a very firm tug on the lever to get it ‘in’, then pile on some revs and let the clutch out slowly. The 620R pulls away then judders like a tank with Alzheimer’s thanks to the differential until you’re moving. Phew. It takes a while to get used to, but once you do it’s easy not to stall – 3 miles of stop-start traffic just after picking it up taught me well.

Now you’re moving, the fun can really start – in any gear, at any speed, you can squeeze the accelerator and the 620R lunges forward with gusto. This is not a car that wants to go slowly. Given the cut click tyres you need  fair bit of warmth in them to avoid spinning the wheels (it squirmed in 5th gear at 45 mph when cold as an example), but when you do nothing this side of a £1m hypercar or a superbike will even come close.

Get a nice long straight road and in 2nd, bury the accelerator. Your internal organs all decide that your spine in their best friend and it needs a hug. Your lungs compress so you can’t catch your breath. The revs rise, as does the noise and you are catapulted forward at such a rate that you can barely catch up with what’s happening, but soon after you’re reaching the red line and all you need to do is grab that lever and yank it back again – no lifting off, just BAM and into the next gear ready for it all to start again. If there’s another car more engaging, more addictive than this I will eat my hat.

Of course the raw speed is only part of the 620R’s repertoire, with such low weight and grippy tyres it hangs on through the corners like nothing else. A Formula Ford racer perhaps? Maybe a racing Go-kart? Who knows, but not much will stay with this down a twisty road. Being a Caterham it shares one of their best features though, which is decent travel suspension. This means the car can absorb bumps and stay in contact with the ground when the car goes up and well as down, meaning you can get the power down almost everywhere. Of course you really have to watch that back end with all that power and light weight with no driver’s aids, but when it does slip it’s actually remarkably easily caught as you’re virtually sat on the rear axle and you can feel everything going on through the seat of your pants and through the rim of the tiny, chubby little steering wheel.

Once you’ve had too much adrenaline and need a rest, it’s a good time to park up and take a look around the 620R at some of the exquisite details. The tiny aero screen is carbon fibre, as are the mirrors, wheelarch protectors, front wheelarches, aero winglets on the nose and the indicator pods. There’s an extra intake above the main nose intake and a vent behind it. Ultra lightweight alloys look the business and the seats (along with the dash) are pure carbon fibre. This test car’s lairy paint job helps it look the part too, but you’d want that for the £45,000 asking price.

Now most would say that’s quite a lot for a Caterham, but what else can you buy that is even remotely as quick, engaging and fun/insane for the money? If you needed a car to drive on your favourite twisty roads, on track and obliterate everything you come across, the 620R is for you. It’s so refreshing to be able to enjoy a car at sensible speeds, but still fun to be a bit silly at times…

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