The Caterham Seven 360 Is My Personal Best Driver’s Car
Looking for the High-Water Mark of Handling Performance? You’ll Find it in the Caterham Seven 360
This article’s title hereby renders me vulnerable to criticism. Right now I can hear the jeers from my esteemed colleagues, but I am ready to stand behind my opinion: the Caterham Seven 360 is the best-handling car I have ever driven. It is my personal best driver’s car.
I say this as someone who, two years ago, was blown away by the Mercedes-AMG GT S; a legitimate “Best Driver’s Car” according to Motor Trend’s 2015 Best Driver’s Car competition. I say this as someone who has driven the Aerial Atom; the best driver’s car to many reasonable human beings who have driven one.
Despite such experiences in those amazing machines, for my money, the Caterham Seven 360 is my benchmark for how a car should dance on a road. After driving it, I proclaimed, “This is how all cars should handle.”
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When you look to the car’s history, it makes sense it handles so well. The Caterham Seven began life in 1957 as a Lotus. An automaker synonymous with benchmark handling, Lotus has been praised for its founder, Colin Chapman’s “Simplify, then add lightness” philosophy. Lotus produced the Seven until 1972. Then in 1973, the automaker sold the Seven’s engineering rights to Caterham. While specifically derived from the Series 3 Lotus Seven built from 1968 to 1969, nearly 50 years of development and improvements mean today’s modern-feeling Caterham Seven shares zero parts with the Lotus of the 60s.
Despite all those Earth orbits separating the Caterham Seven from the car on which it’s based, the “Simplify, then add lightness” doctrine still oozes from every molecule that makes up the modern Caterham Seven. It’s eye-opening how added lightness can increase the gravity of a driving experience. I mentioned dancing on the road earlier because beyond the Seven’s light-footed nature, the car feels eager for your next steering input or throttle squeeze.
Want to get a better feel for how this car responds to its driver? I’ll refer you to how the lighter-than-a-breeze Ginger Rogers responds to Fred Astaire’s lead.
The film Swing Time is 81 years old, yet the above clip from that film has garnered almost 10 million views on YouTube. Why? Talent is timeless. No matter how many special effects an animator can stuff into a modern movie, the human talent element will prevail as the simplest and most proven way to make or break a film. No matter how much technology engineers can throw at today’s heavy cars, lightness will always prevail as the simplest and most proven way to make or break a driving experience.
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I believe the reason why the Caterham Seven 360 is my personal best driver’s car is because it is the lightest car I’ve ever driven. If scales could walk, they’d travel for miles to get a taste of how little they’re pressed under the Caterham Seven 360’s weight. We’re talking 1,200 pounds here. That Ariel Atom 3S I drove two years ago is about 150 pounds portlier. Granted, the Ariel Atom 3S has 365 horsepower and a 2.8-second zero-to-60 time to exhilarate you, but fast does not make a driver’s car. Feel does.
Despite the Caterham’s 180-horsepower, 2.0L Duratec four-cylinder and 4.8-second journey to 60 mph, the Seven is a markedly more charming machine. $74,250 will grant you the pink slip to a loaded Caterham Seven 360. A similarly optioned 230-horsepower Ariel Atom 3 hovers around $70,000. (The Atom 3S I drove starts at $89,975). So the Ariel Atom has a pricing advantage. That’s great, but after driving it, I didn’t want one. After driving the Caterham, I wanted one.
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And things don’t have to be so expensive with the Caterham. My tester was equipped with $24,200 in optional extras. Forgo those, choose to spend 60-70 hours assembling your Caterham as a kit, and you could drive away for little more than 40 grand. By my calculations, however, it looks like you’ll only save around 10 grand assembling your Caterham in your garage.
Superformance (the firm famous for building continuation Shelby Cobras, GT40s and C2 Corvette Grand Sports) is the exclusive distributor of Caterhams in the United States. While building your own car can be a fun project, I’d recommend saving yourself the headache of playing auto manufacturer. Leave the assembly the experts at Superformance, that way all you’ll have to worry about is finding enough time to drive one of the greatest cars ever to exist.